Bangkok is a fascinating place, but back in 1850 – when it was the capital of Siam, as Thailand was then known – it was even moreso. Despite being an exotic, far-flung city that was slowly opening up to the modern world, Bangkok was still fairly insular in its trade policies, with heavy taxes on any foreign goods. That is, until the Bowring Treaty of 1855.
The treaty liberalized foreign trade in Siam, basically opening up a rich vein for traders of commercial and agricultural goods. One of these traders, a fellow by the name of Phraya Phisan Supphaphon, decided to invest his money in a steamship and build a pier and block of office buildings for Chinese businesses. It was the biggest pier in Bangkok, and thrived for decades until its usefulness waned with the formation of the Port Authority of Thailand in 1951. It soon fell into disrepair, sagging under the weight of decades of rain and neglect.
We’ve written before about what usually happens in cases like this. Here’s a hint: it starts with bulldozer and ends in condo. But thankfully, a clearer vision prevailed, and Bangkok is the better for it.
In November of 2017 the doors opened on Lhong 1919, the renovated warehouse complex that had been forgotten and ignored for the past 50 years. The Wanglee family, who has owned the property since Phraya Phisan left the picture, had decided that instead of building a parking lot or condo block, they would rather reintroduce Thailand to the fabulous history of this forgotten property.
A full renovation began, with Thailand’s top artisans – some of whom were trained in Naples, Italy – restoring murals, uncovering intricate stonework, and reinforcing the original wooden beams that held the roof in place without nails.
The old warehouses have now been turned into event, dining, and co-working spaces. The Chinese sea goddess Mazu takes center stage at a magnificently restored shrine in the main building, while boutiques sell unique merchandise in high-ceilinged shophouses. Once the location of offices and living spaces, they have been carefully stripped down to their original brickwork, providing a gorgeous, raw backdrop for getting your shop on.
When you’re done checking out the murals, woodwork, and crazy attention to detail (those gold decorative flourishes aren’t painted – that’s real gold leaf applied by hand), you can head down to the riverside and relax with a meal, a drink, or just sit around and watch the river traffic go by.
We’ll be honest – we sometimes lose faith when we see how much of Bangkok’s history is being paved over for new development, which is why it’s always a challenge to keep our tours of historical sites updated with new (er, old) content. But with places like Lhong 1919 opening up, we’re hoping it will inspire others to maintain and even restore the many, many other historic sites in Bangkok that we love showing our customers.
In the meantime, we’ll see you at Lhong 1919. We’ll be the ones sipping a cocktail down by the riverfront.