In a rare exhibition of old Bangkok maps held in September 2006, 17 old city maps of Bangkok were displayed. Most of these old maps of Bangkok were surveyed from 1921 – 1926 in the reign of King Rama VI and printed from 1930 - 1932.
Displayed alongside these old city maps were aerial photos of the same areas taken in 2002.
This comparison between the old and new over a period of seven decades brought out several interesting observations on what's new, what has gone and what has survived urban development.
Major changes - then and now
The most obvious major change is the rapid urbanization that took place over the last 70 years.
Flyovers and expressways run the length and breadth of Bangkok, the quaint wooden buildings, orchards and rice fields are gone, replaced by hotels, skyscrapers and shopping malls.
Several bridges have spanned the Chao Phraya River since then. The numerous canals that made Bangkok famous have been drastically reduced, filled up for road expansion.
What's even more interesting, several old buildings present then are still there now. Monuments built later years are shown in the aerial photos.
Let's review some of the comparative features revealed in an examination of these old Bangkok maps by districts.
Old Bangkok maps - the old city
The revered institutions of the Rattanakosin era, Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Sanam Luang, Wat Saket (Temple on the Golden Mount) and Sao Ching Cha (Giant Swing) feature prominently in this old city map of Bangkok surveyed from 1922 - 1928.
Fort Mahakarn, one of the 14 old Bangkok forts, is in this old map. Another old fort is located just 500 m away with the old city wall clearly marked on the map. Today, only two forts and a short section of the city wall remain.
Fast forward to 2002, the Memorial Bridge and Phra Pok Klao Bridge span the Chao Phraya, Suan Kularb School present since the early 1920s is still there. The old Ministry of Foreign Affairs near Sanam Luang has moved and the numerous wooden houses are gone.
Old Bangkok maps - Dusit
The 1925 map of the beautiful Dusit area shows Chitlada Palace, Dusit Garden, the Royal Turf Club and Wat Benjamabophit, the Marble Temple, all of which are still present today.
The area was a matrix of canals in vast orchards dotted with wooden houses which was the nature of the whole area before royal purchase of the land for Dusit Garden in the late 19th century.
Government buildings have since replaced the orchards. Of the canals, only the Sam Sen and Padung Krung Kasem canals remain.
One of the old Bangkok maps (1921) of Sam Sen Road shows Sukhothai Palace, Vajira Hospital and Sam Sen Police Station among the old buildings from that period that have remained to this day.
The Krung Thon Bridge, constructed much later, only showed up in the aerial photos.
Old Bangkok maps - Sathorn
It's nostalgic just to look at the 1925 city map of the old Sathorn. The French Embassy near Oriental Hotel in Charoen Krung Road is still there. However, the Japanese Embassy in Surawongse Road has moved.
The orchards and canals along Sathorn and Silom Roads are gone. So have the windmills of Silom used to draw water for the orchards. Chong Nonsi canal has since been has been straightened and widened along the newly constructed Narathiwat Road.
The private mansions with huge gardens in Soi Convent, Patpong and Sala Daeng have all made way for bars, condominiums, restaurants and shopping malls. Only the Carmelite Convent and St Joseph Convent in Soi Convent are left.
Other old buildings present then and still there now are the British Club in Surawongse Road and St Louis Hospital in Sathorn Road.
Back then, the Hua Lam Pong canal ran along Rama IV Road, past the temple by the same name, on to the Hua Lam Pong train station and the Pak Nam station, which had a rail link from the old city to the port at the mouth of the Chao Phraya.
The canal has since been filled for the expansion of Rama IV Road but Wat Hua Lam Pong is still there, beautiful as ever. Hua Lam Pong train station has become the central station and Pak Nam has closed as it's no longer required.
Old Bangkok maps - Phaya Thai
A comparison of the Phaya Thai area reveals some of the most drastic changes between then and now. What used to be an area of wide fields and orchards is now one of the most densely built-up areas in Bangkok.
The Victory Monument, a prominent Bangkok landmark, was to appear 17 years later in 1941. The vast network of flyovers followed in the construction boom in the early 1990s. In 2000, the Bangkok skytrain passed through the area linking Mor Chit to Sukhumvit.
Old Bangkok maps - Thonburi
In old Bangkok maps of that period, most of Thonburi wasn't surveyed except for areas near the banks of the Chao Phraya. Land consisted mostly of orchards. The familiar icons Wat Arun and Wat Rakhang are in this map surveyed in 1926. So is Siriraj Hospital, the first public hospital in Thailand built by King Rama V in 1886.
The exhibition of old Bangkok maps was held from 15 – 27 September 2006 at the Maha Chulalongkorn Building, Chulalongkorn University as part of the 60th anniversary celebrations for HM the King's accession to the throne.
It's a pity that there isn't a permanent Bangkok map museum for the display of all old Bangkok maps. This would be such a treasure house for all map collectors and enthusiasts.
Interested in more old maps? Please see Antique Siamese Maps for a review of hand drawn maps in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.