Heritage under threat
Published: 18th July, 2017
Worth a quick look as you stroll around the historic district, Pom Mahakan is a late-18th century fort that’s most intriguing for a heritage village, now under threat by city authorities, which exists within the walls.
Along with Phra Sumen Fort, Mahakan is one of two remaining citadels out of the original 14 that were built around Rattanakosin Island back when invasions from Burmese and other armies were a constant threat. The octagonal fortress has three tiers rising to a guard post. Cannons placed around the thick outer walls now loom over the surrounding footpaths.
The fort fell into disrepair as the threat of invasions diminished, and in the late 19th century a community formed within the outer walls. Part of this village is now a living museum featuring century-old wood houses where descendants of the original owners show off their skills at crafting traditional musical instruments and birdcages, among others. Spirit shrines stand beneath sacred banyan trees as grannies lounge and children play.
In 1992, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) declared that the community was encroaching on city-owned land, sparking a decades-long struggle. Authorities destroyed some of the houses in 2016, displacing residents who have lived here for generations as part of a larger campaign to “clean up” the city. Critics argue that these actions only stamp out local culture and heritage while hollowing out the city’s soul.
As long as the village remains here, we feel the fort is worth a stop mainly to glimpse a lifestyle that has hardly changed in a hundred years. The fort itself can also be fun to climb on, though it’s not well maintained and there are some drops so keep an eye on small children. Benches shaded by banyan tree branches next to the canal also make for a pleasant break from the heat.
The fort’s location makes it easy to stop in without going out of your way—Wat Ratchanatdaram is directly across the road and the golden mount at Wat Saket is a five-minute walk to the east. The nearby Baan Bat monk bowl village is also worth a look if you’re into local heritage and crafts.
Mahakan Fort is located at the corner of Ratchadamnoen Ave and Mahachai Rd, a five-minute walk east of Democracy Monument and directly across the canal from Phanfah Leelard Bridge Pier on the San Saeb khlong boat line.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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