Bangkok is full of charming heritage houses, mansions and buildings that combine Western influence with that unique Thai flair. These cultural treasures help us look back to the past and appreciate Thailand’s rich and diverse culture.
While a lot of these structures are still used by their owners and kept as private residences, many have been transformed into restaurants and bars for the public to enjoy.
Namsaah Bottling Trust
It’s hard to miss this bright pink house at the end of Silom Soi 7. Today, it’s Namsaah Bottling Trust, a restaurant and bar run by star chef Ian Kittichai. But this wooden colonial-style villa has played myriad roles since it was built almost a hundred years ago.
The house was once the residence of a royal aide-de-camp, then the headquarters of a bank, and finally a soda company’s bottling office. In fact, that’s where the name Namsaah comes from – “namsaah” is the old-fashioned Thai word for soda water.
After making waves in the Bangkok fine dining scene with Issaya Siamese Club, Chef Ian created this casual venue for his patrons to enjoy a variety of tasty, gastro-style Thai dishes. The bar serves Thai-inspired cocktails with creative uses of herbs and local flavours. Music plays a key role here too, making it a great den for dining and unwinding throughout the entire evening.
While the original edifice of the house remains intact, the walls have been painted blue and crimson with purple accents or plastered with Chinese-themed wallpapers. Polished wooden tables and chairs exude a warm, homey feeling while the décor lends the space an exotic vibe.
The House on Sathorn
This majestic heritage building opened its doors to the public in 2015 and quickly became a gourmand’s delight. In two short years, The House on Sathorn has risen to the top of Bangkok’s dining scene, thanks to a menu inspired by Chef Fatih Tutak’s professional peregrinations at The Dining Room, a 2017 entry to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. For low-key occasions, the striking house also offers Western-style comfort food at The Courtyard and innovative drinks at The Bar.
The building, like Chef Tutak, has a rich history to share. Constructed in 1890 during the reign of King Rama V, this neoclassical structure was the mansion of Luang Sathorn Rajayutka, the business pioneer who was responsible for creating the Sathorn Canal and also the historical figure for whom the neighbourhood is named.
After Lord Sathorn ran into financial problems, the mansion was sold off, eventually becoming the Hotel Royale (later called Hotel Thailand). It was leased to the Soviet Union in 1948 and used as its embassy in Bangkok until 1999.
The mansion was given National Heritage status in 2001 by The Fine Arts Department, and the restoration and renovations were completed under the watchful, scrutinising eyes of the department. While a few modern comforts and decorative items have been added, the house’s structure, motifs and colour palette remain the same as the original (or as far back as records go).
Many of the little details left intact tell the story of the original owners of the house, too: the Chinese rice flower (lamduan) motifs represent the favourite flower of the landlady, and a boar’s head signifies the birth year of Luang Sathorn Rajayutka, according to Chinese zodiac.
Café de Norasingha
Standing at the gatehouse to Phayathai Palace, adjacent to the arrival hall, is Café de Norasingha – a colonial-style teakwood venue with pastel green décor that serves tasty Thai dishes as well as pastries, snacks and fresh coffee.
But coffee and snacks are not the main attraction here. Café de Norasingha pays the homage to the first Thai café, originally located at Sanam Sua Pa during the reign of King Rama IV. That café was established by General Chao Phraya Ram Rakop, privy council and one of his His Majesty’s confidants, to be a gathering ground for social elites and high-profile merchants.
It’s unfortunate that we never got to see what the original café looks like, but this recreated version at Phayathai Place is no less historical. Though the furnishing is all new, the wooden panels, iron-framed windows and intricate wall and ceiling frescos are well-preserved originals.
The café is a small part of the palace that stretches along Rachawithi Road. The grounds are comprised of a cluster of buildings that include a dancing hall, ballrooms, private chambers, studies, small private mansions and Roman gardens with marble statues and fountains – all designed in neoclassical style, with most of the construction materials imported from Europe.
Built in 1909, the palace served three kings. It was first a vacation home for King Rama V and later became the main residence for King Rama VI. King Rama VII ordered the palace to be converted into a hotel, an enterprise which lasted only five years.
Years later, it housed the first Thai radio broadcast station. After a change of government, the palace opened a clinic for the Royal Thai Army, since renamed Phramongkutklao Hospital.
Praya Dining at Praya Palazzo
In 2009, this majestic colonial-style villa by the Chao Phraya River was turned into a boutique hotel, Praya Palazzo. Accessible only by boat, this stylish riverside inn lures travellers from all over the world, not to mention foodies who want to savour authentic Thai dishes presented in visually stunning display at Praya Dining, its signature restaurant.
Opulent and charming, this heritage building was formerly known as Baan Bang Yi Kan and was built in 1923 to serve as the residence of Phraya Chollabhumi Panich, a royal officer in the Customs Department during the reign of King Rama V and VI.
The villa and the grounds were home to vocational schools from 1946 to 1996, but around the time of the Tom Yum Kung Crisis they were abandoned, and remained that way for almost 20 years. An extensive, painstaking restoration that took more than 20 months finally reinstated its former glory. The mansion, two years after becoming a boutique hotel, was recognised with the Best Conservation Award from the Association of Siam Architects.
Designed by a team of Italian architects, the villa sports a Palladian style with long, curving staircases leading from the front terrace down to lush vegetation by the river. The interior, while still expressing Italy’s neoclassical style, pleases the eyes with Thai-style wooden furniture and bright-coloured tapestry standing in exhilarating contrast.
The Authors’ Lounge
Afternoon tea at The Authors’ Lounge is one of Bangkok’s most timeless treats. Also a favourite destination for society weddings and elegant events, the Lounge exudes Old World opulence with neoclassical architecture, a pale olive green and off-white palette, rattan and wooden furniture, and floral decorations that bring out tropical charm. Not to mention history.
Originally an open-roofed garden – featuring a pond with the famous “please don’t feed the tortoise” signpost – the Authors’ Lounge has featured a glass roof since 1976. The neoclassical façade dates back to when the hotel was built 140 years ago, becoming Thailand’s first hotel.
Two years ago, the Mandarin Oriental commenced a comprehensive renovation of the Authors’ and Garden Wings, designed to significantly enhance the services of this award-winning hotel and to restore the historic heart of the property to its original splendour.
The newly restored Authors’ Lounge now features a brand-new collection of photographs of the many famous writers who have stayed at the hotel over the last three centuries: Noël Coward, James Michener, Somerset Maugham and Joseph Conrad are now immortalised in four new private lounges.
The Gardens of Dinsor Palace
Tucked away in a small soi in the bustling Ekamai neighbourhood is The Gardens of Dinsor Palace, a restaurant that doubles as a mid-town sanctuary. The kitchen serves hearty comfort dishes by Chef Autumn McTaggart from Seattle, while outside, on the manicured lawn, the garden serves peacefulness and closeness to nature with big leafy trees and a sizable pond with fish and fountains, as well as fluffy rabbits, gliding swans and all-white Indian peacocks.
The Gardens of Dinsor Palane is set in a two-story colonial palace that was once called Wang Dinsor. This piece of land came into the possession of Prince Bhanurangsi Savangwongse as a gift from King Rama V in 1904. It was not until three decades later that this teak mansion was built to be the residence for Her Royal Highness Princess Ramphai Prapa, the prince’s daughter.