Khlong Toei Slum, Bangkok
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
I’ve first come to know Khlong Toei slum from the project Klong Toey Community Lantern of TYIN Architects. As I have had a great interest in humanitarian architecture, I wanted to see this project in person planning my first trip to Bangkok this time. However, I was pretty concerned about the safety of the area to visit there as a girl alone. A YouTuber said it was quite ok to visit during daytime, but Khlong Toei which is notorious for drugs and human trafficking still makes me nervous about my visit.
When I talked about my concern, my Thai friend kindly recommended me to have a tour provided by Duang Prateep Foundation. (The foundation’s main work is to revitalise the local community, but it seems like they occasionally provide a tour of Khlong Toei for a foreign visitor.) When I visited the foundation, the staff welcomed me politely and showed me a short video of the history of Khlong Toei slum and the foundation’s projects. After watching the video, I had a conversation with the founder Prateep. She briefly explained the current problems which Khlong Toei residents are facing and how the foundation is addressing the issues such as providing education for children. I told her my interest of building housing for unprivileged people and my future PhD project of which is to build a water-resistant earthen building in a developing country. She said that unfortunately, it could be difficult to build earthen buildings in a capital city Bangkok but she thought my project could be built in rural areas in Thailand as earthen buildings are still common there. Though it was a short conversation with her, I felt very happy to talk with a like-minded person.
Thanks to Prateep’s kind support, I had a private tour of Khlong Toei slum with the guidance of the staff Monwarin. How kind! We walked along narrow Khlong Toei slum alleys. Since the illegal settlements were randomly created, the alleys were very narrow and complicated. (If I had not been with Monwarin, I would have definitely got lost in the maze!) Houses were built very closely each other so that I assumed that the privacy of the residents could be hardly protected.
Monwarin said that most houses in Khlong Toei have bathrooms but water is not running properly. She also mentioned that sanitary issues are so serious that a contagious disease is spread quickly in the area.
The founder Prateep mentioned that by the increasing threat of gentrification, Khlong Toei inhabitants were forced to choose one of the following options.
1. Move to the outskirt of Bangkok
2. Move to newly-built apartments
3. Receive a little subsidy from the government and leave.
Apparently, none of options are beneficial for the dwellers. If they move to the outskirt of Bangkok, they might have to spend a lot of time and money to commute to central Bangkok in where they have a job. The second option is obviously not affordable for them since they cannot afford the rent of the apartment. Even the third option is not good because the amount of a subsidy from the government is significantly low, and they are going to be displaced.
While watching precarious settlements along the sewage river, I could expect that the residents must be in danger during the monsoon season due to overflow of the river. The odour of the river was very bad, but the areas must have been a last resort for them to survive in the capital city Bangkok.
After Korean War, South Korea used to be very poor and lots of illegal settlements were built in Seoul looking for a job opportunity just like Khlong Toei. Thanks to great efforts of my father and mother generation, our economy has become very strong, and now slums have nearly disappeared in Korea.
While travelling Bangkok, I have seen both luxury and shabby parts of the city, and thought about how I, as an architect, can make a difference for unprivileged people. I think I have found some answers from the small botanical garden in Khlong Toei which used to be a garbage lot after Klong Toey Community Lantern became useless. I will explain more about this at the next post.
During my visit to Khlong Toei, Ms Prateep and the staff of the foundations were very polite, considerate and treated me like a special guest. I would like to give special thanks to them.