The basic Thai house of the past, rarely seen today, was simple structure of bamboo and thatch, raised off the ground for protection against floods and wild animals. Most family life took place on a veranda-like platform outside the one or two rooms that served as sleeping quarters. In time, this model evolved into more complex structures of wood, varying in both form and decoration to suit conditions in different regions but always retaining their essential simplicity.
Central plains houses
The best-known traditional house style is found in the Central Plains. Elevated on stout round posts, it has steep roofs with curved bargeboards and paneled walls leaning slightly inward; the various components are prefabricated to enable easy dismantling and reassembly. The simplest house consists of a single unit with an outside veranda, while those accommodating larger families might have several separate units arranged around a central platform.
Early Bangkok had many floating shop houses, where the family lived and trade. The floorboards in such structures are loosely fitted to allow for movement as the water rises and falls.
Royal Houses Royal houses were similar in design to those of commoners except that they were generally closer to the ground and had more decorative features. A famous example that survives from early Bangkok is the Tamnak Daeng or Red House now in the compound of the National Museum. Built by King Rama I as a residence for one of his queens, it was originally in Ayutthaya style but acquired more Rattanakosin elements during several moves. King Rama V presented the house to the museum as a reminder of an architectural style then becoming rare.
Roof Gable (Ngao) A distinctive feature of the Central Plains house is the elegant curved decoration at the ends of the peaked bargeboards surrounding the gables. Know as ngao, it evolved from Khmer architecture and appears in elaborate form on religious buildings and palaces. A Stylized version can also be seen in domestic houses.
Paneling Paneled walls are a relatively recent addition to the Thai house.
Gate Houses belonging to more prosperous families usually have a gate, often sheltered by a Thai-style roof that opens on to the central platform. Ajar of water is placed at the bottom of the steps so that visitors and residents can wash their feet before ascending.
Pavilions (Sala) Sala or Pavilions are open structures with characteristic Thai roof where people relax and watch the world go by. They can still be seen in many parts of the country: near the entrance to temples, along roadsides and canals, and in several private compounds.
The Northern houses The northern Thai houses differ significantly from its counterpart in the Central Plains. The walls lean outward, giving it a sturdier look, and windows are often smaller. A notable decorative feature, especially in the Chiang Mai area, is the V-shaped designs at the ends of the roof, called Kalae. Some authorities believe they represent a pair of buffalo horns.
Northern rice barn A rice barn is a component of most traditional compounds in the northern region. Raised on pillars and with a ladder for access, it is a solid structure with few windows, used to store grain