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Bangkok Travelbug April 09 Bangkok’s 227th anniversary
March 31, 2009

Bangkok’s 227th anniversary

Welcome back to our April 2009 issue 10 of Bangkok Travelbug, the monthly newsletter of Tour Bangkok Legacies. If you are a new subscriber, welcome to Bangkok Travelbug. We wish you an informative experience.

April’s contents

  • April’s events

  • Bangkok’s 227th anniversary and Songkran

  • New web page – Taling Chan floating market

  • Old Thonburi

  • Santa Cruz Church

  • Kuan Yin Shrine

  • Wat Kalayanamit

April’s events

  • 6 April – Chakri Day 227th anniversary of Bangkok

  • 13 – 15 April – Songkran Thai New Year

  • Bangkok’s 227th anniversary and Songkran

    On 6 April, Bangkok commemorates its 227th anniversary as the capital of Thailand. The day is known as Chakri Memorial Day. In 1782 the city’s founder King Rama I started the new capital in Bangkok and established the dynasty of Chakri kings who have reigned over the kingdom till today.

    The city’s founder at Memorial Bridge

    The city was officially called

    Krungthep Mahanakorn Amorn Rattanakosin Mahintra Yuttaya Mahadilokpop Noparat Burirom Udom Rachnivet Mahasathan Amornpimarn Avartarnsathit Sakkatiya Witsanukamprasit

    There are several variations to the spelling in English. It’s so long that in everyday usage, it’s simply Krung Thep or City of Gods, Deities or popularly City of Angels.

    There’s an interesting article I came across on the internet on the origins of Buddhism in Thailand. According to this account, the early Tamil traders from southern India who visited the old Siam called Bangkok, Kurangu Thorpe or Forest of Monkeys.

    I checked with a Tamil speaking friend. Kurangu means monkey and Thorpe means forest or plantation. The monkey is a revered animal in Hindu culture. In the Ramayana epics, Hanuman the monkey god and his army of monkeys helped Prince Rama rescue Princess Sita who was abducted by the demon Ravana.

    The Thais have adapted the Ramayana and call it Ramakien which is depicted in the Khon masked dance drama.

    It’s not clear in the article whether the Tamils were referring the Bangkok started in 1782 or the old village of Bancok in Thonburi which was a customs and immigration center for ships going to Ayutthaya.

    Whatever the case, there’s a striking similarity between Krung Thep and Kurangu Thorpe. Both names refer to a place inhabited by Gods and Deities. But the names were probably given centuries apart.

    My thanks to M Govindan of Ipoh, Malaysia for his help in verifying the Tamil translation of Kurangu Thorpe.

    From the 13 – 15 April, Thailand celebrates Songkran the traditional Thai New Year. It’s also National Senior Citizens Day and Family Day during this festival.

    Songkran is on the new moon in 5th lunar month. This is when the sun shifts its position and enters the constellation of Aries. However for practical purposes, 13 April is the official date.

    Traditionally Thais visit temples to make merit and visit their elders to pay their respect. Scented water is poured on the hands of elders to seek their blessings.

    Beyond the formalities, Songkran takes on a more lively form with the splashing of water on one another to wash away bad luck. Hence the season is often called the “Water Festival”.

    Here are some places I visited in the past month with some interesting scenes of life by the river and canal.

    New web page – Taling Chan floating market

    This is the first time I’ve visited a floating market after all these years in Bangkok. I was under the impression that you had to get up at an unearthly hour to go there. You don’t have to. This floating market is open at the weekends from 8 am – 5 pm.

    The Taling Chan floating market was recreated in 1987 to preserve an old way of life in Thailand when people lived by the water and traded their produce by boats.

    Som tam or papaya salad

    It’s located by the Chak Phra canal on the Thonburi bank where the network of canals is relatively intact unlike in the city.

    Boat vendor with other delicacies

    The weekend market is mostly frequented by Thais who treat it as a weekend outing with family and friends. The emphasis is mainly on food. Here’s a sample of some of the goodies.

    The seafood spread

    I won’t spoil your surprise, so drop in to the Taling Chan floating market to savour some of these delicacies.

    Here’s a map on how to get there.

    Old Thonburi district

    This stretch of the Thonburi bank of the Chao Phraya between the Bangkok Yai canal and the Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) is one of my favourites. In this quiet stretch of the Chao Phraya River are three places of worship, belonging to three different faiths.

    Closely knit communities have grown around these places of worship. There’s a walkway along the bank linking these places for the convenience of residents and visitors.

    A ferry from Pak Klong Talat pier (the fresh flower market near Memorial Bridge) takes us to the Santa Cruz pier and an old Portuguese Catholic church nearby.

    Santa Cruz Church

    The Portuguese legacy on the Chao Phraya

    The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in old Siam. The first Portuguese envoys presented themselves in the court of Ayutthaya in 1511 after the Portuguese captured Malacca.

    Portuguese-Siamese relations went beyond trade.

    Portugal was a staunch supporter of the Ayutthaya kings in the wars with Burma with the supply of arms, munitions and mercenaries in service of the king.

    In return, the Portuguese were granted the rights of residence and the rights to practise their religion. The oldest embassy in Thailand is the Portuguese Embassy.

    Land grants were also given for the building of churches.

    Santa Cruz Church was one of these churches, built on land granted on 14 September 1769, the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross.

    For this reason the church was called Santa Cruz or Holy Cross.

    In the four corners of the quiet courtyard are located the Crucifix, a garden dedicated to the Virgin Mary and statues of Mary and Joseph.

    I’ve always enjoyed visiting the Santa Cruz Church tucked away in this peaceful corner of Bangkok.

    Kuan Yin Shrine

    I found the Kuan Yin Shrine by accident after my first visit to Santa Cruz Church. As I was walking along the walkway by the river bank, I came across this Chinese arch with a narrow bridge leading to a court yard.

    Archway and bridge to the shrine

    A one story Chinese building stands at the other end of the courtyard. There wasn’t a soul in sight. I was half expecting masked swordsmen to be jumping over the walls into the courtyard!

    The building with the Kuan Yin Shrine

    This is one of the many shrines in Thailand dedicated to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, savior of the sick, destitute and shipwrecked sailors.

    No photos are allowed inside the shrine. Here’s what the exterior walls look like.

    Pay a visit to the Kuan Yin Shrine for more.

    Wat Kalayanamit

    Our last stop is Wat Kalayanamit, a temple built in the mid 19th century during the reign of King Rama III. It’s one of those temples that’s off the beaten track and hardly visited by tourists.

    I just love this shot taken from the temple pier. These are some old river houses with Fort Vichai Prasit in the background.

    Wang Derm, King Taksin’s former palace is within the fort which is now the part of the Royal Thai Navy complex. The Bangkok Yai canal is between the old houses and the fort. Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, is the distance.

    It’s a joy just to sit under a shady tree and watch life on the river go by, while munching on some barbecued chicken. See you next month.

    Next month

    National Labour Day and the history of Thai labour

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