17 February 2016

Bangkok and Beyond: Culture in the Canals of Krung Thep

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Hidden deep within Bangkok’s network of klongs, or canals, a small artisan village reached only by longtail boat offers a glimpse at rarely seen urban lifestyles. We dug into the secrets behind our Bangkok canal tour.

If you were to mark the Artist’s House on a map of Bangkok, it would appear that this little-explored hideaway was smack-dab in the middle of a part of the city famous with tourists.  It’s location is famous for a reason – Thailand’s capital city used to lie on this side of the river, and thus is brimming with more temples, tradition and history than you could ever hope to digest in a few days.

But this little artisan village is notoriously difficult to find – mostly because it is hidden in plain sight within a maze of klongs, or canals.

The entrance to this charming artisan village is marked with a collection of brightly-coloured statues of pensive people, perched along the dock at the gateway to the village. Plenty of tourist ferries and longtail boats will pass by without so much as a fleeting glance, never to know what’s hiding beyond the dock.

Clever travellers, though, will make a visit here a priority -and after a sequence of lefts and rights in the narrowing canals, they’ll find themselves in a part of the city where time seems to stand still.

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The History of the Village

Now owned by Khun Chumpol Akkapantanon, the “artist’s village” is less a village than a sprawling, three-century old Manila style wooden home. Until 2008, the historic structure stood in near utter disrepair, and encroaching development throughout the khlongs threatened to flatten the building to make space for utiliarian, concrete buildings now commonplace in the historic canals.

Though Bangkok is now a thriving hub of urban energy, the city’s khlongs are the last connection that the city has to its history as the “Venice of the East”. Centuries ago, the khlongs served as irrigation, transportation channels and moats – but with the introduction of cars and motorbikes, these historic canals are quickly disappearing to make way for roads and skyscrapers.

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The charming wooden building was once a common feature of the khlongs, but by the time Khun Chumpol began his renovations in 2008, it was one of the last remaining traditional buildings in the area.

Once completed, Chumpol insisted that the house was not his own, “but a part of Thai history” – and it’s mysterious location would keep it from becoming over-crowded like nearby Amphawa floating market. Only the most adventurous and curious of travellers would manage to find their way here.

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An Artisan’s Grotto

Chumpol wanted the building to feel like visiting a relative’s home, even for foreign visitors who found their way here. It began as a charming riverside home where visitors could relax and explore small artist’s workshops, but soon became a hub of performance art with the introduction of its daily puppet show.

Performed in much the same way as puppetry has been in Thailand for centuries, its puppet show is now one of its biggest draws. Meanwhile, visitors here can wander through stalls of budding Thai artists less focused on profit than pure creation.

One of the village’s resident artists, Jatuporn Niltho, sums it up in his own worlds: “We want to keep our ideals in the village – we don’t create artwork to seek a lot of profit, but only to continue to run the village. We want people to come here and relax so we can protect this special part of riverside life in the city.”

For travellers on the hunt for something unique in the city, exploring the klongs and its most charming riverside villages is a glimpse at life as it was in Bangkok decades before.

Explore the khlongs and the Artist’s Village on our Bangkok highlights tour with a twist. Ask our team how to make this a part of your multi-day journey in Thailand!