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!
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.