Just a quick hop over the wall from Gump’s, the young, upbeat, and most Instagrammed mall in Ari, a house covered entirely by trees. It’s impossible to tell what this place is from the front. The only thing that can be seen is an old blue wooden gate. You might notice it because this gateway has now become an unofficial parking spot for delivery riders taking orders from Gump’s. Hardly anyone knows what this mysterious place is. In fact, most people don’t even notice the gate at all. This is Puey Ungphakorn ‘s residence.
A historical figure who was once called “A Political Evil”
In fact, this pre-WWII house was once home to one of Thailand’s most prominent democratic advocates, Puey Ungphakorn. He was an economist, a writer, the Governor of the Bank of Thailand. Also, he was the 10th Chancellor of Thammasat University. Most importantly, Puey was one of the few public figures in the 1970s. He publicly protested against the Junta at the time and remained firm in his ideology that the law must serve its people and not contain them.
In his younger years, Puey was a member of the Free Thai Movement (Seri Thai). It’s a collective group of intellectuals who played a significant role in saving Thailand from losing the second World War.
The one-storey wooden house was bought by his sister before returning from his master’s degree in London. He studied at the highly prestigious London School of Economics. Married to an English woman, Margaret Smith, Puey, his wife, and his two sons John (Jon) and Peter (Maitree) Unphakorn moved into this house in Ari, where they later had a third son, Giles (Ji) Ungphakorn. All three of their sons grew up to be political scientists.
Puey Ungphakorn: Father of the three prominent sons
“All we could see from this house were some buffalos and rice fields, I remember,” recalled Jon Ungphakorn, a 72-year old political activist and lecturer. “There was never a TV, nor an air-conditioner in this house” Passersby used to look into the house to get a look at a white person (Farang). Magaret (his wife) had a wall built to protect their sons’ privacy.
All we could see from this house were some buffalos and rice fields
After the Thammasat student massacre incident in 1972, Puey resigned as the university’s Chancellor. The nationalists had tarnished his reputation by calling him a communist, and thus, he was forced to flee the country to England, where he was forced to spend the rest of his life.
A little house behind the blue door
There are many elegant historical houses here in Ari, but Puey’s house is not one of them. Marshal Sarit Thannarat, the Prime Minister at the time, offered to build him a new concrete house. Puey Ungphakorn refused as he thought this small wooden house was good enough for him. So much of the political and economic advancement of Thailand was created by him in this very house.
It’s not my business to investigate if anyone still lives there today. But next time you head down Ari Soi 4 (north), look out for the blue gate. You’ll see a very historically important place – and it’s right next door toGump’s.