BACK IN 2004, former university professor Waraporn Suravadee realised a long-held dream – turning the residence on Charoen Krung Road in downtown Bangkok she had inherited from her mother into the Bangkok Folk Museum. Determined to preserve the lifestyle of 1930s Bangkok and the history of Bang Rak district for generations to come, Waraporn donated the property to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration on the condition she could continue to live in the compound as caretaker.
Waraporn Suravadee converted her housing complex into Bangkok Folk Museum in 2004.
Last year, the folk museum made headlines on the social networks when Waraporn launched a fund-raising campaign to acquire a sizeable plot of land next to the museum to stop the construction of an eight-floor modern home office project, which would overshadow the charming environment of the museum.
The fund-raising drive proved a success, raising more than Bt10 million that she added to her own funds to convert the empty land into a parking lot and recreational area, where visitors could come to share her memories and learn how her family and the Bang Rak community lived in the past.
Sadly, Waraporn was unable to see the rest of her dream come to fruition, dying late in January at the age of 80 from injuries she sustained in a fall. Her nephew Parakrit Sudsat has stepped in as custodian and is kicking off his tenure by closing down all fund-raising activities.
“The land next to the museum already belongs to the Insart-Sa-ang Foundation, which my aunt Waraporn founded. Now, we’re waiting for the Courts to appoint a trustee and then we will start the construction of what my aunt always called her green space by using the Bt2 million remaining from the fund-raising campaign. We already closed the campaign and our family is pleased to cover extra expenses on the construction,” Parakit says.
“My aunt aimed to provide a green space that welcomed all visitors at no charge. She worked as a lecturer and saw this green space as an open learning area for the community. Now, we’re reconsidering the design of the green space. We are try to find the best solution that can really meet the demands of the community.”
A short walk from the General Post Office, the museum on quiet Charoen Krung Soi 43 is spread over one rai and 100 square meters and was once home to nine members of the Suravadee family. Parakit too grew up here.
The veranda served as the reception area in traditional Panyastyle house.
The family moved out after Waraporn inherited the housing complex from her mother Sa-ang more than a decade ago. Shaded by towering tress and local plants, the museum is home to three Panya-style old teakwood houses filled with rare household artefacts that evoke memories of the happy family life once enjoyed here.
A teakwood pavilion stands in the middle and once served as an open kitchen. The two-storey white house, which was constructed in 1937, is named Ruen Khun Nai Sa-ang, and it’s easy to conjure up an image of Sa-ang spending her leisure time playing an imported piano and singing with her kids in the living room.
The furnishings are as they were when the house was built, mainly hardwood pieces crafted in Thai, Chinese and European style. The western-style chairs are engraved with the floral and bow motifs so popular in the 20th century while the Chinese hardwood cabinets boast different pearl-engraved designs.
The beautiful tableware dates back to the Reign of King Rama V era.
The dining room showcases elegant glassware, Qing Dynasty blue-and-white ceramic tableware and European porcelain produced by Johnson Brothers between 1899 and 1913 as well as an expandable wood dining table with its legs engraved to resemble a lion’s paw.
“My grandmother loved pets and loved collecting antiques, which is why we have many things to display and there are cats and dogs walking around. In the past, we raised goats for their milk and we cooked our own food. Eldest aunt was responsible for the cooking. We want to reflect good memories of bygone days,” Parakrit explains.
Upstairs visitors can pay respect to Waraporn and her parents in the Ancestor room with its Benjarong bowls in Thepphanom design and Chinese-style sacrificial offerings.
A leisure zone on the second floor, where Waraporn and her sisters often sat and read books.
Next door is the master bedroom and dressing room furnished in Art Deco-style and boasting a teak dressing table equipped with three mirror panels and a porcelain table top basin with a blue rose pattern.
This house is also home to the Dr Francis Christian Library, so named in tribute to mother Sa-ang’s first husband, who worked as a doctor. Another room, known as the Wanida Bedroom, was added by Sa-ang to welcome her daughter Wanida back home from her master’s degree studies at Indiana University.
The oldest of the properties is Ruen Dr Francis Christian, an elegant two-floor teak house moved from Tung Mahamek in 1929. It’s designed as a clinic and residence and tells Christian’s story through his vintage medical equipment, old textbooks, notebooks and home furnishings.
Dr Francis Christian’s home was moved from Tung Mahamek and designed to be both a residence and clinic.
Today, the BMA has turned its basement into a space that local artists can use to exhibit their art and a reading space stocked with second-hand literary works. BMA has also renovated Sa-ang’s eight shophouses and turned them into an exhibition space.
Waraporn filled the ground floor with rare artefacts, old stamps, bank notes and old-fashioned tools used in handicrafts. She also set up a cooking corner, showcasing all too rare antique kitchenware.
On the second floor, BMA takes visitors back to the history of Bang Rak, once one of the most prosperous business hubs in the city and home to Chinese residents and foreign merchants.
“We plan to open the house where my aunt lived before she passed away. We will keep everything just as it used to be.” Parakrit says.
“We want to host training for volunteer guides so that they can accurately relate the background of the houses and the community.”
IF YOU GO
>> The Bangkok Folk Museum is at 273 Soi Charoenkrung 43. It’s open Wednesday to Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
>> Call (02) 233 7027 or (02) 234 6741. Find out more at www.BMALocalMuseum.com.
Published : May 13, 2022
Published : March 07, 2017