The Age of Sail, in which international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships, ensured that navigable waterways were the veins of cities. In the late 19th century, as Siam moved from a monopolized economy to one of free trade, King Rama V (also known as King Chulalongkorn) commissioned the construction of a custom house on the Chao Phraya riverfront in historic Bangrak to levy taxes on traders entering and exiting the country. Its function saw it become the gateway to Bangkok. With such an important role, it is no wonder its design was designed to stun viewers.
Now referred to as the Old Customs House, this structure in the Creative District was designed by an Italian architect Joachim Grassi in the late 1880s towards the turn of the century when Western influence on public buildings was rather prevalent. The Old Customs House grand façade and front door faced the river. Its Palladian architecture is easily discernable from the top triangular pediment embedded with a clock, windows with arched transoms, and strong theme of symmetry. Unfortunately, the Old Customs House had a few decades of life before shuttering its doors. The customs office moved to Khlong Toei in the 1949. Since then, the building has been decaying.
Today, one can visit the Old Customs House to get a glimpse of its former glory. Though its yellow paint is peeling, wooden floorboard and shutters are rotting, and roof sections are collapsing, visitors can still easily grasp its beauty at first sight. So much so that the building has become a favorite setting for photo and movie shoots. Its most notable cameo is in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love.