What is the future of Bangkok? That is an interesting question for discussion because like most capital cities around the world, Bangkok’s population is rapidly growing and drastic changes are required just to keep up with the demand. With the poor urban planning and limited regulations of the past, the inadequate infrastructure that is already in place will dictate the path of the city’s future growth. Unfortunately without adequate regulations and policies in place this could have a devastating impact on the city and it’s cultural heritage.
“OK guys, today I will take you on a short tour around M.R.Kukrit’s home in Bangkok, it’s just behind the Central Business District and this is one of the stops on our Siam Sawan bicycle tour.”
Peter – tour guide at Follow Me Bangkok Bicycle Tours
M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, the 13th Prime Minister of Thailand, was a man of many talents and a life-long active promoter for the preservation of Asian and traditional Thai culture. His home, simply known as M.R. Kukrit’s Home, is a lasting statement of his personal efforts to preserve Thai culture.
Over a period of 20 years, he purchased a collection of authentic traditional Thai teakwood houses from different places around central Thailand. Some of the structures are over 100 years old and because they are constructed as a unique knock down style they were easily dismantled, transported and reassembled, almost like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Now appearing as a single house, the collection sits within two acres of beautiful tropical gardens, a small private green oasis in Bangkok’s busy Central Business District.
When M.R. Kukrit passed away in 1995 at the age of 84, he left instructions that his home should be opened to the public; maybe he saw this as his legacy to educate and guide the future generations! Now registered by the Department of Fine Arts this house is a wonderful place to explore, and along with the hundreds of artifacts of cultural and historical interest it provides a unique and rare glimpse into the past.
As you walk around these peaceful and quiet grounds you cannot escape the visual presence of the modern day Bangkok looming above in the skyline. In stark contrast, it is a clear reminder that no matter how important the preservation and conservation of traditional culture is it has to coexist alongside the ever-changing modern city.
Clearly Bangkok embraces modernity, as it rightly should, and the changes just over the past few decades have been enormous. Although the Department of Fine Arts is responsible for the architectural preservation of Bangkok their powers are limited. This is mainly due to the fact that current laws are not enforced and there is no financial support or grants available to owners to act as an incentive to preserve historical property. Thais are easily convinced to discard the past for short-term gains, and with the recent fast track approval process for mega developments in the city aimed at boosting the economy, the pressure is on to ensure that the city is not deprived of her history and culture.
Admittedly M.R. Kukrit was from a privileged background but it seems that there is much to learn from his passion for preserving the past for the benefit of the future. Maybe we can only live in hope that Bangkok’s current and future policies for urban heritage preservation are sufficient to ensure that there is room left for the past in the race for the future. It has been said that if you cannot inspire people by the past you cannot expect them to believe in the future.