Ban Bu: Where Handmade Legacies Are Made

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When someone says Ban Bu, most people would think of the fame stone-polished bronzeware (Khan Long Hin; ขันลงหิน). But fewer people know that it’s also where the last generation of makers of those “handmade legacies” lives with their lasting culture and wartime historical memory since Thonburi reign. These breathing legacies can be categorized as “hard” ones referring to those that are made into hard stuffs like metal, bronze, etc. and “soft” ones with delicately handmade process into desserts, traditional medicines, and paintings. Wanna learn more about Ban Bu? Here is what Ban Bu made of…. these legacies!

Ban Bu Community’s entrance sign

The ancestors of the community migrated after the second fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 and later settled down near Bangkok Noi canal across on the Thonburi bank of the Chao Phraya River as a community of artisans and expert smiths. The name of the community is derived from the craftsmanship’s process of hitting and forming metal into shapes. With its captivating historical atmosphere and strategic location, Ban Bu community is fulfilled by Thai society’s fundamental basis like temple, market, school, hospital, train station, and pharmacy. This even makes the bond of the people toward the community stronger. You can enter the community either from Thonburi Railway Station or Charansanitwong Rd. Soi 32.

Located near Bangkok Noi canal, Ban Bu local living has been involved with water.

Disappearing Hard Legacy

Since King Rama V modernization era, train was one of the trendiest ways to transport around the Kingdom. During World War II, Bangkok Noi station was the main route the Japanese troops used to transport weapons which led to be a target of Allied bombing in 1945. It’s also the site where Kobori died, a popular male protagonist in Thai classic novel Khu Kam (คู่กรรม), a tragic love story between a Japanese Navy Officer and a young Thai woman.

Bangkok Noi Station Sign

After severely damaged during the bombing, the old station was rebuilt in 1950 and became the site of Siriraj Bimuksthan Museum exhibiting the history of Bangkok Noi neighborhood. While the new station is built 900 meters from the old station.

Not far from the old station, there is Thonburi Locomotive Depot (โรงรถจักรธนบุรี) where Thailand’s last five steam engines from the old days are kept and maintained. Some steam locomotives are still active and serve as special trains on important occasions for the State Railway of Thailand including 26 March (anniversary of the opening of the first public railway), 12 August (Thai Mother’s Day), 23 October (Chulalongkorn Day), 5 December (Thai Father’s Day) and other additional trips.

Within the Ban Bu community is Jiam Sangsajja bronze factory, the only remaining maker of Khan Long Hin or stone-polished bronzeware (Khan Long Hin; ขันลงหิน) in Thailand, an ancient craftsmanship handed down to the 6th generation since the Ayutthaya era. There are six steps to creating it, the toughest being the first, which involves heating of the alloy and skilfully beating it into shape. It is the process that later became the name of the community ‘Bu’.

Since the process is very sophisticated, and relies entirely on proficient skills, Khan Long Hin has ceased to function as a utensil of daily use; these days it is more of a high-priced decorative item or collectible. Now it is disappearing. There are 6 steps of making the bronzeware at Ban Bu; heating, shaping, lathe smoothing, filling, polishing and shining. The last process of pattern painting now is sent to Chachoengsao Province. Only less than 10 people who are still making it and each person is responsible for each step. Most of them are retirees nearing to 60 and older, but they still work because they love what they do. It’s in their blood. Sadly, younger generation does not wants to continue as it’s a hot, laborious and tedious process to work as an Khan Long Hin craftsmen.

Disappearing Soft Legacy

Wandering around the community, you can see the local lives here with their traditional pharmacy, traditional century market hall, school and temple. Known as Venice of the East, Bangkok has a large network of canals and rivers which became the lifeblood of the city connecting and serving as main commute of locals. There were a lot of floating markets including the one in Ban Bu.

Classic sign written ‘Suwannaram Temple Market’ or ‘Wat Thong Market’ in front of the market.

Originally a floating market, it transitioned into a land market and became the commercial center of Ban Bu. Since 1924, Wat Thong Market used to be a large fresh market of fresh meat, vegetables, spices and cooked meals. Its unique structure nicknamed the place ‘the market without beams as the wooden structured market is supported by the curved joints that resembles of Hua Lamphong Railway. As it is located closed to Bangkok Noi Canal, people usually came here when water transport was still popular. Since more roads were cut, the market became less popular and now abandoned. Mr. Nok, who is one of the community committee told us that there would be an event to revive this century market in this September 2016. Stay tune!

Nearby there are street stalls and restaurants like Thai garland stall of Aunt A-Ngoon, beef noodles which is available only in the morning until noon and Thai food at Jit’s which her menu is daily switching from Pad Thai, Fish Maw Soup and other Thai dishes. She also teaches Pad Thai workshop. There was a stall of Grandma Wad who offered grilled banana served with her special homemade gravy sauce. Sadly, she doesn’t sell it anymore regarding to her age of 80-year-old and her health condition.

Ban Bu was once the center of medical treatment by traditional medicine. However, the only standing pharmacy is Sa-Nguan Osot, currently run by the third generation. For over 80 years, this traditional pharmacy has been founded behind the Wat Thong market by Mr. Sa-Nguan Laotrakul, the community’s renowned pharmacist who had an expertise in compounding traditional medicine. He sold a variety of Thai herbal and traditional medicines prepared according to old recipes. Inside this old pharmacy, there are also a couple of vintage wooden medicine cabinets and old-style medicine grinders. His well-known herbal remedies include Yahom Indrajakra (ยาหอมอินทจักร) for heart health, Yanin Osot (ยานิลโอสถ) to heal mouth ulcer, Yahom Sommit Kumarn (ยาหอมสมมิตรกุมาร) for baby.

Walking across the small bridge, you will see Suwannaram Temple. Formerly known as ‘Wat Thong’, this an ancient temple was built for over 200 years since Ayutthaya period. During Thonburi period, it was an execution site for thousands of Burmese soldiers who are prisoners of war because they refused to help King Taksin to fight along with his soldiers against Burmese troops who were occupying Phitsanulok, the Northern province.

At the temple’s gable, you can see the ‘Narayana on Garuda’, covered with gold leaves.

Proclaimed as the temple with one of the Thailand’s finest mural paintings, it features the masterpieces of early Rattanakosin era that were made by all the top royal artists during King Rama III period by legendary competing master painters; Master Thongyu (Luang Wichit Chetsada) with Thai-style painting and Master Khongpae (Luang Seni Borirak) with his contrasting Chinese-style painting . The paintings are about the buddhist belief such as Jataka Tales about the previous lives of the Buddha (that is, before he was born for the last time to become the Buddha), and Story of Buddha tempting by the demons prior to his enlightenment.  

As the temple was entirely renovated in the reign of King Rama I, the Buddha statue named Luang Por Sasada (หลวงพ่อศาสดา) is believed to be relocated from Sukhothai. Luang Por means venerable father in Thai.

Walking along the alley near the intersection that connects the community with Charansanitwong Rd. Soi 32, you will find the family who still makes one of the hard-to-find Thai desserts, Rae Rai Dessert and sells to other merchants in many floating markets throughout Bangkok and some central provinces.

Aunt Pensri and her son, the only Rae Rai makers in Ban Bu

Stated in King Rama II’s well-known Verse of Food And Desserts (กาพย์เห่ชมเครื่องคาวหวาน), this ancient dessert is made of rice flour dumpling topped coconut milk and sugar mixed with sesame. In the past, flowers are used to color and create natural scent of desserts. However, the flavored syrup is replacing the traditional flower scent as it is easier to find and can preserve the desserts longer. Here we can learn how to make Ray Rai dessert with Aunt Pensri and her son who inherited the tradition.

Ban Bu’s name may appear in people’s mind as a community of artisans, yet it has more than that!  Local lives, century-old market, murals at temple and the hard-to-find dessert. However, these amazing cultural handmade legacies here are fading through times. These are hidden in their past, but from with your help, together we can bring them back into the limelight again and save them from disappearing by visiting and sharing about them.

When to visit: Weekdays especially from 9am-3pm when the stone-polished bronzeware opens.

How to get there:

  • Bus No. 10-2, 40, 42, 56, 57, 68, 79, 80, 108, 157, 171, 175, 509, 552
  • Chao Phraya Express Boat : Siriraj Pier then walk
  • Skytrain: BTS Ratchathewi (then grab a Taxi)

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