A Brief History of Bangkok

  • Posted onSeptember 13th, 2013

Old BangkokYou may hear the word Siam used or mentioned during your stay in Bangkok, this was the former capital of Thailand, now known as Ayutthaya, situated just over 80 KM north of Bangkok. From 1350 until 1767 Siam saw glorious days as the population grew to over one million and Thai culture thrived and flourished. During that time Siam saw 33 different kings come and go and the capital became one of the most important centres of Asian and international commerce. However, when the Burmese invaded Thailand and attacked Ayutthaya in 1782, King Rama I decided to move the capital down the river to Bangkok (translated to mean Place of Olives).

Bangkok canal oldBangkok had been founded during the mid-1500s, created as a trading post, starting of life as a rather small port town. King Rama I believe that the positioning of Bangkok would be much easier to defend against any future attacks and its geographical surroundings would also leave this new city (and his palace) open to much greater expansion. Using several thousand prisoners of war, Bangkok was constructed into the new capital. Among the major improvements of the time included the development of the canal system, much of which still remains today.

While the POWs were left to build the canals and city walls, the artisans were the next to arrive from Siam, sent to Bangkok to create the new temples and monasteries. The major work was completed around 1785, at which point the King decided to rename the city Krung Thep, “The City of Angels.” The official name is actually 21 words and 167 characters long, but fortunately the vast majority of people still refer to the city as Bangkok.

Chinatown BangkokAt the time of Bangkok’s birth as the capital, there were a large number of Chinese merchants already living and working in the city. King Rama I had chosen the land they occupied as the place he wished to build one of his most important temples, Wat Pha Kaew (now known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha). In exchange the merchants were given a new area of land where they built a thriving Chinese community, creating what is today known as Chinatown.

During the first half of the 19th Century Bangkok was under the rule of King Rama III, who was a devout Buddhist and obsessed with temple building. It is during this period and his reign that many of the temples you see in Bangkok today were built and completed. Following his reign, King Rama IV played a large part in the development of Bangkok, as he began to create the city’s major network of roadways. The first major road built during this time ran along the riverside and was completed in 1861. By the end of the 19th century Bangkok had a pretty impressive road network and began seeing its first horse-drawn carriages and rickshaws.

bangkok historyThe somewhat sophisticated road system began to really pay off during the early part of the 20th century, as automobiles began to enter the East. Such was the popularity of road travel it began to rival the canal system, which until now was the Bangkokians preferred means of transport. While the canals still remained very active, several were filled and turned into further roadways to accommodate the increase in motor vehicles.

In 1932 Bangkok and Thailand established a constitutional government and civil-service headquarters, which was centred in Thonburi, a town and province then just outside the city of Bangkok. Its tactical placement soon helped Bangkok to grow and expand at some rate, only for the city’s growth to slow down during the Second World War, as the Japanese entered and chose to occupy a large party of Thonburi.

bangkok gogoDuring the 1960’s, Thailand saw a new type of growth as thousands of American servicemen found themselves stationed in the city during the Vietnam War. A long way from home, and outside of the gruesome war zone, many of these foreign men were in desperate need of some R&R which soon created a number of adult entertainment venue. The popularity of these venues grew and soon Bangkok saw large nightlife areas dedicated to the entertainment of foreign visitors. Such was the popularity, resulting income and boost to Thai tourism throughout the 70’s and 80’s, much of the new found money was used to improve Bangkok’s infrastructure and transport system.

Despite the influx of foreign visitors and boost to the economy, Bangkok and Thailand suffered at the hands of the 1997 economic crash. However, Thailand’s popularity as a major world tourist destination continued to grow and the city and country bounced back stronger than ever, bringing us to the culturally rich, vibrant and exciting city we love today.


  1. Martin says:

    I thought that the english name of Bangkok had 147 characters, not 167.

    • Kim says:

      Depending on how you spell it (with or without certain ‘h’s) the ceremonial name of Bangkok is typically 166 to 170 characters long. The most common I’m aware of is 167:

      Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchataniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasatan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit

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