Nestled in Kanchanaburi, Mallika City 1905 AD has isolated itself from the outside world and exists in a 19th-century time warp, in which all 300 staff members dress in period costume and play the roles of farmers, vendors, artisans and villagers to simulate the old Siamese lifestyle along the Chao Phraya River.
It's the brainchild of Polsak Prakob, who spent two years turning his passions for history and Thai cuisine into a living heritage town. Spread over 60 rai, it boasts a cluster of classic Thai houses, European buildings, a floating house and several trading venues, with a rare selection of more than 150 Thai delicacies and sweets, based on original royal recipes.
"During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, it was a beautiful period of life. There was a mixture of culture between old and new generations. In 1905, Siam had toilets and other public utilities, so we built a living heritage town to replicate these scenes. We don't want to sell dead culture or architecture, but we present the way of life," said Polsak, managing director of Mallika.
"I love to read novels and historical books. I've travelled to many historical sites and allowed myself to imagine what I've read from books. This sparked an idea to put spirit and living ambience into the construction of Mallika City 1905 AD."
Its name refers to one of the river sources of the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, which is recognised as the cradle of ancient civilisation in Southeast Asia. Also, mali means jasmine in Thai.
Opened in 2016, Assoc Prof Chatri Prakitnonthakan from Silpakorn University's Faculty of Architecture was responsible for designing this retro city. Full of nostalgic ambience, he created a beautiful female character called Mali to depict how the lives of people changed after King Chulalongkorn enacted the Slavery Abolition Act in 1905.
Mallika City recreates Siamese stores.
Focusing on the charm of age-old Thai cuisine, visitors can start a sightseeing tour at Plai Suan Phraya. Like an old hut in a backyard, this recently opened cafe offers several new options of tantalising local dishes and homemade desserts that can perfectly pair with aromatic Arabica coffee and herbal drinks for light meals.
"The cafe theme is about a nobleman who has used his cooking skills to earn income for his family and servants after being discharged. I want to encourage people during the Covid-19 crisis. Each person has different ways to solve a problem," Polsak said.
Polsak Prakob transformed his passions into the living heritage town.
Following traditional techniques, all food is cooked with a Thai charcoal stove and coffee beans from the North are roasted in a brass pan rather than a modern roaster. Recommended dishes include Plai Suan signature drink (butterfly pea drink served with fresh coconut and lemon juice); khanom jeen sao nam (homemade Thai rice noodle served with coconut milk and sliced herbs); khang khao phuang (fried stuffed taro served with Thai cucumber relish); and khanom bulan dan mek (steamed Thai rice cake with egg yolk drop).
"During the reign of King Rama V, all royal dishes and sweets were elaborately cooked. They reflected the beauty of Siamese culture and local wisdom. I've combined all anecdotes from literary works of kings and royal family members to create Mallika's culinary recipes," Polsak said
"We set up our own sugar factory and have made our own ingredients, ranging from curry pastes, rice noodles and flours to scented candles and floral water for baking desserts. We use undiluted coconut milk rather than oil."
Ruen Hmoo presents several classic performances during dinner.
A short walk from the cafe, visitors can observe how food is prepared at a central kitchen. Elder villagers gather on the ground to demonstrate how rice is winnowed, milled and pounded, while 70-year-old Uncle Rabbit is in charge at a charcoal stove station to cook rice with traditional techniques.
"The process takes one hour. We use 25 litres of water to cook 20kg of rice, perfect for 100-120 persons. We can turn some leftover rice at the bottom of the pan into khao tang na tang [crispy rice crackers with coconut dipping sauce] as rice water offers health benefits," Uncle Rabbit said.
Villagers demonstrate how to pound rice.
If your tummy still has room, head to the floating house offering an enticing lunch buffet line. One of the bestsellers is gaeng rawaeng, an ancient curry from the Sukhothai period. It looks like green curry but the cook adds curcuma, lemongrass and dried goat pepper, while pork is cooked in coconut milk to make it tender.
Plai Suan Phraya offers a new selection of tempting delicacies and herbal drinks.
Also on offer is gaeng khua som from the Ayutthaya era. It seems like orange curry, with extra ingredients such as shallots, lemongrass, shrimp paste, mackerel balls and lotus stems.
On the other side of the artificial lake, visitors can roam around Bangkok's old commercial districts — 3 Phraeng Nara, Phraeng Phuthorn, Phraeng Sappasart, Yaowarat and Bang Rak. There's a Chinese shrine, Bank Siam Kammachon, and more than 30 shophouses selling handicrafts, street food and sweets like phad Thai, Javanese satay infused with yellow curry powder, khanom krok (Thai coconut pancakes) and khanom bueng (Thai crepe).
"The commercial neighbours replicate daily life. In the morning, the markets will be bustling when vendors come to shop for various ingredients and materials to make their products. There is a grocery store, a noodle factory and a flour shop," Polsak said.
Khanom jeen sao nam.
In the evening, Ruen Hmoo opens its door to welcome guests and serves special dinner sets. A pavilion at the middle of the detached house morphs into a stage, where a group of skilful young artists perform several classic shows such as lakhon chatri dance, khon masked dance and human puppet acts.
Now, the town is offering all-you-can-eat special packages, priced at 650 baht (inclusive of a pass, lunch buffet, food and drinks) and 790 baht (including a pass, Thai costume, lunch buffet, food and drinks) per person.