A resident pug welcomes guests to Gat Luang's Thapae Inn
This is the second in a series of posts culled from our efforts this year to document daily life in Chiang Mai's historic Gat Luang neighborhood. To learn more about the project, rwhich will culminate next year in a book to be co-authored with several Chiang Mai-ites and photographed by Dave, read the first entry in the series, here.
Trade made Gat Luang. Unlike 'old' Chiang Mai to its west -- that part of the city encircled by a moat and sections of crumbling wall -- Gat Luang was never a royal capital or a center of religion. Yes, its main market was built on the site of a royal crematorium and the neighborhood boasts a wat, two Chinese temples, and a Sikh gurdwara. But its raison d'etre has always been commerce.
Gat Luang sits beside the Ping River, which was once the main route along which goods were shipped between Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and beyond. When a railroad connected the Thai capital to Chiang Mai the river's importance as a transport route waned. But Gat Luang's three main markets -- Warorot, Don Lam Yai, and the sprawling wholesale emporium Naowarat -- are still going strong.
In a commercial neighborhood like Gat Luang traders and other business people come and traders go. They all need a place to stay. And so it should come as no surprise that in this historic area there are a few hotels with stories of their own.
Khun Panee at the entrance to the Nakorn Ping, and chatting with staff
Like the Nakorn Ping, a lovely old inn at the very edge of Gat Luang built in 1954. When the hotel opened it was one of THE places to stay in town; attracting well-off Bangkok businessmen and even a nationally known folk singer. Now it houses primarily traders from the north who come to do business in Gat Luang and at nearby Myang Mai market.
"I'm a woman taking care of this hotel all by myself," says lively Khun Panee, who shared a few choice words about a couple of famous long-ago guests. She took the Nakorn Ping over from her father when she was 36 years old, and has recently put it on the market. She's tired and wants to enjoy her older days. I hate to imagine the hotel's dark teak floors polished by years of bare feet, and thick heavy teak doors, falling into unsympathetic hands.
No such plans are in the works for the over half century-old Thapae Inn, which nowadays is as popular with backpackers as it is with traders come to buy and sell textiles at one of Gat Luang's markets. Thirty-four year old Khun Tor's grandfather built the place and charged less than 10 baht per room when it opened.
The Thapae Inn isn't just a hotel, but a repository for Khun Tor's extraordinary collection of ... everything. From soda cans to portraits of the King and Queen, there seems to be nothing he doesn't collect. We spent a good hour browsing items stashed in every nook and cranny, on both floors of the hotel.
Just before I concluded my interview with Khun Tor my eye was drawn to a wall display of pop bottles. Dozens and dozens, all made in Thailand. It turns out that the 1930s was Thailand's heyday of soda production. Hundreds of brands of lemonade, orange 'crush', fruit pop, colas, 'polak milk', plain old aerated water were bottled and sold all over the country. According to Khun Tor most provinces -- most districts, even -- bottled their own. Then came foreign brands. Singha gained the upper hand in the aerated water stakes, and finally most local brands withered away.
What a sweet bit of Thai culinary history to stumble upon, tucked away in hotel we probably never would have known if not for the Gat Luang project. It makes us excited for what we'll discover next month in the 'hood.
(An interesting aside: very local soda production was also a big thing in Turkey. Turkish chef and culinary historian Musa Dagdeviren has researched and written on the phenomenon, and its recent revival, for his quarterly publication Yemek ve Kultur.)