Thailand’s three provinces Samut Prakan, Chanthaburi and Trat share a common history with France. After the 1893 Paknam crisis, French troops occupied Chanthaburi and Trat provinces. The ensuing 14-year occupation proved very influential in the old ‘Chanthaboon’ district where buildings feature European-style windows, arcades, and wooden balconies similar to those built across French Indochina.
Paknam, Samut Prakan
The Phra Chulachomklao Fort stands tall in Phra Samut Chedi district, Samut Prakan. Built between 1884 and 1893 by King Chulalongkorn the Great in the European style, the Fort has since been modernised and is now a museum. Located just under a monument dedicated to the King dressed in a navy commander’s uniform, the museum contains an exhibition about the Paknam incident and Franco-Siamese War of 1893. The King Rama V Fortress Historical Park opposite the museum displays the information of the war and the development of the Royal Thai Navy.
Chanthaburi’s old ‘Chanthaboon’ district still shows French architectural influences. At least a dozen of these historic houses survived modernisation. Many are now hip coffee shops, art galleries, restaurants and boutique hotels. The nearby Baan Phokabarn houses an information centre and small museum with old images depicting this bygone era.
The impressive Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception started during the brief French occupation, is over the river from the Chanthaboon riverside community. It was finished two years after France withdrew from the province and is one of the largest Catholic churches in Thailand. While the outside façade is rather austere with its dark greyish-brown colour, it contrasts with the exuberant gothic interior style. Its vaulted ceiling, wall paintings in trompe-l’oeil and stained glass were all manufactured in France. The church is an important hub for Chanthaboon’s Vietnamese Catholic community who emigrated there during the French colonial period.
Suan Ban Kaeo Palace in Ta Chang district is another important example of the European style from the early 20th century. The royal residence of Queen Rambhai Barni, a palace comprised of a cluster of wooden pavilions (chalets), was constructed in a typical European style.
An ancient French prison is open to visitors at the opposite of the elegant palace. Khuk Khi Kaiprison, just before Laem Sing Beach, was built to hold Thais who rebelled against the French occupation in Chanthaburi. A seven-metre high, square-shaped prison was built with bricks each measuring 4.40 metres per side. The walls were perforated for ventilation, but the porous roof housed a chicken coop, where the poultry dropped excrement on prisoners as a sort of torture.
The beautifully restored Trat Museum’s shape and architecture, with its large wooden pediment and pillars, takes its inspiration from European houses in Southern Thailand. Here, visitors can enjoy an excellent overview to Trat history. It evocates a memorable naval battle between Thailand and France in 1941. Inside the museum are pictures and documents remembering the battle between Thai and French naval forces, conducted by French warships in support of a land offensive against Thai troops on the Cambodian border.
French influence is mostly visible today in the number of tourists who spend their days along the Gulf of Thailand, or in transit on their way to nearby Cambodia. It is happily a much more peaceful cohabitation than 100 years ago!
By Luc Citrinot: source www.tatnews.org