Bangkok is a city of contrasts; on every street and every corner there are a multitude of hidden stories and amazing facts waiting to be revealed. On a Follow Me bangkok Bicycle Tour discovering Bangkok is so much fun.
“Sawadee Krap, my name is Ar, I am a tour guide at Follow Me Bangkok Bicycle Tours. We recently made this short video whilst cycling through a small village on our Siam Boran tour route. The village is only a few minutes walk away from our Clubhouse, although it may seem mundane there are many things that I can reveal to you about Bangkok life and Thai beliefs, I hope that you will find this interesting.”
This small lively community, which can be referred to us a village, lies amidst the shadows of the ever-encroaching skyscrapers of the Central Business District in downtown Bangkok. The multi cultural and harmonious living in the city centre is something that many similar sized western cities have lost, unfortunately to their detriment, but this is what makes Bangkok such a vibrant metropolis.
Although we usually cycle through this area without stopping it is still enchanting to experience the diversity of everyday local life, and even along a single street there are many stories to be told.
In stark contrast to the high-rise multinational corporate headquarters this area mainly consists of shophouses that characterise the city centers of most Southeast Asia’s urban fabric. Typically these concrete framed buildings are three stories high and form colourful terraces running along both sides of the street.
Historically on the street level the space was usually a shop with residential accommodation located above, hence the name shophouse. These shop spaces are now used for many functions such as laundry’s, food outlets, repair shops and even schools all of which have been established to meet the daily needs of the neighborhood. With the diverse range of small businesses and activities these shophouses create an architectural ‘stage set’ for the daily life of the local residents, and in a many ways this allows the community to be almost self-sufficient.
Thai people are well known for being superstitious, from folk law and traditional beliefs about ancestors, natural spirits and ghosts, and the influence on daily life can be enormous. There are many obvious signs respecting these beliefs, for example the octagonal Feng Shui Bagua mirror placed on the shop front is believed to protect the business or house and repel any negative energy, this is a very common sight throughout Bangkok. There are also many signs that are not so obvious, such as the belief that growing certain plants outside their homes will bring luck and wealth to the residents.
One of the most common sights that demonstrate the belief of how spirits play an importance in everyday Thai life is the spirit house. It is believed that this is where the spirit of the land lives, the so-called ‘Lord of the land’, and these small colourful and ornate structures can be found outside most homes, office buildings, hotels, hospitals and almost every plot of land in Thailand.
Traditionally these spirit houses are positioned so that they never fall within the shadow of the building that they are meant to protect; otherwise it is believed that the spirits will not make it their home. On your journey through Bangkok you will witness almost every Thai who sees or passes a spirit house giving a quick prayer in respect for the spirits, you will also notice that offerings of food and drink are made to ensure that the guardian spirits are happy, this is really a kind of insurance policy to protect both the property and residents.
Once upon a time, this whole street would have been lined with traditional Thai teak houses protected by their little spirit houses. Unfortunately, with the rapid economic boom in Asia towards the end of the last century, many of these beautiful vernacular architectural gems have been lost to over development spurred on by financial greed. Let’s just hope that this pocket of urban living will continue to thrive well into the future.
Join us next week as we continue our exciting journey Discovering Bangkok.
You may find our article of Khun Sompong the local recycling man, who lives and works in this community interesting.