I think I was eight when I first visited this house. As a kid, this was just a normal house to me. During my university years I began to see the charm of the building. It’s a rare gem. It’s unlike any other house in Bangkok. It was built around the reign of King Rama III (1824-1851) or King Rama IV (1851-1868). So it’s around 200 years old. My family runs a textile businesss in Sampeng, so we bought it a few decades ago to use it as a storage facility for our textiles. Before that it was a residential building of a large Chinese family.
Before the hostel. Traditional usage of old buildings as storage facilities.
Since I wanted to start a hotel business my family encouraged me to convert the house into a hostel. The building is traditional Chinese that means that the entire family stayed in the same place. It has many rooms for each of the family members which we turned into private guest rooms and dorms.
I started this project by staying researching the best hostels in Bangkok and I stayed overnight in those that I personally liked. I wanted to find the right style and once I found it, I’d find out who the designer is and contacted them. So there was a lot of homework to that I had to do.
This building is suitable to be a hostel because of its history and charm. It’s easy to build a new building but it’s impossible to rebuild the past. These old places have a story. When people visit, they may be reminded of the charm of their own grandparents’ house. These are houses which you can find all around Thailand but they go back to a forgotten time. It’s much better to preserve the old and blend it with new things though.
But there are lots of challenges to convert an ancient Chinese house into a hostel. One thing are the limitations I had to work with. I wasn’t able to 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 had to fix those problems 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 doing, that you start walking step by step. If you don’t walk you’ll never find the mistakes and it’s the mistakes we learn from.
blending old and new
Dorm rooms with balcony.
Before I started Ama Hostel, I didn’t spend much time here. I lived near Hua Lampong, studied and hung out at Siam Square in the modern part of the city. But I visited my grandmother here and I often bought toys toys at the nearby Saphan Lek Market. So, even though I didn’t spend that much time here, I still knew my way around here unlike many other people who may find it difficult to find their way around in the alleys.
My hostel is located in an ancient community called Khlong Ong Ang Community. It’s located deep inside the alleys of Chinatown. The challenge of being located in Bangkok’s old neighbourhoods is that you often can’t provide parking space for cars. So it’s hard impossible to get to our hostel by car and it’s not easy to find on foot. However, we usually talk to the taxi driver and pick up the guests or if you get lost, the people in the community will happily show you the way to our hostel. One of the great thing about our location are the people. The people here are very friendly.
Inside the alleys of merchants and traders.
Ama Hostels ancient neighbours. Murals of the ancient Chinese villas of the community.
When I compare the community to when I was young, it has changed a lot. Before I opened Ama hostel, everyone went home at 5:00p.m. After that, everything was quiet and dark in the evenings.
The new weekend market has changed all that. The government has improved the landscape along the canal and allowed the people to create a market on the weekends called Khlong Ong Ang Walking Street. This has become a new attraction for Chinatown and Bangkok as a whole and it changed everything. I’m very happy about it as it attracts much more people to our area.
Trok Ama Selfie Alley. Day time traffic of passengers.
Starting a hostel means a lot of homework to do
Our hostel also has a charming cafe and a lot of beautiful spots to take pictures. We turned the alley in front of our hostel into Trok Ama Selfie alley. It is decorated with countless Chinese lanterns which we light up every night. It has become a landmark and an attraction of the community. It attracts a lot of young people which is great because they will also spend money in the surrounding shops. This benefits and improves the community as people receive higher income.
Before it was hip for young people to go to Thong Lo (trendy district in downtown Bangkok) but at some point people get bored and they’re looking for something new. That new is not new but the old. I like to compare Khlong Ong Ang walking street to the Talad Rotfai night markeet, which is also a hip place among teenagers.
Me and Moss the illuminator, both of us going through difficult times in the Covid-era.
I hope that things will go up again after the pandemic. 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.
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.
Bangkok-based experience designer, blogger, tour guide and hobby anthropologist.
I explore and introduce you to the places, people and ideas that matter