137 Pillars House a brief history
For the current owners of the historic 137 Pillars House, the story began when they sought a brief but peaceful respite away from the frenetic Thai capital. With its laid-back pace, the northern town of Chiang Mai became the obvious choice.
“We have always been attracted to its culture and history but it had been such a long time since we had visited Chiang Mai,” a family member revealed during an interview about the building’s elegant transformation. “So we decided to just pack a couple of bags and buy a plane ticket. First we thought we were going to escape from Bangkok for a couple of days, but we stayed more than a week, visiting Buddhist temples and admiring Chiang Mai’s amazing buildings”.
Eventually the family returned home but memories of their Chiang Mai expedition lingered, and in 2002 they began to hunt for a simple row house with the long-term intention to retire in Chiang Mai.
“On the first day, we met a very unusual real estate broker. She drove us around the city, regaling us with spooky stories and ancient tales about Chiang Mai. Then all of a sudden, she stopped and pointed out a piece of land. My eyes focused on a black wooden house on stilts that stood among the big old trees. That house was the most outstanding house I had ever seen. I began to walk towards it but before I could step on the land, the broker said “No.” She would have to ask the owner first. For months after that we looked at a number of pieces of land and row houses but we did not find what we wanted.”
“The black house kept coming back to my mind. When we mentioned it to the broker, she took us back to it. We walked around the land, which seemed too overgrown and too big to build my small vacation home. The owner came out from the crumbling house on stilts and we got talking. It had been one year already since he first put the land up for sale but people seemed afraid of this black house hidden among the big trees. Instead we were charmed but concerned out of respect to the kingdom about buying what looked to us like a Thai royal house. As we researched the house, we learned the fascinating story behind it of this house and the Borneo Trading Company that owned it at one time and we knew our family could share this slice of Thai history with the world."
In Chiang Mai, the importance and wealth of a property owner was often measured by the size of their Lanna-style Thai houses, and in particular how many pillars (sao) the house had… the more the pillars, the more important you were. Impressed by the history and beauty of the house, visitors and journalists were always curious as to why the Borneo house did not have a name. So when a publisher wanted to write about “the house with the most number of pillars”, Jack Bain, the owner at the time, decided to count the number of pillars which numbered 137. An old map of the Wat Gate area also referred to house as “Baan 137 Sao”, which translates to 137 Pillars House. Thus the house came to be known as 137 Pillars House.