It takes foresight, courage and no shortage of patriotism to part with one’s property for the public good. And Waraporn Suravadee proved herself to be one of Bangkok’s most passionate patriots when she transferred the rights to her teakwood homes in Bang Rak to the BMA more than a dozen years ago.
The buildings would become the Bangkok Folk Museum, and Waraporn its caretaker. Sadly, the tenacious, civic-minded former professor passed away at 81 this week after a fall from the second story of her home in the middle of January. Her legacy, however, seems more likely to endure than ever.
Bangkok Before World War II
Tucked away in a leafy expanse near Charoenkrung Soi 43, the Bangkok Folk Museum stands on the fringes of the same community where the glossy, glass-encased MahaNakhon Tower is currently stretching toward the sky.
A conduit to the city’s past, the museum is made up of three teakwood houses, each built between 1929 and 1937. The houses are filled with artefacts rarely seen in this day and age, from Benjarong jars and gardening tools to old house deeds and out-of-circulation banknotes – all personal keepsakes. The furnishings are original. High ceilings and vented shutters keep the buildings cool naturally, as they did in the days before high-powered air-conditioning.
It’s a remarkably well-preserved lens into middle-class life in Bangkok before World War II, one that has defied odds simply to exist.
In June 2016, Waraporn famously crowdfunded more than 10 million Baht in only 15 days, enough to help her foundation (Insart-Sa-ang) purchase the neighbouring plot of land before an eight-story building would be built on the premises, hulking over the museum and perhaps pushing it further onto the periphery of the public conscious. Even more impressive is that she and her foundation, with incredible public support, pulled off this feat with little help from the BMA, proving the power that even small groups of citizens can have when working together toward a good cause.
Above all, the publicity that her act of bravery stirred up has driven more visitors to a museum that most residents and tourists were only vaguely aware of in the first place.
Lesser-visited, but no Less Valuable
Thailand boasts an incredibly rich heritage that can – and should – influence its development for the better. Waraporn saw that more clearly than most. Her ability to keep one eye on the past and the other on the future was a rare skill indeed.
With the neighbouring plots of land, Insart-Sa-ang intends to build a two-story building that can host community events and provide parking space to accommodate more guests. The museum’s future seems firmly settled, and with it an integral piece of Bangkok’s cultural heritage.
If you haven’t yet visited this gem of a museum, make time to do so this weekend, or next weekend, and share the experience with friends and family.