Bangkok – City of Angels
After the destruction of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, General Taksin selected the city of Dhonburi as the new capital (1767), the main reasons for this choice were strategic. His successor Rama I, the first King of the Chakri dynasty, transferred the royal residence across the river to Ban Kok (“Village of Olives”). The official date of foundation is 1782, but the place was already known as a fishing village, and its orchards were already famous in the Ayutthaya period. In fact there was probably, for a time at least, a fort on the Menam as a river defence of Ayutthaya. At the time of the town’s foundation the area around the Phra Mane Ground was occupied by a considerable Chinese population. When the palace was built they moved to the Sampeng district. Old Bangkok was a vast network of canals (klong) with no roads and few footpaths. The first road was built in 1864 on the initiative of the European community. This “New Road” or Charoen Krung Road followed a former elephant track passing behind the properties lying on the riverside. Later King Chulalongkorn had the Rajadamnoen Avenue (“Royal Avenue”) laid out on the model of the Champs Elyses in Paris in order to connect the Grand Palace with the Dusit Palace, which then was still on the edge of the city.
Today the entire aspect of the city has changed. The old canals have been largely replaced by roads. In place of the original squat houses, more and more tall modern buildings are springing up. Department stores and huge new hotels give the main streets the aspect of a modern metropolis. But if we leave the main streets we can find, behind the new buildings, many old-fashioned quarters where wooden houses huddle together and life centres on the narrow canals.
There are about 380 wats (temples) in the city area. Many are in poor condition, but others have been restored and adorned with fresh coloured tiles.
Bangkok today (with Dhonburi) has close to nine million inhabitants. There are three different names for the capital city. The official name is Phra Nakhon (“Capital City”); Krung Thep means “City of Angels” (referring to the officials who formerly aided the King); Bangkok (“Village of Olives”) is the name most commonly used.