The Old Customs House – Nostalgia in Bangkok
The old Customs House is a group of historic buildings located right at the banks of the Chao Phraya River at Soi Charoen Krung 36. It is also referred to as Sunlaka Sathan. In the past, this House was the gateway to Thailand because ships from foreign countries had to pass through this customs area when they entered the city. The House is also called ‘Rong Phasi’ since the tax was referred to as ‘Rong Phasi Roi Chak Sam’.
The Old Customs House in Bangkok
After Thailand’s economy had changed from monopolized to free trade since the Bowring Treaty in 1855, King Rama V (r. 1873-1910) gave orders to built the Customs House in 1888. Hence, the building was designed in Neo-Renaissance-style by the Italian architect Joachim Grassi (1834-1904) and completed around 1890.
Thus, it can be considered a significant building constructed in a Western style and belonging to the early period of modern architecture in the reign of King Chulalongkorn. In addition, the building is very prominent because of its proximity to the Chao Phraya and the fact that the complex is reflected on the surface of the river. Nevertheless, some decades later, in 1949, the custom office was transferred to a new port at Khlong Toey.
Consequently, the House was transformed into the Bang Rak fire brigade station. Since then the building has been neglected over the decades, it is rundown today. However, it can still be considered a fine piece of architectural nostalgia in modern and busy Bangkok. Although the fire station appears to be decayed, it is still full in function.
What is more, this place is a popular setting for photographers and some people choose this place to take wedding photos. In addition, it has also been a popular backdrop for movies. For instance, some scenes of ‘Killing Fields’ directed by Roland Joffé (1984) and Wong Kar Wai’s ‘In the Mood for Love’ (2000) were filmed there.
Nowadays the building is owned by the Natural Park Public Company Limited and Silverlink Holdings Ltd. It is still unclear whether this building will be renovated or demolished to give way to a more contemporary structure. In my opinion the building is certainly worthy of preservation.
However, the Customs House in Bangkok, the abandoned building with its historical, architectural and aesthetic value will charm you at a first glance for sure 🙂
*photo credit: Amporn Konglapumnuay
(Further reading: Alisa Dechar, Preliminary Study of The Existing Conditions of The Customs House For Adaptive Reuse, Silpakorn University 2005)