NANG LOENG: WHERE FOOD AND CULTURES COLLIDE

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Hidden in the center of Bangkok’s Old Town, Nang Loeng is known as Foodie’s Haven. Yet, not many people know about its culture and what are disappearing in it the communities. In its golden days, the vibrant bustling atmosphere attracts locals and visitors. But sadly, all these unique heritage and culture might be gone (a little too) soon. So, what are they and how is it important? We have the answer here for you. 

Originally, the community was called the buffalo’s field (Baan Sanam Kwai; บ้านสนามควาย) as it used to be lots of buffalos here. After the canal was built , the field later became center for trade and entertainment. Mons brought the ‘E-Loeng’ water jars to sell in the area and it later adapted to be the community’s name as E-Loeng or Nang Loeng.

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Outside Nang Loeng Market where you can spot deep-fried banana street sellers with colored apron.

DISAPPEARING FOOD

Walking into Nang Loeng Community, you might feel the charming glimpse of old Bangkok here like the vintage architecture of the 116-year-old Nang Loeng Market, the old dentist place, the old theater. During the time of its golden age, the bustling scene can be seen by locals. Though time passed, the market is still filled of hard-to-find and unique recipes for over a century. Yet, less visitors these days.

Inside Nang Loeng market, a heaven for authentic food lovers

One of the worth visiting spots here is Aunt Hong Thai Dessert Shop. Aunt Hong spends all her life time in her kitchen making Thai desserts like egg custard pudding (Khanom Mor Kang; ขนมหม้อแกง), steamed custard (Sangkaya; สังขยา) or sweet sticky rice with coconut cream and black beans (Khao Niao Tat; ข้าวเหนียวตัด) since World War II when she was only 7.

Grannie Hong and her kitchen which has been operating since World War II.

Other stalls also sell rare Thai food and desserts like sausage and shredded fish wrapped in leaves (Sai Krok Planam; ไส้กรอกปลาแนม), coconut milk custard (Khanom Tuay Talai; ขนมถ้วยตะไล ) which owner still uses the traditional way, pour the coconut milk into the tiny porcelain by using coconut shell at Montha’s.

While other highlights of delicious food include duck noodles at Sor Samran and Sor. Roongroj, delicious bowl of wontons and noodles that served Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Thailand at Rung Ruang Noodles, 50-year Hakka noodle at Suwimon, rice with various choices of curry at Ratana and many must-try Thai dessert shops like Nanta which passes on old recipe from the royal kitchen in their signature sugar palm cake (Khanom Tarn; ขนมตาล) , banana cake (Khanom Kluay; ขนมกล้วย) and pudding with coconut topping (Ta-go; ตะโก้).

DISAPPEARING PERFORMANCE HUB

Even though, delicious food and tasty desserts might be one of first things that pop up in people’s head when you think of Nang Loeng, this place has more history as a center of performing arts, entertainment and culture. Close to Nang Loeng Market, it used to be a hub of entertainment both daytime and at night;  crowd gambling when there’s a horse racing event at Nang Loeng Racing Course, using pawnshop as their funding source, enjoying legal opium den, and spending their night at Saphan Yao Alley which was once a one of notorious red light areas of Bangkok back then, before the alley caught fire. Sadly, we can barely see the shiny bustling of this entertainment hub these days, just the story told by local elderly.

Sala Chaloem Thani Old Theater

Nang Loeng is also home to legendary Thai actor Mitr Chaibancha, who appeared in more than hundreds of Thai films during 50s-70s which was screening in Thailand’s first wooden movie theater ‘Sala Chaloem Thani’ or Nang Loeng Theater. For over 75 years of operation, it sold around 300-400 seats at its peak time. The audience would sit on the wooden benches. There was no seat reservation or usher checking tickets. Some said when the movie was so thrilling; people wouldn’t want to leave their seats to go to toilet, and eventually urinated inside (Wow!). Yet, many movies with Mitr Chaibancha during his 14 years in Thai film industry have simply disappeared due to no low quality copies and no original film negatives kept.

Across the Sunthornthammathan Temple where the remains of the late Mitr Chaibancha are kept, you will see the houses of artists both traditional and vintage contemporary like Narasilpa House (Thai performance’s embroidered costume production house), The Dance House (old ballroom dancing school),Baan Nang Lerng (common space for activities and performing art events) and the hidden residences of performing troupes at Lakhon Alley.

Found by Ms. Lamom Susangkorn since the reign of King Rama VI, Narasilpa House is known for various traditional Thai stage performances like Khon, Lakhon Chatri and Thai classical music and their delicate Khon Embroidery, the troupe eventually became Narasilpa Movie Company that produced movies, musical plays and stage plays. In its third generation, it still continues working on performing arts and dedicated to the traditional masked dance (Khon; โขน) and dance drama (Lakhon; ละคร) costume embroidery which also became a miniature museum for visitors. Unfortunately, its well-known Khon performing troupe is now only a legend.

Literally translated from Thai name of Baan Ten Rum, the Dance House was originally ‘Samakkee Lee-rat Dancing School’ which taught dancing especially ballroom dance. Back in the 60s, this two-story wooden house was also one of Bangkok’s most popular venues for young people to socialize and became the symbol of Western influence. Now, the place was newly renovated with the preserved original structure and new decorations from various antique stuffs like colorful mosaic dancing couple tiles and old cassettes. The current owner, Ms. Aey, the third generation, wants to turn the abandoned dancing school into a dance museum to pass on about ballroom dance back then and a place where locals can have a place where they can exchange their opinions and meeting. Bringing back dancing spirit of this place, it occasionally holds some events and workshops on ballroom dance too.

Ms.Auy, the third generation who currently owns the Dance House

As Nang Loeng neighborhood was famous for Thai stage performances such as traditional masked dance (Khon; โขน), dance drama (Lakhon; ละคร), folk shadow puppet show (Nang Talung; หนังตะลุง) , folk theater (Likay; ลิเก)  and Thai orchestra troupes (Pee Pat; ปีพาทย์) , these performing troupes settled their base at Lakhon Alley. Today, there are few Lakhon Chatri troupes left. Influenced by the spreading of Indian culture through the region, Lakhon Chatri is the Thai theatrical performance that is accessible  to common folks depicting traditional folklore unlike royal plays and masked performance. It was developed to be a combination of the art of singing and dancing. With the flow and popularity of western performance, it became much less prevalent and disappearing.

Born in great performers’ family, 70-year-old Aunt Kanya, the 3rd generation of the troupe is one of few people who still preserves the traditional Lakhon Chatri performances. She’s direct inheritant the last breath of the Chatri dance and still follows their ancestry’s will to pass on to those who are interested. 

Auntie Kanya’s Lakhon Chatri performance with her musicians at Baan Nang Lerng

True disappearing faces of Nang Loeng as the hub of disappearing performances and vibrant food market are fading through times and still waiting for your help; the Chatri Dance, the Thai desserts and rare Thai food at the market. 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 during 8am-2pm which is the most bustling time.

How to get there: 

  • Bus No. 2, 8, 10-2, 37, 39, 44, 53, 59, 60, 70, 79, 171, 174, 183, 511, 556
  • San Saep Express Boat : Phan Fa Lilat Pier
  • Skytrain: BTS Ratchathewi (then grab a Taxi)
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