at home in bangkok
Bangkok is one of those exciting cities that could take you months or more to explore. For Intrepid Express reader Petra O’Neill it’s one of her favourites cities, so she shows us how she enjoys feeling at home in Thailand…
“Guide books are useful reference tools when planning journeys to new destinations, but to an extent they shape the experiences we have. After several trips to Bangkok, I’d become familiar with the palaces and wats, the trips on the Chao Phraya River, the main shopping centres and the hustlers found there. After a tuk tuk driver told me the ferry boats on the Chao Phraya River were not operating because the water level was too high, I knew it was time to experience something altogether different, more low key, the house museums that focus on Thailand’s rich cultural heritage.
To get there, I travelled as the locals do, by using the highly efficient, inexpensive and spotlessly clean train system and river ferries and found it easy, but most exhilarating of all, by long-tail boat along the khlongs. Life on the canals has changed little, and while luxury apartment complexes are being built at a cracking pace to accommodate an increasing number of upwardly mobile Thais, lines of washing, meals being prepared and observing people going about their everyday lives at close range is endlessly fascinating.
I always visit the Jim Thompson House Museum, the former home of the legendary James H.W. Thompson, an American entrepreneur whose contribution to the Thai Silk Industry was recognised by being awarded the Order of the White Elephant, an honour reserved for foreigners who have rendered exceptional service to Thailand. In 1967, he mysteriously disappeared in the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia. The museum comprises six traditional Thai teak houses that were brought together from various parts of Thailand, with each room filled with antiques, memorabilia and exquisite silks.
Two lesser known splendid house museums include the Kamthieng House Museum, and M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home.
The Kamthieng House Museum, originally built in 1848 in Chiang Mai, is one of the finest remaining examples of northern Thai Lanna architecture. Given to the Siam Society and relocated to Bangkok, it opened as a museum in 1966. Displays centre on the traditional Lanna way of life including music, dance, house building, farming, irrigation, harvesting, household chores and meal preparation, as found in a residence spanning three generations.
The historic residence of Mr M.R. Kukrit Pramoj is lovingly preserved, made up of a series of teak pavilions, in a beautiful tropical garden setting. Mr Kukrit came from a privileged background, a descendant of King Rama II, he spent part of his childhood in the Grand Palace. After graduating from Oxford University, he became a talented writer, an accomplished dancer of Thai classical dance, an actor (appearing with Marlon Brando in the Ugly American), a University lecturer and the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand. He was also a leading authority on traditional Thai culture.
His former home comprises 5 antique small teak houses, connected by a series of open verandas. The houses, set in a large garden, are surrounded by ponds, sculptures, fragrant trees of guava and tamarind and rare and exotic fragrant plants, including many varieties of flowering ginger. The residence is significant, since it represents a way of life of a man who was wealthy, highly influential and cultured and yet has retained a homely feel to it. The opening hours had recently changed, and while I arrived close to the time of closing, the Volunteer on duty insisted I enter, while her daughter engaged me in a game of hide and seek.”
Photo by Petra O’Neill