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The Riverside Story
History of the Riverbanks
History of the Riverbank

Down by the Riverside

One of Chiang Mai‘s most well known neighborhoods refuses to succumb to the wheels of progress. It‘s an ancient community that has supported the city for years; a small riverside neighborhood that is steeped in history. It‘s Wat Ket and its residents are banding together to ensure that the dignity of old age is well and truly preserved.

In the 19th century the east banks of the Ping River was known as baan taa, meaning waterfront“. Strategically located for trade it was naturally a prosperous place to live. Although the community was concentrated around the Buddhist temple of Wat Ket, many of the peoples who originally settled here were foreigners. Mostly they were Chinese merchants who had married with local girls, or migrants from Sibsongpanna, the Thai-speaking area of southern China. If you were to catch a two-legged taxi down the the bustling, muddy street of what is now Charoenraj Road, you‘d spot Yunnanese, Burmese, Sikhs and white-bearded missionaries jostling and mingling side by side. There were also hilltribes people who were mainly employed as carpenters for the English colonial timber exporters Borneo&Bombay Burma Co. Ltd.

By the late 19th century, the riverbanks were lined with dozens of heun pae-house boats made from teak wood and roofed with din koh, of thin clay tiles. Most of them faced the road so they could sell their fruit, silks, opium and other exotic wares directly to the throngs of excited citzens. Meanwhile the back of the boats were adapted into small homes which also facilitated the transfer of the goods from the rafts. At that time, transportation and trade were conducted by river; there was no road link to

Bangkok and Chiang Mai was essentially isolated in the jungle. Goods would be shifted across the river to a small market on the west bank and into the hands of the retail merchants. Next to them, vendors gathered to sell rice, vegetables and other foodstuffs under the longan trees. This place became known as kad ton lumyai the northern name for Longan Market, a name that is still recognized today.

Very few visitors would think to venture to the other side of the Ping to wander around the residential neighborhood of Wat Ket. Not until a steady stream of restaurants began opening, sporting the hardwood architecture, offering views of the river and fine dining in a concrete-free zone. Wat Ket was back on the map.

New faces appeared in the Wat Ket community, entrepreneurs who purchased old houses by the river from villagers and then converted the buildings into successful businesses. "The Riverside Bar&Restaurant" was the first restaurant to settle on the east bank of the river in 1984. Soon after it was joined by a half-restaurant, half-art museum now known as "The Gallery". Since then other popular bar-restaurants and nightspots have appeared.

In recent years the Department of Fine Arts and other organizations have been campaigning and encouraging the villagers of Wat Ket to maintain and develop their community with care. Wat Ket temple itself has witnessed a major renovation.

Perhaps next time you venture down Wat Ket area, you might take a moment to remember its history - the elephants hauling timber to the banks, the first sight of Chinese silk, the coffee refineries, the granaries and the grand teak houses which once proudly overlooked the river.


  By Chiangmai The Old Riverside 2002 Co.,Ltd.
9-11 Charoenrat Road., Chiangmai 50000 THAILAND Tel: 66 5324 3239, 66 5324 6323, Fax: 66 5324 2511,