Large photo

HOME

Deutsch

Thailand


---

Thailand / Bangkok

Thailand / 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.

---

Large photo

---

Thailand / Bangkok / Parts of the City

Some parts of the City:

  • The old city center

  • Chinatown

  • Area around Silom Road

  • Map of the Silom Road Area

  • Siam Square

  • Sukhumvit Road

  • Map of the Sukhumvit Road Area

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok / Recommended Hotels

  • Amari Airport Hotel

  • Amari Atrium Hotel

  • Amari Boulevard Hotel

  • Amari Watergate Hotel

  • Rembrandt Hotel

  • Royal Orchid Sheraton

  • Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok / Attractions

    *****

    national treasure house.

    Major tourism attractions range from glittering Buddhist temples and palaces to floating markets and timeless 'Venice of the East' canal scenes.

    Visitors who explore back lanes in the city's riverside sections will come across the memorably unexpected - garlanded spirit shrines; palmists and astrologers quietly conferring with clientele; women poling lotus-filled sampans (small Chinese-style boats) through narrow waterways; somnolent temple courtyards where only tinkling wind bells disturb the air.

    Thailand /

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok sights / The Grand Palace

    This city landmark should be the first place on any visitor's itinerary.

    The complex is open daily 8:30-12:00 and 13:00-15:30. Admission fee is 100 Baht (including tickets to Wiman Mek Palace and the Coin Pavilion). Proper dress (modest attire) is requested - no shorts, sleeveless shirts or shower thongs.

    Building of the Grand or Royal Palace was begun after Bangkok was elevated to be the national capital (1782) . The first part was completed for the coronation of King Rama I.

    The plan of the palace followed the Ayutthaya sample: the river forms a moat on one side; the site of the temple of the Emerald Buddha corresponds to the placement of Wat Phra Si Sanphet in the old royal palace at Ayutthaya. Many of the main buildings also resemble those that where destroyed in Ayutthaya after the Burmese invasion.

    The compound houses a number of halls, residences and other buildings which were built in the time of King Rama I (reigned 1782-1809). Some structures were altered, renovated, enlarged, or razed to make way for new buildings by later monarches. The palace compound can be sub-divided into four complexes: the First Halls group, the Dusit Maha Prasat group, the Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall complex and the Boromphiman Hall complex.


    Wat Pra Kaeo

    Wat Phra Kaeo (Wat Phra Si Rattanasatsadaram), in English called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, was built as Royal Wat early in the reign of King Rama I (reigned 1782-1809), founder of the Chakri Dynasty, who established Rattanakosin (the inner part of Bangkok) as the capital of the kingdom in 1782. The Wat, completed in 1784, occupies its own compound within the Royal Palace area as did Wat Phra Si Sanphet in the former capital, Ayutthaya.

    It is the most revered temple in the city, but being the royal chapel no monks reside there. It serves as the center for all religious rites pertaining to the state and monarchy, such as ordinations under royal patronage, special ecclesiastical rites, and the swearing of fealty.

    The image of the Emerald Buddha is regarded by the Thai people as the palladium of the kingdom, just like statues of Pallas Athene were regarded as protectors of cities and states in ancient Greece. King Rama I brought the image from the palace in Thonburi, the short period former capital on the west bank of the Chao Phaya River. It was placed in the Main Assembly Hall (Bot) of the newly-built Royal Chapel and has remained there ever since.

    During its two hundred years history, the chapel has undergone several renovations, restorations and additions to its edifices. Extensive restoration and additional construction were carried out in the reigns of Rama III (reigned 1824-1851) and Rama IV (Mongkut, reigned 1851-1868). The latter's task was completed by his son, Rama V (Chulalongkorn, reigned 1868-1910), in time for the Bangkok centennial celebrations in 1882. Further renovations were made by Rama VII (Prajadhipok, reigned 1925-1935) on the occasion of the city's 150th anniversary in 1932.

    A renovation of the entire temple was undertaken in the present reign of Rama IX, King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, to commemorate the Rattanakosin (Bangkok) bicentenary in 1982. The Royal Chapel thus incorporates no less than two centuries of Rattanakosin craftsmanship and artistic ingenuity.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok sights / Wiman Mek Palace

    Wiman Mek Palace is located behind Bangkok's National Assembly and is the world's largest building made entirely of golden teak.

    The building was originally constructed by King Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, reigned 1868-1910) on Srichang Island in the Gulf of Siam. In 1901, he had it moved to its present site (which was then in a rural setting not too far from the Grand Palace) and it became the first permanent building of the new Dusit Palace. On its completion, the King took up periodic residence on the third floor while the first and second floors were residential sections for his consorts and female children.

    After the death of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn) in 1910, Wiman Mek Palace was infrequently used by King Rama VI (King Vajiravudh), and for a short period by King Rama VII (King Prajadhipok) during the early part of his reign when Amphorn Palace was being repaired. Thereafter, it was closed for more than 50 years before Queen Sirikit initiated the renovation of this uniquely beautiful building.

    The King's apartments on the palace's third floor have been decorated as they were during the reign of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn). The shower in the royal bathroom is believed to have been the first ever installed in Thailand. The tank was manually filled to provide sufficient water supply for the shower.

    Wiman Mek Palace is surrounded by water on all sides: Klong Rong Mai Hom (Fragrant Wood Canal) to the east, Klong Khab Phaen Krachok (Sheet of Glass Canal) to the north, Klong Rang Ngoen (Silver Canal) to the west, and, best known of all, the southern pond, Ang Yok (Jade Basin), named after the water's natural greenness.

    A bridge crosses Ang Yok to wooden Thai houses called Ruan Ton, built when Wiman Mek Palace was erected. The King's express wish was to use the houses for a non-royal style of living (that of a commoner), and it was there he received the numerous acquaintances he made during frequent incognito tours of Thailand. Wiman Mek Palace is open daily 9:30-16:00. Admission is 50 Baht, including guide.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok sights / Wat Po and Royal Barges

    This world-famous temple, one of Bangkok's oldest and largest, is located right south to the Grand Palace.

    Wat Pho is also a long established center of public education and is sometimes referred to as Thailand's First University. The temple is also the center for traditional medical practitioners in Thailand. Stone plaques and inscriptions describe treatments for various ailments and methods of massage and meditation. Snake handlers also have their businesses there.

    The building housing the Reclining Buddha is open daily 8.00-17.00.


    Royal Barges

    This shed where several royal barges are displayed is located on Klong Bangkok Noi off the Chao Phaya River not far from Phra Pinklao Bridge. The barges were used on royal and government occasions and formerly served as war vessels. The most beautiful and well-known barge is Suphamahong used by the King only when he made his royal river procession for the Kathin ceremony - a Buddhist tradition of offering robes to monks, usually during October or November. Each barge has a unique design with its special decorative details.

    The barges figured prominently in the bicentennial celebrations of the Chakri Dynasty in 1982 and in the celebrations of the King's 60th birthday in 1987.

    The shed is open to the public daily 8:30-16:30.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok sights / Wat Arun and Wat Traimit

    Wat Arun is located on the west bank of the Chao Phaya River and can be reached either through Arun Amarin Road or by crossing the river by boat from Tha Tien Pier near Wat Pho.

    Wat Arun

    The most attractive structure in this temple is the 79m (260ft) high pagoda or Phra Prang which is completely covered with pieces of multi-colored glass and Chinese porcelain. From the upper levels, one has a panoramic view of the surrounding city. Wat Arun was restored during the brief Thonburi period to be the Royal Chapel of King Taksin and enlarged during the reigns of King Rama II (1809-1824) and King Rama III (1824-1851). Despite its name "Temple of the Dawn", the most beautiful view of it is from the Bangkok side of the river, during sunset.

    Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha)

    On Traimit Road at the end of Yaowarat Road near Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station is Wat Traimit, known for its Golden Buddha from the Sukhothai period. The image of solid gold is 3m (about 10ft) high and weighs five and a half tons. The Golden Buddha was discovered by accident as an outer Buddha image broke when it was moved and the inner Golden Buddha was revealed. The golden image was probably covered with plaster to conceal it from Burmese armies threatening Ayutthaya. The building housing this image is open daily 9:00-17:00.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Bangkok sights / Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple)

    The Marble Temple is on Si Ayutthaya Road near Chitralada Palace.

    Wat Arun

    The main building was designed by Prince Naris, a great Thai artist and son of King Mongkut (Rama IV), and built of Italian marble during the reign of King Rama V (Chulalongkorn, 1868-1910). The interior of the main building is magnificently decorated with crossbeams covered with lacquer and gold. A large collection of bronze Buddhas lines the walls of the spacious, inner courtyard. A large canal holds a number of turtles released by people wishing to earn merit.

    The best time to visit this temple is early in the morning when Buddhist monks are chanting inside the chapel. The main building is open to visitors until 17:00.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Wat Suthat (Giant Swing)

    Giant Swing
















    This temple on Bamrung Muang Road took 27 years to build. It is famous for the excellent murals in the Bot, built in the reign of King Rama III (1824-1851). The Vihara should be seen for its collection of gilded Buddha images. The temple complex is open daily 9:00-17:00.

    In front of the temple is the famous Giant Swing. Many shops surrounding Wat Suthat sell a complete range of Buddhist ecclesiastic supplies.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Wat Saket (Golden Mount)

    Golden Mount

    Construction of Wat Saket was begun during the reign of King Rama I (1782-1809). The golden Chedi houses relics of Buddha and affords visitors who climb its 318 steps a panoramic view of Bangkok.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Erawan Shrine

    Holy statue at Erawan Shrine
    not a Wat, the shrine is an important Thai religious edifice. As mentioned in chapter Religion in the first part of this book, Buddhism is a religion not concerned with the existence or non-existence of God, or gods, or spirits. The believe in supernatural elements, however, is part of the common religious life of the Thai people. They worship heavenly beings in various forms, and for fairly earthly wishes, such as money or fertility.

    In Bangkok, the preferred site to do so is Erawan Shrine, located at the intersection of Rama I Road and Rajadamri Road, next to the new Hyatt Hotel. It's a place tourists staying in the Sukhumvit Road area will pass by automatically when going either to the Silom Road area or the old city center.

    Even though the site of the Erawan Shrine is a corner heavily polluted by Bangkok road traffic, it's still the smell of incense sticks that predominates the air; indeed they are burned by the hundreds.

    While many worshipping Thai just knee down and pray, some also hire the musicians and dancers available on site - in order to give their requests more weight. For a tourist, this offers the opportunity to see authentic traditional Thai dance and hear authentic traditional Thai music played on traditional instruments - not tainted by what tourism managers believe as being appealing to foreign visitors, and free of charge above that.

    Another common practice seen at the Erawan Shrine is the offering of flower garlands and small wooden elephants (symbols of luck) both of which are sold by street vendors outside the shrine. The traveller will notice that he passes by the shrine when most Thai riding in the same bus will perform a Wai towards the location of the shrine.

    It's amazing how undisturbed the traditional activities go on in spite of the proximity to modern day city life.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Sanam Luang

    Grand Palace is commonly also referred to as Phramane Ground, or in pure English Royal Field. The Weekend Market of Bangkok used to be held here but was moved to Suan Chatuchak on Phahonyothin Road.

    Sanam Luang is still the site for special activities and ceremonies such as the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in May as well as the Thai New Year Festival. From February to April, it's the site of kite flying competitions.

    At the northern part of Sanam Luang, opposite the Royal Hotel, is a small statue placed in a white pavilion. This Goddess of the Earth edifice was built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, reigned 1868-1910) to provide public drinking water.

    Located at the southeast corner of Sanam Luang a graceful, temple-like structure houses Lak Muang, a stone pillar placed there by King Rama I, the first monarch of the present Chakri Dynasty, as the foundation stone for his new capital city of Bangkok. All distances within Thailand are measured from this point. Lak Muang is believed by many to have the power of granting wishes. Accordingly, it's a preferred site for vendors of lottery tickets.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Lumphini Park

    Silom Road area. The park which is enclosed by a high wall and locked overnight is particularly popular with joggers. It can be argued whether the joggers serve their health by doing their practice there as the surrounding part of town is heavily polluted. Nevertheless, the elaborate jogging track, complete with stops for weight lifting and special gymnastics, is in use all day, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons.

    The practitioners of Tai Chi who can be seen in Lumphini Park every early morning (around 5:00-7:00) put less strain on their bodies' circulation. Tai Chi is a rather soft Chinese form of exercise, healthy not only for the body but allegedly also for the mind.

    The park has an artificial lake that can be travelled by row boats which are for hire at the site. The area is well equipped with toilet facilities.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Jim Thompson's House

    Jim Thompson of six older Thai houses. US citizen Jim Thompson was born in Greenville, Delaware in 1906. A practicing architect prior to World War II, he served as a volunteer in the US Army and came to Asia as part of a force that was to liberate Thailand. The war ended before the operation began.

    A few days after the end of the war, he arrived in Bangkok as a military intelligence officer attached to the OSS (which later became the CIA). After leaving the service he decided to return and adopted Thailand as his permanent home.

    The hand weaving of silk cloth, a long-neglected cottage industry, captured Jim Thompson's attention, and he devoted himself to promoting the craft. Highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist, he contributed substantially to the growth of the industry and to the worldwide recognition accorded Thai silk.

    He gained further fame by constructing this house, combining six traditional teak buildings that represented the best of Thai domestic architecture. Most of the houses were at least two centuries old; since they were prefabricated in sections, they were easily dismantled and brought to their present site from various locations, some from as far away as the old capital of Ayutthaya.

    In his quest for authenticity, Jim Thompson adhered to the customs of the early builders in most respects. The houses were elevated a full story above the ground, a practical Thai precaution to avoid flooding during the rainy season, and the roof tiles were made in Ayutthaya employing a design common centuries ago but rarely used today. The red paint on the outside walls is a preservative commonly found on many old Thai buildings. The chandeliers were equipped with light bulbs as a concession to modern convenience, but even they belong to a past era, originating from 18th and 19th century Bangkok palaces.

    All the traditional religious prescriptions were followed during the construction of the house, and in the spring of 1959, on the date decreed as being auspicious by astrologers, Jim Thompson moved in. The house and the art collection soon became so famous that he decided to open it to the public with all proceeds going to Thai charities.

    On March 27, 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. (This writer was told that he did not pick an auspicious day for travel.) Not a single valid clue has turned up during the ensuing years as to what might have happened to him.

    His famous Thai house, however, remains as a lasting reminder of his creative ability and his deep love for Thailand. It is now a museum. On permanent display are, aside from the structure of the house itself, Mr. Thompson's collection of antique Asian artifacts, such as blue-white chinaware, Cambodian stone figures, Bencharong (a multi-colored porcelain made in Thailand in a technique originating from China), wooden Burmese statues and much more.

    In 1976, the Thai court-appointed administrator for the property of Jim Thompson received permission from the government to establish the James H.W. Thompson Foundation. The property he left behind was vested in the foundation. By virtue of the dictates of its charter, the Foundation is committed to expand its patronage of the Thai arts. An active program for scholarships has been established and more projects are in the planning stages.

    Jim Thompson's House is open Mon-Sat 9:00-16:30. Admission fee is 100 Baht. Volunteer guides explain the collection to visitors. By the way: visitors have to step over raised door ledges which are supposed to bar the passage of unfriendly spirits (and possibly snakes).

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Suan Pakkard Residence

    On Ayutthaya Road not far from the intersection with Phaya Thai Road is the residence of Princess Chumbot of Nagara Svarga, one of Thailand's leading art collectors. There is a complex of five traditional Thai buildings overlooking a beautifully kept garden. They house a large collection of Asian art and antiques. One building exhibits a collection of seashells, mineral crystals and painted pottery from Ban Chiang. Suan Pakkard Palace is open every day except Sunday 9:00-16:00. There is an admission fee of 80 Baht.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Ban Kamthieng

    Chiang Mai more than 200 years ago, donated to the Siam Society by its owners and reconstructed in Bangkok. Displayed are items traditionally used by Thai farmers and fishermen. A very large variety of Thai flora and fauna can be seen in the garden of the house.

    Ban Kamthieng is open daily, except Sunday and Monday, 9:00-12:00 and 13:00-17:00. An admission fee of 50 Baht is charged to help maintain the property and grounds.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Bangkok / Pasteur Institute (Snake Farm)

    Thai Red Cross. They do cholera, smallpox and typhoid inoculations as well as rabies treatment there, none of which may qualify as tourist attraction. However, the institute has become a popular tourist attraction because of its large collection of live poisonous snakes.

    The Snake Farm is open to the public daily 8:30-16:30. The extraction of venom from the snakes can be observed is demonstrated daily at 10:30. Admission fee is 70 Baht.

    ---

    Large photo

    ---

    Thailand / Map of Bangkok

    Bangkok map

    ---

    Large photo

    ---