A stroll in Song Wat

A stroll in Song Wat

Bangkok Design Week welcomes walking tours of 'coolest' district

A stroll in Song Wat
The Maskati Building used to be an Indian fabric department store.

Last year, Song Wat was selected as one of the "World's 40 Coolest Neighbourhoods" by Time Out due to its excellent balance in preserving old traditional shops and incorporating new activities and trendy vibes from emerging entrepreneurs. As a result of this recognition, Song Wat attracts young people.

Song Wat is a historical area, however, young people are usually unaware of its history and visit the neighbourhood merely as a popular photograph check-in location. To provide knowledge regarding the history of Song Wat, Yuwaree Choksuansap and Pakawadee Vanapruk, lecturers at the Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality, and Kirati Srisuchat, a lecturer at the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts at Dhurakij Pundit University (DPU), teamed up to create a walking tour called "Song Wat...Walking The Memories" as part of Bangkok Design Week 2024. The tours are available this Sunday and on Feb 3 from 9.30am to 12.30pm. The fee is 799 baht, including a drink and a postcard.

"Song Wat attracts a large number of tourists, but many people visit the area without realising its historical significance. Visitors are drawn by the beautiful buildings and new cafés, but they may not know that this was once an important community. In the past, Song Wat was a busy community with houses, shops, schools, and places of worship. We created this walking tour to share this history with others," explained Pakawadee.

"I spoke with Somchai Kwangtongpanich, a community historian, who often emphasises that conserving old things in a city is a challenging task. Some things cannot be preserved because the city needs to grow and change. However, one thing we can do is preserve the storytelling. Therefore, we need to figure out how to share the stories of Song Wat with more people. The audience of 'BKKDW2024' are below 40. It would be nice to organise a historical tour for an event that targets young people," Pakawadee added.

Last year, Song Wat was selected as one of Time Out's 'World's 40 Coolest Neighbourhoods'.

There are many tours offered in Song Wat, but the DPU team believes that "Song Wat...Walking The Memories" stands out from other tours because their tour guide, Yuwaree, is a former resident of Song Wat. Yuwaree will share the history of Song Wat Road and trace her childhood memories back to where she lived until the age of five. The tour will start from Ratchawong Pier and end at Yuwaree's old house which is now a café and nail salon called Frairy Nail Spa Salon.

When asked what makes Song Wat a significant location, Yuwaree explained that during King Rama V's reign, the location of Song Wat next to Ratchawong Pier made it a logistical hub where products and goods were loaded.

"In the past, whether the economy was good or not, it all started at Song Wat because cargo ships arrived here. People would receive news from merchants who came to deliver goods. For example, due to floods, the amount of onions brought in from Samut Songkhram was less than usual. People would know that they could not sell onions at the usual price. They had to increase the price," Yuwaree explained.

"This goes back about 50-60 years when we did not have the internet. We didn't know how to assess market prices. The entire economic agriculture sector relied on Song Wat Road because every ship would dock here, whether from Samut Songkhram or Sing Buri. The products that came by ship included coconuts, taro, cassava and seafood."

As the tour starts from Ratchawong Pier, participants will meet at the 7Eleven near the Song Wat Road sign. Opposite the convenience store stands the Maskati Building, an abandoned building with a wooden perforated Thai design that used to be an Indian fabric department store. Walking along the 1.2-km long road, participants will pass buildings that still sell agricultural products such as red beans, black beans, and Job's tears. Mung Korn Trading showcases its old-style containers, including tiffin carriers, trays and pots.

An abandoned building in Song Wat.

Agricultural products.

Three highlights of this walking tour are Peiing Public School, fruit shophouses and the location of what used to be Yuwaree's house.

"Peiing Public School was established during the reign of King Rama VI, but officially opened during the reign of King Rama VII. Children of leading businessmen, such as the owners of the Saha Pathanapibul and the CP Group, studied at this school. The school was funded and received donations from China and Chinese descendants in Thailand," explained Yuwaree.

Peiing Public School.

Located next to F.V. Restaurant, the two-storey buildings are called "fruit shophouses" due to their adornment with stucco featuring fruit motifs.

"In the past, these buildings served as shophouses selling onions and garlic. Drawing inspiration from the fruit stucco, Kirati, one of our team members, designed a rubber stamp that tour participants will use to create their own postcards," said Yuwaree.

F.V. restaurant.

Fruit shophouses.

Yuwaree's grandparents immigrated from Shantou, a city in China. While her parents can speak Thai, they are more fluent in Chinese. Her father worked at Kaset Rungruang Phuea Phol Company, and her mother ran a duck noodle shop. Yuwaree's family lived in a house owned by Kaset Rungruang Phuea Phol, but they had to leave Song Wat when the company's contract to run the business on the land ended.

"It might have been economic reasons that made the investment less cost-effective because the trade route shifted from water to land. Therefore, everyone had to move out, and everything was demolished," she said.

"When I lived there, I felt that everything was related to water and the river. During meals, my mom would take me to sit on the pier or by the river. Boys jumped into the river during leisure time, but I would run around the riverside."

Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque is another place that tour participants will visit. Near the entrance of the mosque, Gu Long Bao shop serves steamed buns, which it claims to be cooked from hundred-year-old recipes. Unlike mosques that people are familiar with, Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque does not feature a dome. Yuwaree explained that not every mosque is constructed with a dome.

"Mosques can be built as square buildings. During the construction of Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque, European stucco design influenced Thailand's buildings. The first member of the Samantarat family was a Malayu translator for the royal court and the first governor of Satun. He built the yellow Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque for Muslims to have a place for prayer. In the back of the mosque, there is a cemetery that tour participants are allowed to visit," said Yuwaree.

Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque.

A cemetery behind Luang Kocha Itsahak Mosque.

Since many young people come to Song Wat to check out a new café or well-known eateries and restaurants, Yuwaree hopes that the tour will help participants to understand the importance of Song Wat in the past and how it has changed.

"Many businesses in Song Wat are run by people from outside the community. Song Wat is fortunate that outsiders see the value of its heritage and make efforts to preserve it. People in the Song Wat area should also preserve their homes and old buildings for future generations. Conservation is essential, and it is the reason why tours are organised -- to tell stories and ensure that people do not forget the history of places," concluded Yuwaree.

For more information, visit https://tinyurl.com/2tztf883.

Yuwaree's old house is now a café and nail salon called Frairy Nail Spa Salon.

From left, Yuwaree Choksuansap, Pakawadee Vanapruk and Kirati Srisuchat, of Dhurakij Pundit University.

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