The beginning of Bangkok

Photo Golden Mount

View from the Golden Mount


Bangkok's history of the past 200 years is much interwoven with the Chakri dynasty which still reigns but no longer rules Thailand today. After Chao Phaya Chakri was crowned under the royal title of Rama I in 1782, one of his first major decisions concerned his capital. In short form, it is often said that Rama I founded Bangkok as his capital while before the capital has been Thonburi. However, in this abbreviated form, history is summarized not very accurately.

First of all, Bangkok was not really founded by Rama I. It had been a settled area for several hundred years already and it had even been well-known to European merchants who commonly stopped over at Bangkok on their way to Ayutthaya.

Second, the sharp demarcation between Thonburi and Bangkok is not justified. While European merchants stuck to the name of Bangkok for their place of stopover, the community left and right of the Chao Phaya River was known to the Siamese as the town of Thonburi, having been elevated from the village status of Bangkok.

Thonburi was chosen by King Taksin as his capital. And while it is true that King Taksin had erected his palace and all major buildings on the right bank of the Chao Phaya River, the city of Thonburi encompassed settled areas on both banks.

King Taksin's rationale had been to have the river flowing through the capital as he feared another Burmese attack after Ayutthaya had been leveled by Burmese armies in 1767; in the case of a new attack he wanted to have an easy escape option. This option was maintained by having the river flowing through, not just alongside the capital. His idea was that he could embark his people and troops rather unnoticed and then make a getaway on the Chao Phaya. His destination would have been his old stronghold of Chantaburi on the east coast, close to what is now Cambodia.

On the other hand, when Chao Phaya Chakri became King of Siam, the Burmese threat was by far not as eminent any more; Siam was again a strong power, on equal footing with the Burmese. Rama I didn't think in terms of easy escape routes anymore, but in terms of strong defense. He had no intention of vacating his capital, should the Burmese march on it - he wanted to defend it by all means. For this purpose, however, a river flowing through the capital was a disadvantage as it could have served as an hard to secure entry point. Therefore, he decided to neglect the western, larger side of what had been Thonburi, instead concentrating everything important on the eastern side. This included, of course, first of all his own palace.

To make space for his palace where it is still located, a large settlement on the eastern side of Thonburi had to be razed. At the end of the 18th century, the present palace area had chiefly been occupied by Chinese inhabitants . Chao Phaya Chakri had the whole Chinese community transferred some three kilometers downstream, to an area then known as Sampheng. The Chinese still live in that area, and Sampheng Lane now is a famous Chinese shopping area (after it had been a red-light district for many decades).

Work on the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha was by and large completed in 1785. The new capital, now more or less just covering the area on the eastern side of the Chao Phaya was inaugurated under the new name "Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amorn Rattanakosindra Mahindrayutthaya Mahadilokpop Noparattana Radchhani Burirom Udom Rachnivet Mahastan Amorn Pimarn Avatarn Satit Sakatuttiya Vishnukarm Prasit." In English: "City of Angels, Great City and Residence of the Emerald Buddha, Impregnable City of God Indra, Grand Capital of the World, Endowed with Nine Precious Gems, Abounding in Enormous Royal Palaces which Resemble the Heavenly Abode where Reigns the Reincarnated God, a City given by Indra and Built by Vishnukarm". For convenience, it is the custom to abbreviate the name to Krung Thep. And for their further convenience, Westerners continue to call the place just Bangkok.


But wrinkles in the corners of the mouth are skin folds, rather than muscle folds.


Jan Garanoz
Juhu Tara Road, Juhu,
Mumbai - 400049 India
Last updated: June 22, 2010