The Oriental pier is not a busy pier. It seems like the only people who get on the Chao Phraya express boat are the Oriental Hotel guests. Indeed, there is much more to see around this hotel. Walking around this area offers a glimpse into the past of Bangkok in the 19th century.
The Oriental pier is situated near Charoen Krung road, the city’s first paved street. When Khing Mongkut ordered the construction of the road in the mid-19th century, it marked the beginning of modernization in the Siam country. The street linked the main districts of the city, from the administrative offices around the Grand Palace to a commercial hub in Yaowarat (Chinatown). As for European diplomats and merchants, most trade activities happened in the south of Yaowarat (in the area where the Oriental pier is located).
Coming off the Oriental pier, you will see a white colonial building. It belongs to the East Asiatic Company. The building was a headquarters of a Danish company that developed trade between Thailand and the rest of the world. Founded in 1884 by a Danish sea captain, it later opened a branch in Copenhagen and became one of Denmark’s largest mercantile corporation.
Opposite the East Asiatic Company building is the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Opened in 1879, it was the first luxury hotel in Thailand. Over the years, the hotel welcomed many famous guests from Graham Green and Audrey Hepburn to Princess Diana and Richard Nixon. It still maintains its original charm of the last century and is one of the finest hotels in Bangkok.
In the same area behind the East Asiatic Company building is Assumption Cathedral. It was first built in 1821. Here, in 1855, Catholic fathers founded a school, which later became one of Bangkok’s most prestigious business colleges. Many graduates from this school became Thailand’s business and political leaders.
Another European building worth seeing is O.P. Place. Located right behind the Oriental hotel, O.P. Place, which is opened in 1878 as a Falck and Beidek store, is the oldest department store in Thailand. The building’s architecture has been renovated and reserved. It is a heritage building adorned with old photographs and works of art. It won an award from the Siamese Architects Association Awards for Best Architectural Conservation Award in 1982.
You will find exquisite handicrafts from jewellery, antiques, furniture and home decor items of high quality. It is also home to some of Thailand’s best tailor shops.
The last reminder of the past century can be found at the old Customs House. Located on riverbank facing the Chao Phraya river, the old Customs House was once an international commercial gateway, where cargo boats from foreign countries stopped to unload their goods and pay taxes to the Siamese government. It was designed by an Italian architect and built in the 1888. It was a beautiful building with a grand facade, decorative columns and arch windows. During its glorious time, it was often used to host royal banquets and parties for western expatriates. The palace sometimes used it to host a birthday party for King Rama V (1868-1910), including a welcoming party to celebrate the return of the king after his first visit in Europe 1897.
The building has never been renovated. With crumbling shutters, peeling paint and cracking brick walls, it looks dilapidated yet hauntingly beautiful. It is now used as a base for the waterborne fire brigade and a residence of the fire fighters’ families. Some parts of the building are open for public. The old Customs House is located near the French Embassy, a five minute walk from the O.P. Place.
Getting to the Oriental pier
If you come from Sathon pier, the Oriental pier is the second pier after Sathon pier.