The illuminator - lightening up an ancient community | bangkokvanguards
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The illuminator – lightening up an ancient community

I think I was eight when I first visited this house. It was a normal house for me as a kid. After I graduated I began to see the charm of the building. I think it’s a house unlike any other in Bangkok. It’s a rare item. It was built around the reign of King Rama III (1824-1851) or King Rama IV (1851-1868). So it’s nearly 200 years old. My family bought it a few decades ago to use it as a storage facility for our textile company. Before that it was a residential building of a large Chinese family. Since I wanted to start a hotel business my family encouraged me to convert the building into a hostel. The building is traditional Chinese. It has many rooms. Traditionally the Chinese wanted to stay with their family in the same house. 

All family members staying in the same building. Ama Hostel before the renovation

This building is great to be a hostel because of its history and charm. Everyone can build new buildings but you can’t rebuild the past. These old places have a story. When people visit, they may be reminded of the charm of their own grandmother’s or grandfather’s house, houses which you can find all around Thailand. I think it’s better to preserve the old and blend it with new things. I started the project by staying overnight in the hostels that I personally liked to find the right style. Once I found the hostel I’d find out who designed it and contacted them. So there was a lot of homework to be done. 

The challenge to convert an ancient Chinese house / warehouse into a hostel was the limitations I had to work with. I couldn’t knock down walls or build toilets. If I’d destroy one thing it would affect many other things. I had to adjust the room type to the building and not the building to the room type. It felt as if every step I take, I’d bump into problems. Whether you turn left or right, you’d encounter a problem and you have to fix it, one by one. It takes time and you need some experience. I had to learn about interior design and architecture but the most important thing is that you start walking. If you don’t walk you’ll never find the mistakes and it’s the mistakes we learn from. 

Knowing his way around like a local because he visited his grandmother as a teenager.

Before I started Ama, I didn’t spend much time here. I lived near Hua Lampong and went to university and I hung out at Siam Square. Even though I didn’t spend that much time here, I still knew my way around here. When I visited my grandmother, I came here to buy toys at Saphan Lek that why I know my way around but many people may find it difficult to find their way around in the alleys.

Inside the alleys of merchants and traders

Ama hostel is located in an old community deep inside an alley without parking space. So it’s hard to find but if you get lost, the people in the community will happily show you the way to our hostel. The people here are very friendly. 

I think the community has changed a lot. The government has tried to improve the landscape around the canal and the people created a market along the canal. Before I started Ama hostel, everyone went home at 5:00p.m. and everything was quiet and dark in the evenings. The market has changed all that.

Ama’s neighbor, ancient Chinese homes from bygone days.

Ama Hostel also has a charming cafe and a lot of nice spots to take pictures. Our Trok Ama Selfie alley is decorated with countless Chinese lanterns which we light up every night. It has become a landmark in the community and it attracts a lot of young people. The visitors will also spend money in surrounding shops which benefits the neighborhood. I think this improves the community as people are receiving higher income. Before young people want to go to Thong Lo (trendy district in downtown Bangkok) but at some point they’ll get bored and they need something new and that new is not new but the old places. I compare Khlong Ong Ang to Talad Rotfai, which is a hip place among teenagers.

I only hope that things will go up again after Covid-19. The market had a good start and then suddenly came another wave and visitor numbers dropped drastically. It’s been really tough and we have to try everything we can to minimize the losses but we still welcome people, whether you’re in the Sampeng area looking for a nice place to relax and have a coffee or whether you’re looking for staying overnight in Bangkok in a different and historic place. If you want to experience a historic building, Ama hostel is ready to welcome you. 

Even when you feel that you’re bumping into problems at every step, it’s important to walk.
Michael Biedassek
[email protected]

Bangkok-based experience designer, blogger, tour guide and hobby anthropologist. I explore and introduce you to the places, people and ideas that matter