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Back to the steam age


The small Ban Bu community in Bangkok Noi takes visitors back to a gentler, quieter and infinitely more charming era

SEEKING A PLACE to recharge your battery but don’t want to go out of town? Then take your camera and head west, to the Thon Buri side of the Chao Phraya and be seduced by the charm of the Ban Bu community.
Sitting by the Bangkok Noi Canal, Ban Bu was a thriving trade hub full of shophouses selling spices, fish sauce, sugar and salt more than 100 years ago when the river was the major transportation network. 
Today the small community on Soi Charan Sanitwong 32 is home to the last manufacturer of khan long hin, or stone-polished bronzeware, an ancient craft handed down from generation to generation since the Ayutthaya era. 

Back to the steam age

Wat Suwannaram was restored in the reign of King Rama III and fused classic Thai and Chinesestyle architectures. 

 

Located down a narrow alley, Wat Suwannaram takes visitors back to the Krung Thonburi Kingdom. Formerly called Wat Thong, it was constructed during the Ayutthaya period and later used by King Taksin the Great as the place of execution of Burmese prisoners-of-war. 
King Rama I later rebuilt and renamed the temple Wat Suwannaram and it was again restored during the reign of King Rama III, this time fusing together classic Thai and Chinese architecture. The temple also served as the cremation ground for Royal family members and senior officials until the reign of King Rama V. 
A towering boat-shaped ubosot stands in the middle of the complex, the gold angels known as theppanom on its pediments glittering in the sun. The roof is decorated with elaborate gables with tooth-like ridges on their edges fashioned from mirrors.
Inside the ubosot is Phra Sardsada, an ancient Sukhothai-style Buddha image in the posture of subduing the Mara, with an oval, smiling face, spiral-like hair and a bulging chest. 

Back to the steam age

 Handpainted murals inside the Ubosot depict the Buddha’s life.

The walls are covered with some of the finest two-dimensional murals found anywhere. The work of Luang Vijitjessada (Kru Thong Yu) and Luang Senee Borirak (Kru Khongpae), they depict the tales of Buddha’s final 10 incarnations.
The temple also boasts a white Chinese-style Bell Tower with three floors of arched windows and two statues of King Taksin standing on the bank of Bangkok Noi Canal.
The old Wat Thong Market, just 200 metres away from the temple, is the lifeblood of Ban Bu and open to visitors on the first and third weekends of each month. 
Known locally as Rai-Kan Market, it was the biggest fresh market in Thon Buri district 80 years ago. Late last year, 45-year-old resident Pichit Boonjin and his neighbours joined the TMB Bank’s Fai Fah project and renovated the market in such a way as to evoke the simple way of life in the riverside community. 
“I was born and grew up here and as a kid was often told of the days when children learned to swim by themselves and parents caught fish from their terraces for dinner. Wat Thong market was the largest in Thon Buri but disappeared after the roads were built around the town. Our community became far from the main road and hard to find,” says Pichit, who chairs Wat Thong Market’s vendor group.

“In fact, we reopened the market three years ago then had to close it again because of the political crisis. The market is the heart of community and can help local residents generate some income. I consider this a worthy form of sustainable development and want to promote our community as a new cultural tourist destination, a place where visitors can learn about the way of life in the waterside community. Every first and third weekend, local residents will serve as vendors offering rare local delicacies and sweet treats prepared with family recipes.”
The surroundings are simple, the bamboo Thai-style tables and mats pleasing to the eye and the market is kept scrupulously clean. Inclement weather is kept at bay by an old wooden Thai-style arcade with an arched roof that creates a good airflow. 
There are plenty of Thai favourites to be enjoyed, such as Pad Tai, Hoi Tod, Khanom Chin Sao Nam (thin rice noodles served with coconut milk, sun-dried shrimp and fresh pineapple), Khao Kriab Pak Mor (steamed rice dumplings), Khanom Ray Rai (rice threads with coconut meat) and Khanom Tuay (steamed coconut pudding). 

Back to the steam age

Some of the delicacies on offer at Wat Thong Market

“We don’t want to change anything in the market. We just repaired the zinc roof and renovated the old wood structure. Its unique architecture and design suggest that the market was built in the reign of King Rama VI by the same carpentry team, who constructed Hua Lamphong Railway Station,” Pichit explains. 
Visitors are entertained while they are eating by local students who put on shows of Thai-style martial arts like krabi krabong and Thai boxing. Walk further into the community and a group of veteran artisans at the Jiam Sangsaja Khan Long Hin workshop show how the handcrafted stone-polished bronzeware is produced.

Back to the steam age

Udom Khanhiran’s factory uses the handcrafted khan long hin techniques to create a stainless steel collection at cheaper prices.  Next door at Udom Khanhiran’s factory, lotus-shaped bowls, trays, salt-pepper shakers, plates and saucers are handcrafted from in stainless steel using the same khan long hin techniques. 
Behind the community is the Thon Buri Locomotive Storage Centre with its five steam locomotives made during World War II and now used for important occasions. Part of the Bangkok Noi Railway Station, it was built during the reign of King Rama V and rebuilt after being destroyed by a bomb. 
  

IF YOU GO
>> Ban Bu Community is situated on Soi Charan Sanitwong 32, Bangkok Noi district. 
>> Wat Thong Market opens on the first and third weekend of the month from 9am to 3pm. This week the market celebrates the Thai New Year with cultural shows and local food. Find out more at the Raikhan Market (Thai spelling) page on Facebook.

Published : April 04, 2017

By : Pattarawadee Saengmanee The Nation