Sam Chuk Market
Sam Chuk, an old market town along the Thajeen River in Suphan Buri province, serves as a good example of how a community can contribute to changing the face of a place. The lively town, which is more than a century old, is today a dynamic and charming place to visit.
However, until a couple of years ago, Sam Chuk had been drafting its own obituary for quite some time. The thousands of visitors from all over the Kingdom you see there every weekend now could not even be imagined in those days.
In the good old days, when boats were the main mode of conveyance, Sam Chuk was an important centre for transporting goods. Merchants from all parts of the country stopped at the town overnight before heading to Bangkok. Thus, it was a very busy place until the coming of the highways.
The busy port almost closed down when the roads came. Many offices moved to Bangkok and the market became quiet with a drastic fall in the number of customers.
And no one would have had the chance to admire the Thai architecture, which has been there since the days of King Rama V, if the people in the area had agreed with the authorities to pull down their old wood houses and replace them with concrete structures.
"The land where the market is belongs to the Treasury Department ," says Pongwin Chaiwirat, a member of the Sam Chuk Market Conservation committee. "The rental contract is renewed every three years. And they were afraid there might be a blaze, so they wanted to demolish the old wooden houses."
It was a great dilemma for local the people, who already had to look for other ways of earning a living after business took a turn south. They basically had two choices, staying with what their ancestors built or pulling it all down.
The Udomchok Hotel was once always booked, with merchants making their reservations up to four months in advance. Arunluck Onwimol was afraid that the two-storey hotel would be pulled down because the owner had been announcing it was for sale. To conserve the establishment, she rented the inn and restored the ground floor into a coffee shop.
"Please come in and feel free to explore upstairs," Arunluck says warmly. "Check it first and tell me later if you would like to check in."
The second floor of Udomchok Hotel still remains as it was a century ago. But it's not a haunted hotel like those you see in horror movies. As Arunluck, a former university lecturer, tells you, the place has been conserved so that visitors can experience how the hotel felt 100 years ago.
"It's not a bad place for staying overnight. I just want to keep the old building and renovated the first floor for that cup of cappuccino visitors want," she says. "The market is alive again after we agreed to conserve our houses and lifestyle and open it to the public and the media."
Strolling along the market and having a good look at all the attractive architecture, including panels described in Thai as khanompang khing (literally, ginger bread), but actually delicately craved wooden curtains, done during King Rama V's and VI's times is an educative experience.
With about 300 houses, Sam Chuk market is spread out over four sois. It's too small to get lost in. People are willing to direct you and it's very likely they will ask if you have visited the Khun Chamnong Chinarak museum.
The house of a former Sam Chuk's nobleman, Khun Chamnong Chinarak, has been renovated into a museum after his offspring donated the beautiful structure to the community.
Open from 8am to 5pm, the two-storey museum tells visitors the story of Sam Chuk through an exhibition of photographs. Small windows along the corridors throw attractive shadows on the old mosaic floor.
The second floor still retains the look of what it was when the owner lived there. The charming wooden house and antique furniture will definitely appeal to those with a historical bent.
If you want to have a photograph taken the old way, the Silp Thammachat, a photo studio on Soi 3 is the place to go. The 56-year-old photo shop is now run by Suree Aiempichairit.
She says that she learnt how to take a photo with an old camera from her father when she was 17.
"In the past, taking a photo was expensive. However, women loved to exchange pictures with each other," she says. Silp Thammachat studio still uses an old camera and the old process of developing photographs in a dark room.
"Visitors can have a photo done the old way at Bt250 for two prints. We will mail them three weeks after. It used to be only one week but it takes longer now because there are many visitors. There are about 30 to 40 customers every weekend."
Don't think you will go hungry while visiting the market. Sam Chuk is famous for a variety of delectable dishes and desserts.
Khao hor bai bua (steamed jasmine rice wrapped in lotus leaf) is among the many worthies on the menus in town. For a try, visit the restaurant at the foot of Pornprapha Bridge. Here, Rungroj Prapruetdee said that he sells about 200 pieces of khao hor bai bua a day. A piece costs Bt25.
You might also not be disappointed with Jek Ao noodles. Just a minute's walk from into the market, you see a very busy noodle stall. If you visit the market on a weekend, you may have to wait for customers who are about to leave.
The delicious homemade noodles and the great taste of the soup are worth waiting for. And if you think only one bowl is not enough, it would be wise to order the second the first time.
Want to have dessert and a cup of coffee after your meal? Take a seat at Je Muay Lek's coffee shop or Tha Rua Song Coffee.
The ambience in these places is totally different from that of the modern coffee shops in the town. There's no Internet corner or cappuccino. The shop serves traditional coffee, tea and cocoa. Sitting on a wooden chair, it's enjoyable to sip a cup of iced coffee or tea served on an old marble table.
Try the traditional Thai desserts which are sold in front of the coffee shops. There is a wide variety - coconut milk Thai desserts such as klauy buad chee, khaoniew tua dum, tao suan and pla krim kai tao. But the best is khao fang piak (millet in coconut milk). The dessert costs Bt8.
There are plenty of interesting shops to explore in the small town such as Ku Seng Huad, selling old-style kitchenware, the Sam Chuk Bicycle shop and an old watch shop.
If you want to take food home, Ja Chued roasted duck and Jit's dried gourami offer delectable choices.
Although the market is now a brisk place, Pongwin says that the local people are still not sure the good times are going to last.
"Local people want to renovate their homes. But they are not sure about the Treasury's policy. With short-term rental contract, we are still afraid. We will consult the province's deputy governor to ensure we have long-term contracts," she says.