Old Houses of Sukhumvit

The neighborhood I live in – Thong Lo – is part of the “middle Sukhumvit” area in Bangkok.  Located east of the old city and not too far from the Chao Phraya River, fifty years ago this area was considered to be really far out in the countryside.  Well-off families of merchants and civil servants bought pieces of land for their weekend homes along narrow sois (alleys) that led off larger streets that paralleled khlongs (canals).

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Over time, their houses grew with additions for children and in-laws.  Trees grew, too, providing beautiful shade and cooler temperatures even as the city and all its ill effects – noise, pollution, pavement, and tall buildings – crept into the neighborhood.

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Since there are no annual property taxes (although they are being discussed by the legislature), there is little incentive to sell unused property.  As these old homes were encroached upon by modernity, families often fled to other properties and some of the beautiful residences fell into disrepair.

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Sometimes the family, or their descendants, will raze the old buildings and construct new ones.  That’s happening next door to us as two older houses have been torn down, the adjacent properties have been combined, and a new house if being erected.  Of course, this required the removal of some of the beautiful (and tall) old trees because the sons of the owner didn’t want leaves falling into their swimming pool.  Instead of leaves, they will get to be spied upon by half of my neighbors.

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Many of the older houses are built in a “tropical deco” style and were designed with the environment in mind.  With wide overhangs and carefully oriented windows, natural ventilation kept the house comfortable most of the year and air conditioning was rarely necessary as the breezes and large trees worked in tandem to cool the house.

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Not so much these newer homes, the designs of which are a mish-mash of styles, resembling nothing so much as a housing development in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  Take the above house which is being built on Sukhumvit Soi 10.  What is that deck-like structure elevated above the house?  It couldn’t possibly be chimneys because why would anyone have fireplaces in Bangkok?

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Sometimes the older houses, instead of being torn down, are turned to commercial uses either through lease or sale.  Just down the street from us, this beautiful three-story home (a bit hard to see in the background) is being transformed into a new branch of Curries and More, a Thai restaurant operated by the popular Baan Khanita group.  They are adding another building that is being built around the existing trees and it looks like the setting will be beautiful, complementing the style of the original house rather than competing with it.

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Another example, just next door to our condo, is a house that was turned into Red, an upscale Indian restaurant.  While the people living adjacent to the restaurant don’t appreciate some of the late-night celebrations held there, the owners have done a nice job using the original building.

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Perhaps the nicest example is across the street and a few doors down from us, a company that designs and sells furniture including outdoor patio sets that are perfectly suited to the wide verandas featured in the house’s design.

It is interesting to watch how the neighborhood changes.  What started out as weekend homes in the far suburbs has become condos, restaurants, shops, or just rebuilt homes in the vibrant heart of the city.  All a part of the unique character and charm of Bangkok.

 

0 thoughts on “Old Houses of Sukhumvit

  1. I watched old apartment buildings being turned into condos and beautifully furnished on the circles in DC – Dupont Circle is a good example. All of a sudden an old building looking like it was ready to be demolished was turned into a pricey complex of condos. The older homes in Florida have a beautiful old southern look and fortunately most have enough land around them to ward off the modern buildings.

  2. hahaha that deck-like thing on the roof is really strange, and seems completely pointless. i wish i had enough money to design my own house from the ground up… for starters, it would have a nice big kitchen!

  3. @kunhuo42 –  A nice big kitchen?? Amen, brother Aaron! Sometimes I sit down and sketch floorplans for my ideal kitchen, the elements of which change from time to time.@Dezinerdreams –  That last one is one of my favorites. There is another down the street that is actually the headquarters of Greyhound, a local clothing brand, and they have a beautiful pair of buildings similar to this one.@yang1815 –  For a radio-controlled helicopter, mayhaps.@oxyGENE_08 –  Oh, you are? Do let me know the details. Tawn and I would be happy to meet you if your schedule allows.@CurryPuffy –  While they vary depending on property size, etc. each of the parcels shown here start above 1 million US for sure.@Fatcat723 –  While there is a place and time for tearing down and building anew, appreciating and integrating older architecture adds a lot of charm to a city and preserves its character.

  4. It’s a shame that some of these old houses are torn down. The one with that elevated platform looks odd. It doesn’t seem to serve any function (shade / partial roof?)

  5. Sometimes you can squint and try to imagine how the neighborhoods looked like in the day. Sometimes you can find old photos. My neighborhood has 100+ year old houses along the busy streets that are now businesses, but it would be hard for me to tell how these neighborhoods used to look like.Both times I visited Bangkok, I started out in this neighborhood, staying at the Ambassador hotel (I just walked in, stayed there, liked it, and came back) I wish I had known about Soi 10, I would have spent more time exploring and less time at Cheap Charlies on Soi 11. (also both times, I had spent a week around people that didn’t speak much English, so Cheap Charlies was a place I could converse with the Aussies that hang out there).In the second photo, notice that the apartment building has the same footprint as the house and yard. That is the main reason those houses don’t last, the land is very valuable.

  6. @gasdoc73 – Glad you enjoyed it.@Ricardo98 – Oh, there’s no doubt about the value of the land in the mid-Sukhumvit area. That old house in the second photo could go for a few million doars (US), easily.@Dezinerdreams – Does Greyhound sell there or do you only know them from Thailand?@icepearlz – I agree, very tropical lifestyle.@ZSA_MD – @ElusiveWords – It doesn’t seem like the added platform is large enough to provide any meaningful shade.  Nor does it seem to have any access for use as a garden.  Odd…

  7. Going on a country with different language and culture just like in Indonesia, you would be culture shocked. Despite of that, I admire you for having such an inspiring tour around that place.

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