Bangkok’s history is fascinating. There’s nothing we love more than getting lost in its spaghetti-like maze of streets and alleys that have been worked and reworked since before the city was founded in 1782.
As Smiling Albino calls Thailand home, we have a special affinity for the steamy, huge, wonderfully complex capital. Indeed, one of the best parts of our job is peeling back the layers of time like an onion, showing guests the fascinating history that lurks in both the unknown corners and in broad daylight. You just need to know where to look.
With that in mind, our friend Steve Van Beek has released the 4th edition of one of our favorite books on Thailand, called Bangkok Then and Now.
Steve is an old Bangkok hand and in his forty-plus years in Bangkok, he has amassed an impressive collection of photos and information on the capital. He uses this knowledge in his book, which features side-by-side comparisons of photos taken decades apart from the same spot.
In fact, we love the book so much that we wanted to feature some of our favorite photos on this website! We even downloaded a cool plug-in that lets you fade between the two pictures to more easily compare them.
Below is the main building of the Siam Society on Asok Road, a scholarly association that promotes Thai culture. The Terminal 21 shopping mall looms large in the background, which, back in 1933 as you can see, was just beautiful rice fields
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). This picture was most likely taken pre-1920, because in that year 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.
Another view of Wat Saket, this time from Ratchadamnoen Road. Note Mahakan Fort, peeking up over the old city walls which once surrounded the city, protecting it from invasion. Also, 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 old city and into the wilds of rural Bangkok, which back, then wasn’t much more than cattle trails and rice fields.
One of my favorites, looking straight down Sathorn Road toward the river. It was taken in 1946.
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. 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. The buildings at 2 and 3 o’clock to the HSBC building are still there, and are currently undergoing major renovation. Can’t wait to see them when they’re done!
This picture of the Victory Monument was taken in 1946. Back then, this area 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.
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). The Novotel Platinum is the curved building on the corner and to its right is the Platinum Mall. Just out of frame at the top is Central World, one of Asia’s biggest shopping malls.
Steve’s book is really great, and in addition to the pictures, it has tons of info about Bangkok from the early 1900s, including clippings from 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 Bangkok – Asia Books and Kinokuniya especially.
Best of all, we can show you these spots in person on our day tours!