By Eric Lim
The Artists House is a colourful art centre and gallery in an old restored house by the Bangkok Yai Canal that preserves the traditional way of river life and it’s open to the public every day.
The old atmosphere of river life is still prevalent and you can hardly believe you are in Bangkok.
It took a long walk through narrow lanes between houses, with several enquiries along the way, to get to this place. That was the least of the problem as everyone I met in the neighbourhood was very helpful and friendly.
Please find your way to the Artists House with this map
I finally arrived at a row of houses by the canal. A common corridor passes through the front of these houses some of which are selling fruits, clothing souvenirs, deserts and fish food. There’s even a photo gallery. The Artists House is right at the end.
It’s open house every day at the Artists House. Take this opportunity to visit an old canal house that’s also an art centre with an art gallery and displays of colourful drawings, puppets and masks.
There’s a spectator area with seats for the daily cultural show, except Wednesdays. The stage is in the garden where there’s an old relic, a chedi that dates back to the Ayutthaya period.
Different types of art are displayed in the souvenir shop like postcards, key chains, masks, puppets and paintings which are for sale. Besides the artists’ workshop, there’s a coffee corner and dining area where visitors can relax over drinks and meals by the canal.
I found Khun Chumpol Akkapantanon the owner of Artists House seated by the canal painting scenes of river life. He was using a palette knife to apply acrylic paint to canvas. We spoke as he continued painting.
Khun Chumpol struck me as a man who loves the traditional way of life and wants to preserve it. He kindly presented me with his book of photos on scenes in old Amphawa, the floating market and canal community in Samut Songkhram, south of Bangkok and also an information brochure on the Artists House after it was renovated last year.
The Artists House used to be an old dilapidated house that was on the verge of collapse. Khun Chumpol and three friends bought the house and restored it to its original condition.
He laments that some of the riverside communities have lost their rustic charm as a result of overcrowding and excessive commercialization.
In contrast, life on this stretch of the Bangkok Yai is peaceful except for the frequent long-tailed boats rushing by carrying tourists who just want a quick look at river life. I wonder how much they can gain from such a cursory tour.
The neighbourhood is a very old community, continued Khun Chumpol, as he painted. The Chinese community of mainly merchants has lived here since the Thonburi days when King Taksin had his capital and palace on this side of the Chao Phraya River (1767 - 1782). So the houses here are more than 200 years old.
However the old chedi in the garden of the house is from the Ayutthaya period (1351 - 1767) which makes it 300 – 600 years old. It must have been part of a temple in a community that was here since the Ayutthaya days.
The Bangkok Yai canal used to be the original course of the Chao Phraya River, making a huge meander. In the reign of King Chairacha of Ayutthaya (1534 - 1547), a canal was cut across the base of the meander to shorten the sailing time to Ayutthaya and that became the present course of the Chao Phraya.
The old course of the river became the Bangkok Yai and Bangkok Noi canals.
Life in these riverside communities doesn’t look as if it has changed much over the generations except for the modern appliances, power lines and the satellite dishes on the roofs.
The Bangkok Yai Canal is also known as Khlong Bang Luang as King Taksin’s former palace and Fort Vichai Prasit are at the mouth of the canal.
Both these buildings are now within the Royal Thai Navy HQ.
The pad thai (fried glass noodles) vendor dropped by the Artists House and we ordered our food as Khun Chumpol continued painting.
I chose hoi tod (shell fish fried in batter), Khun Chumpol preferred fried carrot cake. The duck vendor arrived next and another dish was added.
We continued talking over lunch. Visitors are welcomed to use the house crockery to order food from the passing boat vendors. Please wash up and replace the crockery after you have finished.
After lunch I wandered upstairs to see the three spacious rooms which are art galleries displaying works of Khun Chumpol and other artists.
At 2:00 pm the cultural display started. First there was a demonstration on how to dress up in the traditional Thai costume. Imagine being in this thick gear in the 31 degree C heat and that’s indoors.
The Khon dance was the highlight of the day. By now the Artists House has become quite crowded with the spectator area full.
Families bring their children along to appreciate the art, culture and the atmosphere of the place. Curious children watched Khun Chumpol paint as he patiently answered their questions. He was on to his third painting by now.
He deftly sketched the duck boat vendor who had berthed at the house across the khlong. The picture gradually took on form, texture and colour as he applied the paint with his palette knife.
Gertrude Stein once said, “A writer writes with his eyes and a painter paints with his ears”.
What could Khun Chumpol be hearing as he worked on his painting to its final form?
The Artists House is an ideal place to spend a quiet day reflecting, writing, reading, drawing or painting. Or you can spend time appreciating the artists' works around the house, having a coffee and watch life go by on the Bangkok Yai.
It’s also an educational experience to spend the day with the family. I was there on a Sunday and it was quite crowded.Perhaps a weekday is preferable if you like a little quiet.
Khun Chumpol must be commended for creating the Artists House as an art and cultural oasis within a traditional setting where the old ways of life are still preserved.
Map to the Artists House
How to get to there
Now this is going to be a little tricky. If you are driving, you need to come through Soi Phet Kasem 20 and park at Wat Khamphaeng. Walk through the temple grounds till you get to footbridge 1.
You can see the house from footbridge 1 but there is no access from this end.
You’ll need to take a big clockwise loop to footbridge 2 to get to the house on your right.
Go all the way till the end of the road where there’s a 7/11 store.
From here you’ll have to go on foot through the narrow stretch, cross footbridge 2 and the house is on your left.
Take the MRT Blue Line to BL33 Bang Phai. From the station take a taxi to Soi Phet Kasem 20 and Wat Kamphaeng. Follow the instructions as above.
It may be easier to alight at BL1 Tha Phra and take a taxi to Soi Charan Sanitwong 3 and go all the way in to footbridge 2, though this is a slightly longer way, it's more straightforward.
Admission is free. Feel free to make a donation to the box to help with the maintenance.
I would like to thank Khun Chumpol Akkapantanon for kindly taking the time to give me the historical background to the Artists House. I am also grateful for his photo book, “Oh Amphawa” on scenes from the past in Amphawa.
The warm hospitality of Khun Chumpol and his staff really makes visitors feel at home.
All photographs on this webpage are with the courtesy of the Artists House.
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