Bangkok Then & Now – Old Photos vs. New Ones

Bangkok’s history is fascinating. Its spaghetti-like maze of streets and alleys that have been worked and reworked since before the city was founded in 1782, and peeling back the layers of 230+ years of history reveals some incredibly interesting stuff.

One of the best ways to appreciate this is with a book called Bangkok Then & Now by Steve Van Beek, the 4th edition of which was just released. Steve is an old Bangkok hand and in his forty-plus years in Bangkok has amassed an impressive collection of photos and information on the capital throughout the years. (Read this post where Steve, his wife, and I took part in an extremely complex tea ceremony with a certified tea master).

One of the most interesting features of the book is side-by-side comparisons of photos taken decades apart from the same spot. I thought it might be a really good fit with a plug-in I recently downloaded that overlays two pictures on top of each other and lets you control the transparency, and I was right!

The latest version of Steve's book.

The latest version of Steve’s book.

With some Photoshop tweaking and a bit of cropping, I picked out some of my favorite pictures from the book and included them below. I’ve also included some interesting quotes from the Bangkok Times Newspaper, from 1900 and 1901, also taken from the book, just to break things up a bit.

Move your mouse across the image to fade from old to new.

The motorcycle has penetrated to Bangkok.

Below is the main building of the Siam Society on Asok Road. It also happens to be where I got married. The Terminal 21 shopping mall looms large in the background which, back in 1933 as you can see, was just beautiful ol’ rice fields.

A couple of Indian dairymen were summoned to the British Counselor Court today for allowing their cattle to stray on the paddy fields at Sala Daeng. Defendants were ordered to pay 20 ticals (baht), the amount of the damage.

The picture below was taken from Wat Saket (The Golden Mount) looking west toward the Grand Palace, which you can see in the top right corner along the horizon. If you look closely in both pictures you can see Sao Ching Chaa (The Giant Swing). I’m not sure when the pic was taken, but I’m going to guess post-1920. The reason is that in 1920, the Giant Swing was moved a bit closer to Wat Suthat (the big temple left of center), and if you switch back between pictures you can see the swing’s location change. This might also just be a trick of the slightly different perspective.

The other evening a prominent Siamese minister had his hat snatched off his head in Worachak Road.

Another view of Wat Saket, this time from Ratchadamnoen Road. You can also see Mahakan Fort and the old city walls, which once surrounded the city. You can’t really see it but on the left side of the old picture is 1 of 16 gates that used to lead out of the city and into the wilds of Sukhumvit.

The Public are warned that from the 1st of next month, the Siam Electricity Co., Ltd. may have full electric current on all its wires by day or night. To touch the wires, therefore, will be extremely dangerous.

One of my favorites, looking straight down Sathorn Road toward the river, with Rama IV directly behind you. It was taken in 1946.

Knowledge is Power, and it is good to know that the Timonelli Bros. just received a specially choice lot of cigars and cigarettes.

This one is looking down on the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Phadung Krung Kasem Canal, which was dug in the early 1850s as the third defensive canal around the old city of Rattanakosin. The stately old building in the center of the picture was the old HSBC HQ, and was demolished in the 1980s when the Sheraton was built. If I’m not mistaken, I think that the buildings at 2 o’clock to the HSBC building  are still there, but are badly in need of repair.

It is hoped that, under the rules of the new municipality, the farang who leaves a whining pup tied up in his house will be shot.

This picture of the Victory Monument was taken in 1946. Back then, this was waaaaay out in the northern boonies of the city, but as you can see with the update, it’s not so remote these days. Bonus fact: Do you know what victory the monument celebrates? The Franco-Thai War, which was fought between Thailand and France in 1940 and lasted 8 months.

A couple of Europeans, both in an inebriated condition, caused quite a stir at the top of Oriental Avenue last evening. They were showing their affection for one another by a free use of a walking stick and an umbrella.

Cool shot looking down on two water towers next to Ratchdamri Road, taken in 1946. As Van Beek points out, notice the 3 large canals in the old photo, which have long since been filled in and built over. (I cropped this one quite a bit to make the towers match up a bit more – the original pictures are much bigger).

As a train was passing near Korat the other day, a tiger was seen carrying off a deer that it had killed. The engine driver blew the whistle and the tiger dropped the deer and bolted into the jungle in terror.

Another favorite, again taken in 1946. This is looking south along Ratchaprarop Road; in the new picture you can see it going under the overpass (which is Phetchburi Road) where it turns into Ratchadamri Road. The Novotel Platinum is the curved building on the corner and to its right is the Platinum Mall. Again, this one is pretty heavily cropped, but in the book you can see Central World Mall in the background in all its consumer glory.

Steve’s book is really great, and in addition to the pictures, has tons of info about Bangkok from the early 1900s, including clippings from books, newspapers, wanted ads, and letters from locals and foreigners alike. A must-read for anyone who loves the city. You can find it in most book stores in Bangnkok – Asia Books and Kinokuniya especially – or get more info here.

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2016-11-20T14:58:52+00:00 Bangkok, History, Print Media|19 Comments


  1. Farang Ouan May 10, 2015 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    Another fantastic post. I know what my next book purchase is going to be!!! I love how you have combined the photos, Greg.

    • Greg May 10, 2015 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      Thanks Farang Ouan. It’s a great read, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

      • Farang Mark June 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm - Reply

        It IS great how you combined the photos. Sure beats trying to explain to friends how it looked when I was living here in the late sixties to now! Well done!

        • Greg June 12, 2015 at 5:53 pm - Reply

          Thanks Farang Mark, it’s amazing how the city has changed over the years.

  2. Ray October 7, 2015 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    That house behind the Sheraton hotel at one of your pictures is currently being restored. Its looking good!

    • Greg October 7, 2015 at 12:31 pm - Reply

      Ah, that’s great news! I once did a walking tour with a guy who wrote a book on Chinatown and he said that building used to sell alcohol back in the day, when the old customs house nearby was the main point of offload. Hope they keep it nice, it’s a beautiful structure. Speaking of the old customs house:

  3. Carol Morgan December 1, 2015 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    Steve, fascinating pictures of Then and Now Bangkok. It is obvious you are many fascitated in talents. Makes me want to visit Bangkok.

    Thanks for the visit through these pictures, however.

    Love, Carol

  4. Susan Kepner December 25, 2015 at 11:38 pm - Reply

    Wonderful! Looking forward to having this new book. And I hope (without much hope) that the old Customs House may be restored instead of crushed and taken away…

    • Greg January 6, 2016 at 9:55 pm - Reply

      Thanks Susan, it’s a good read. I hope the old customs house is restored too, it’s beautiful.

  5. Robert Cooper January 3, 2017 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    A fantastic way to show the city Steve loves and how it has changed, mostly in his lifetime. This one will last a very long time. There’s no end to Bangkok. A beautiful and useful record of the way we were and the way we are changing, ever changing. Well done, Steve. Brilliant.

    • Greg January 5, 2017 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Thanks Robert, well said, Steve put out a great book.

  6. JOHN J. TOOMEY May 28, 2017 at 8:20 am - Reply

    I love that you remembered our tea ceremony.

    • Greg May 29, 2017 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Hi John! Indeed, it’s a very fond memory and would love to do it again sometime. If you’re having folks over again one day, let me know. 🙂

  7. JOHN TOOMEY May 28, 2018 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Sorry that I’ve been out of contact for so long. I will definitely let you know about the next New Year’s Tea Ceremony which should be in late January or early February. You and Steve make miracles. I can’t believe how you possibly made the photos change from old to new and back!

    • Greg May 28, 2018 at 3:41 pm - Reply

      Hey John, great to hear from you again. Yes please, would love to come out again for some tea. Very fond memories of last time.

  8. Barent Springsted November 24, 2018 at 10:29 am - Reply

    Steve’s newest publication, NEWS FROM THE 90’S, BANGKOK 1890-1899, is an excellent addition to his collection of books focusing on some unique aspect of Thailand’s history.

    • Greg November 24, 2018 at 3:13 pm - Reply

      Hey Barent, thanks. I’m working my way through his new book as I type (well, in a few minutes I’ll pick it up again). We’ll probably cover it on an upcoming episode of the podcast.

  9. Vera Comerford August 20, 2019 at 1:28 am - Reply

    I haven’t read the book, but as I was born in Bangkok (St.Louis Hospital) during the big floods, I used to take the tram down Silom Road with my grandma to Bangrak market and also used it along Charoenkrung road. I wonder if you have any pictures of those trams. They were such fun to ride on.

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