Tucked away in one of Bangkok’s more obscure suburbs is the incredible and very peculiar Papaya Studio. A vintage shop with no price tags, a museum with no floor plan, an arcane wonderland so large and diverse you could spend a full day inside and not see even half of it… this place is one of a kind.
The five story material metropolis contains everything and anything you could ever dream up. From vintage furniture to life-size movie mannequins to early 20th century surgical equipment, you name it; Papaya probably has it – in several colours.
We first read about Papaya in a recent New York Times article: 36 Hours in Bangkok. We had a pretty long list of after-dark venues to hit up but hadn’t planned many daytime activities for our week in Bangkok. With temple fatigue creeping in and a desire to see something a bit out of the ordinary we decided to give Papaya a shot.
As a passionate thrift-shop goer/vintage goods enthusiast back in my city-living days, Papaya was truly a guilty pleasure of mine. With items collected and curated by Mr. Tong, a legendary and mysterious figure in Bangkok’s design world, Papaya is only ever growing outwards (and upwards). Mr. Tong is said to avoid the limelight and rather prefers to revel in his collection, which he has steadily built over the past 25 years.
If you are interested in purchasing an item, you are required to snap a photo of it and return to the front desk where you can request a value from the attendant. However most of the prices are said to be surprisingly steep and in some – not too uncommon – cases you may be refused a sale, simply because the item has become such a prized part of Mr. Tong’s collection.
Interestingly (though perhaps not unsurprisingly), the business is said to have never actually been profitable. Ever expanding, Payapa is reportedly spending more than it makes, and it seems financial difficulties could lead to its eventual demise. For now, at least, it stands strong and full to the brim, a monument to the vision of one eccentric collector. It has to be one the most impressive, fascinating and downright bizarre places we have visited in Thailand.
One thing to note about Papaya is its location. Lad Phrao is a little off the tourist trail. We used public transport, which you can do by taking the Metro to Lad Phrao MRT station, before hopping on one of the buses leaving from Exit 3 (line 145, 545, 92 or 502), though after spending 20 minutes waiting in the heat at the wrong bus stop we opted for an air-conditioned Grab (Bangkok’s answer to Uber) on the way home.
And finally if, like us, after a long day perusing mysterious antiquities you feel like you’ve earned a drink, we can definitely recommend a couple of spots. Our favourites were Teens of Thailand – a hole in the wall speakeasy that specialises in gin – and Q&A, which is a cool cocktail bar hidden away in an unusual basement at the bottom of an office block – well worth a visit!