Menu Filter

Sanphasat Gate The Gateway to Old Siam

Sanphasat Gate

Sanphasat Gate, Bangkok

Tags: Bangkok, Sanphasat Gate, Thailand

Introduction to the Sanphasat Gate

With all Bangkok’s traffic, shopping centers, discos, and expressways, the traditional Thai lifestyle is hardly visible in Bangkok anymore. But through the congestion there are a few places where you can sense what life was like in the past. For example, just ahead there are three tiny communities which have managed to preserve the unique atmosphere of Siam during the reign of Rama 5.

These three communities are collectively known as “sampraeng” which in Thai means ‘three junctions.’ As you walk through these three communities you will see many attractive shophouses built by King Rama 5 to house servants of his court and members of his enormous royal family. Today, these areas have become vibrant communities, each with a character of their own. These charming neighborhoods are regularly threatened with demolition or alteration, but locals who have fought hard to protect them, and have so far managed to hold back the powerful surge of urbanization and commercial development that has claimed most of the old town.

The first junction is Praeng Sanphasat which used to be the entrance to one of the three royal palaces that stood in Sampraeng. The palace entrance is marked by an arching brick gate in European style. At the top of the gate is a statuette of a torch-bearing Greek goddess. This gate was restored by the Fine Arts Department in 1976 and is all that remains of the palace.

Rama 5 planned this neighborhood shortly after his return from a trip to Europe in 1887. The lane had a noticeable European feel to it and many influential Siamese built large fancy homes along this street. The most famous resident of Sanphasat Road was Phibul Songkran, one of the two leaders of the 1932 coup that brought democracy to Siam.

The palace was built in 1906 by Prince Sanphasat, who was the Chief of the Military Engineers Corps during the reigns of Rama 5 and Rama 6. The Prince was also a Royal Gold Smith, so this area became well-known for its gold. Many goldsmiths lived in this community and worked for a German businessman named Grahlert who had a large company shop that once stood on the left. Most of the Grahlert goldsmiths lived in a small street nearby which is still called Company Lane. With so much gold being melted here, gold dust and gold scraps could be found scattered about. Whenever there was a fire in this area, scavengers would rush to sift through the rubble of the homes hoping to strike it rich. Gold scraps were so common that it was not unusual to see people panning for gold in nearby canals. One former resident even went to the trouble of flooding the soil underneath the floor of his home which used to be occupied by a goldsmith. He was able to sift out 45 grams of gold, enough to make a small golden amulet.

Just a few meters down the street on the left you can see a kind old man in a wheelchair making hats. Mister Gim Fong has been making handmade military caps for 60 years. Many top officials, including the Crown Prince, have bought his hats which take approximately two days to make.

Surprisingly, this seemingly innocent neighborhood used to be one of Bangkok’s most active redlight districts. It is rumored that back in the day the going rate was nothing more than one cigarette, making it one of the cheapest brothel districts in town. Locals were often annoyed by male patrons who would wander up and down the street looking for bargains. This problem became more severe during WWII. Local residents were so troubled by the constant flow of lonely American soldiers through their street that they eventually put a banner at the main junction declaring that the area was indeed a redlight district, but that foreign soldiers were not welcome.

Prince Sanphasat died in 1919, 13 years after he built his palace. Shortly after he passed away, his children sold the property to land developers. In 1967, the palace and all the surrounding homes were devastated in less than one hour by a large urban fire. Fires in this part of the old city were common. The open flames would leap from one wooden home to the next destroying everything in their path. Fires were so frequent that many people would dig pits under their homes that could be quickly filled with valuables and sealed to keep them from the flames. The fire that consumed the palace was supposedly started by careless children who had accidentally set a mosquito net ablaze. However, some guess that it was actually part of a scheme by urban developers to clear the land for construction. In any case, the palace has been replaced by these large, and rather boring, concrete buildings, a few publishing houses, offices, and small businesses.

By Blaine Johnson

No reviews for Sanphasat Gate yet. Be the first to leave one!

You must be logged in to submit reviews.   Login Here →