On my first six months in BKK I regularly made it a point to explore the city. I'm quite lucky that I live on the fringes of Rattanakosin island or the old quarter of Bangkok where one finds its centerpiece, the Grand Palace.
So after work, while there's still some sunlight, I'd rush towards the nearest temple or old palace that I located on the map or perhaps just ride the boat and soak in the river-side atmosphere.
Well that's pretty much how I fell in love with Bangkok and all it's hidden, old-world charm and pulsating sidewalks.
I remember getting lost quite often then but we all know it's part of the fun and that's how I also went deeper into the less-visited parts of town.
I wonder how it happened but on more than one occasion I'd find my self ending up in the Giant Swing close to the Bangkok City Hall. I love that part of the city though especially during sunset.
I haven't wandered around Rattanakosin in a long time now perhaps because I always head to the mall instead (I know, I'm embarrassed). OK, blame it on the bloody weather. (Yeah right!) But lately Bangkok is mostly overcast and it is thus more encouraging to go out.
So yesterday I decided to venture back into Rattanakosin and of course I had to start from the Giant Swing.
I read in the paper last week that some government agency will restore the old shophouses at the back of the Defense Ministry building. I did not even know that there's a collection of shop-houses there. Damn, I've not explored well enough. Gosh, I have this big love affair shophouses, I don't know what exactly draws me to them.
I reckoned I should immediately see the place before it's restored to perfection, before it would become boring already.
I walked from the Giant Swing and strayed into the narrow alleys until I found the canal at the back of Defense Ministry building where across it the rows of shophouses stand, perhaps three long alleys of them. I could only recall one of the streets being called Phraeng Nara Road.
My guess is the shophouses were built in the late 19th century to early 20th century and are owned by the Crown Property Bureau (as is the case for most shophouses, or so I heard).
Indeed the shophouses are in bad need of some serious repairs. The roofs are a patchy affair of tiles and corrugated iron sheets. Many of the wooden trimmings on the windows and doors are weathered. Some of the wooden window shutters were already replaced with jalousies, to my horror. And of course the ubiquitous, unsightly electric wires crisscross the alleys.
I observed only a few of the shophouses serve their original (or perhaps also traditional) purpose of hosting a shop on the first floor and the second floor being the living quarters. Currently the shophouses are mostly used solely as residences with those repugnant steel shutters serving as doors.
The area though has a pleasantly quiet neighborhood atmosphere with children running around the pavement, grandmothers fanning themselves while watching the street scene, a man repairing a shoe with furrowed forehead, old men deep into a game of chess, and colorful laundry billowing in the afternoon breeze.
I also found an old school in the area, its intricate wooden trimmings (I honestly don't know the appropriate term for these details) arching over the pavement and its walls beaten by time.
I gathered that the school was built in the reign of King Rama V (around the latter half of the 19th century). Together with the surrounding shophouses, it would truly be a heritage treasure if they could be restored properly.
One corner opened to yet another string of two-story shophouses with green window and door frames. These are generally tranquil neighborhoods except for the muffled cacophony of cars and motorcycles clogging the main streets nearby.
I wonder if on weekdays there'd be more activity in the area as it seems that on my visit most of the shops were shut, although at least it made the visit certainly relaxing.
Having soaked in enough of the community, I crossed the canal towards the Defense Ministry building, walked around the walls of the Grand Palace, and eventually ended up in a tiny park.
From there I walked towards the direction of Khao San Road (I needed new fake Wayfarers for an upcoming trip), passing by a couple of temples, crossing a number of canals, and captivated by more shophouses flanking the streets.
I'm sharing more pictures below. I was playing with PhotoScape last night, hence the effect. I'm so getting married to PhotoScape tomorrow. I also did some lay-outing on PhotoScape that I posted on Facebook... check it here.