Baan Khrua

Siam Square, Pratunam, Phloen Chit & Ratchathewi

This canalside neighbourhood dates back to the turbulent years at the end of the 18th century, when Cham Muslims from Cambodia and Vietnam fought on the side of the new Thai king and were rewarded with this plot of land east of the new capital. The immigrants brought their silk-weaving traditions with them, and the community grew when the residents built Khlong Saen Saeb to better connect them to the river.

The 1950s and ’60s were boom years for Baan Khrua after American Jim Thompson hired the weavers and began exporting their silks across the globe. The last 50 years, however, haven’t been so great. Silk production was moved elsewhere following Thompson’s disappearance, and the community spent 15 years successfully fighting to stop a freeway being built right through it. Through all this, many Muslims moved out of the area; today it is estimated that only about 30% of the population is Muslim, the rest being primarily immigrants from northeast Thailand.

Today's Baan Khrua consists of old, tightly packed homes threaded by tiny paths barely wide enough for two people to pass. There's a mosque, and two family-run outfits, Phamai Baan Krua and Aood Bankrua Thai Silk, continue to be involved in every step of silk cloth production, from the dyeing of threads to weaving the cloth by hand on old wood looms. Of the two, Phamai Baan Krua claims to be the original. Run by English- and German-speaking Niphon Manuthas, the company continues to produce the type of high-quality handwoven silk that originally attracted Jim Thompson, at much cheaper prices than a certain more famous store across the klorng.

Baan Khrua is an easy stop after visiting Jim Thompson House; simply cross the bridge over the canal at the end of Soi Kasem San 3.