Shopping for Thai Antiques in Bangkok

The River City Complex

Thai antiques have a worldwide reputation for their quality and craftsmanship, and Bangkok is a great place to purchase these wonderful items. It is important to bear in mind that genuine Thai antiques are both rare and expensive. For this reason, many Bangkok antiques stores stock both genuine antiques and more modern reproductions (intended for less discerning shoppers).

Luckily, most shop owners tend to be fairly open about which is which. However, because of the popularity of Asian décor, modern does not necessarily mean inferior. Some superb reproduction pieces are available that would look great in any home anywhere. Real or not, there are a large number of Thai antiques shops in Bangkok to choose from.

Buddhist art has thrived in this region for more than 1,000 years and has produced some extraordinary work that reflects the thriving cultures under the stability of the Angkhor, Lopburi, Lanna, Sukhothai and Ayutthaya eras. Distinctive styles have evolved from each era and greater Siam left an enormous legacy of fine art behind.

A large number of superb pieces can be found in the National Museum and other institutions in the country, maintained by the Department of Fine Arts. Much of this is religious, including Buddha statues and images made from wood, bronze, stone, and glass. Even markets in historic towns, such as Chiang Saen in the north, display a treasure trove of pieces that have been dug up after decades and present good opportunities for treasure hunters.

Some truly valuable and aged pieces continue to arrive from Burma and Laos, smuggled from these two countries. However, any Buddhist statue leaving Thailand should, in theory, have a certificate of approval from the Ministry of Culture, although the dealer or shop can usually provide this.

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Where to shop for Thai antiques in Bangkok

The best ‘all in one’ area for antiques shopping in Bangkok is the multi-storey River City Complex, which is situated close to the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. On the 3rd and 4th floor of the complex are a number of high quality antique shops. Old Maps and Prints offers a superb selection of rare maps and illustrations, while Acala Gallery (Shop 312) has a gallery of rare Tibetan and Chinese artefacts. The Oriental Plaza is another venue that features a number of pricey antiques stores.

Gaysorn Plaza, situated near to the Le Meridien Bangkok Hotel on Ploenchit Road, is home to several stores that specialise in both antique and contemporary décor and furnishings. Triphum, on the 2nd floor of the building, features some very nice examples of Southeast Asian art and accessories. The Thai Craft Museum has a good range of textiles and ceramics and also offers craft demonstrations.

Barang-Barang Antik has a large stock of stunning Indonesian antiques and furniture. 1047 Ploenchit Road, Lumpini.

Paul’s Antiques specialises in antique furniture mostly dating from the colonial period of Burmese history. This shop has some truly stunning examples of teak wood furniture. Paul Antiques is situated at: 50 Soi 13 Sukhumvit Road.

Friday Antiques has a good reputation for its superb range of Chinese and Thai antiques. This family business has a long history in Bangkok and is housed in the River City Complex (Suite 401).

If you are really serious about antiques shopping and are hoping for better prices, you’re better off finding your way north to Chiang Mai, where there is an equally good selection of items available at less inflated prices, particularly those pieces brought across from Burma.

A brief introduction to the art periods in Thailand

The earliest period of history from which Thai antiques can be traced is the Dvaravati period, (7th to 11th centuries AD), and almost all of these are Hinayana Buddhism items. During this time, the Mon people ruled an area in central Thailand – but reached as far north as present day Lamphun – and Khmer-influenced pieces are still found there to this day.

This was followed by the Lopburi period (7th to 14th centuries AD), which can be categorised into early Lopburi art and the later Lopburi period. Again, antiques from this period display a strong Khmer influence, although with a distinctly different style from that of the Dvaravati period.

Items from the Lanna Kingdom are roughly grouped under the Chiang Saen era (11th to 18th centuries AD), based on the important trading town still standing on the banks of the Mekong. Little has been recorded on the earlier period in which Buddha images were profoundly influenced by styles from India, which were imported from Pagan in Burma. Indeed, during this time Lanna was overrun or allied to kingdoms in Burma on several occasions, but produced an era of intense artistic growth.

The latter period was strongly influenced by the rise of the Sukhothai period (13th and 14th centuries AD), considered by many to be the zenith of cultural and artistic development in the area. The style of Buddha images from this period is particularly distinctive, with a serene smiling expression and remarkable body form.

Following that, the Ayutthaya period (14th to 18th centuries AD) rose to prominence and influenced the entire region before succumbing to Burmese invasion. The present artistic era, known as Rattanakosin, dates from the founding of Bangkok in the mid-18th century and has established its own style of religious, and other, art influenced increasingly by cultures from outside Southeast Asia.

Further reading…