There are regional variations in the style of rural or country Thai houses. The variations are usually most
visible in the style of the roof. The pitch of the roof is more severe in some regions than others, but it may be
more ornate or more layered, like a pagoda, too.
There is often a huge difference in the width of the eaves. The size of the
eaves may vary from a foot to a couple of yards. This may have something to do with the typical amount of
rainfall, because traditional Thai houses in the countryside do not have windows.
Traditional Thai houses would have had shuttered openings, which means that if it rained and the shutters were
closed during the day, it would have been pitch dark inside, unless the eaves were wide enough to shade the
openings from the rain.
Traditional Thai houses were built on stilts in the country, whereas town houses and modern houses tend to be
bungalows of concrete block flat on the ground. Westerners imagine that the houses used to be built on stilts to
protect them from flooding, but that is not always the case.
Even 50-60 years ago, there were wild tigers, huge 33 foot snakes and vagabond robbers, so a house on legs with
a trap door that could be pulled up at night like a draw bridge could protect the family from animals and men.
Raids from over the border for goods and women were not uncommon either.
This is far less likely to happen these days, so many modern homes are built as bungalows. Traditional Thai
houses were of teak, but that is rare and expensive now, so concrete block is much more prevalent. However, many
Thai families regret choosing this style of home because it is easier for snakes, scorpions and cockroaches to get
in. So can dogs, frogs and toads.
The majority of rural Thai families spend most of the day outside under the house, which is eight to ten feet
off the ground. This provides a large sheltered area for the family to eat and the children to play in. It is like
having a free outside room, which a bungalow cannot provide.
Therefore, Thais with modern bungalows feel a need to replicate this recreation area, which costs additional
land and materials adding to the cost of the home. Still most women prefer a bungalow planted firmly on the deck,
because it is 'modern' and easier to keep clean (less dust gets in).
Teak is just too expensive and valuable a resource to be used for traditional Thai homes now. An average teak
home might use 9m3 of seasoned teak in its construction, so there is some room for profit in taking a wooden home
down and replacing it with a concrete bungalow.
Long, long ago, the roof would have been made of grass bundles, but that gave way to corrugated iron sheets many
decades ago too. Nowaday, people are replacing their old roofs with concrete tiles if the rafters are capable of
supporting the additional weight otherwise plastic-coated tin sheets are available. Blue is a popular colour for
The walls of a concrete bungalow are usually single skin hollow concrete block, rendered in and out. Teak houses
were also a single board thick. Walls in Thailand were more to keep prying eyes out than the weather and that still
holds true today.
A small amount of rain would come into the teak houses through the gaps in the boards, but it would fall
straight back out through the gaps in the floorboards. Concrete houses do a good job of keeping it out all
together. However, rural Thais are not usually house-proud, they tend to regard a house as providing privacy and
shelter rather than as an asset.
On the other hand, Thai town houses are more and more looking like replicas of their US or European counterparts
- just concrete boxes, indistinguishable one from another. If you find yourself in the middle of a modern estate of
400 houses, you could be anywhere in the West, but then they are usually built by Europeans with Thai partners.
by Owen Jones