Bangkok is famous for its canals or khlongs with tourist brochures promoting the city as having once been "The Venice of the East". In fact the history of Thailand's canals is older than Bangkok itself. The "Venice of the East" description was originally from the Portuguese explorer Fernão Mendes Pinto writing about Ayutthaya in the 1540's. But why were there so many canals, when were they built and why are they to blame for Bangkok's terrible traffic-jams today?
Located in Petchaburi province some 120km south of Bangkok, spread across three mountain peaks, is the southern palace retreat of King Mongkut (Rama IV). Officially called Phra Nakhorn Khiri, the "Celestial Mountain-top City" it is more commonly called Wang Khao or "Hill-top Palace".
On 23rd October 1910 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) at the age of 57 died. He had reigned over Siam for 42 remarkable years. His death was mourned throughout the nation and was reported around the world. The day is still remembered as an annual holiday in Thailand. But what exactly did he die of ?
Bangkok's Grand Palace is one of the world's most visited tourist attractions with millions of visitors each year. But just across the Chao Phraya River is an older palace which attracts very little attention. Wang Derm or The Original Palace was the palace built in 1767 by King Taksin when he decided to establish Thonburi as the new capital of Siam.
The town of Champasak in southern Laos is small and neglected. But within the grounds of an unremarkable looking Buddhist temple in the town centre are the funeral stupas of two kings. For this was once the capital of an important kingdom that held sway over central and southern Laos parts of Vietnam and Cambodia as well as Ubon Ratchathani, Sisaket and Roi Et in modern Thailand. The story of Champasak is one of tragic downfall which some believe was caused by powerful curses upon the ruling families.
The iconic Art Deco style Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre in Bangkok, is a well known landmark built by King Prajadhipok (Rama VII). But the story of early cinema in Thailand and how it was that Thailand's king came to build a popular theatre is now largely forgotten.
In 1897 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) embarked upon his first grand tour of Europe to meet with the ruling families and heads of state of Europe, meetings which are still widely remembered through popular articles and photographs to this day. But one of the most important meetings seems also to be one of the least remembered, that being his meeting with Queen Victoria.
Hidden away in the very far south of Laos is a small railway engine that survives from one hundred years ago to tell the story of colonialist dreams of connecting Laos with the rest of the world.
Ubon Ratchathani located 600km from Bangkok historically marks the boundary between Bangkok's power and that of the ancient kingdoms of Laos. It is home to some beautiful temples of national significance which also hold some subtle messages relating to power struggles now long forgotten.
If asked to locate the world's largest Buddhist temple many people might suggest Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Relatively few people would point to the world's largest Muslim country and the Temple of Borobudur.
Buses are the most heavily used public transport in Bangkok but often they are badly neglected and services are often poor. One route in particular has become so notorious for not just poor service but the cause of death, destruction and mayhem on Bangkok's streets that it has become an icon in popular culture. That is the infamous "Fast and Furious" Bus Route 8.
In late 1608 a small news pamphlet described the arrival at The Hague of the first ever Ambassadors from Siam. This same pamphlet also described a peculiar demonstration at The Hague of a device whereby "one could see far-off things as if they were nearby". By chance the Siamese ambassadors had arrived to witness the invention of the telescope and start a long lasting connection with Siam and telescopes.
Opened with great pomp and ceremony in 1932 Memorial Bridge was the first road bridge built across the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok. Nearly ninety years later it is just one of many much larger bridges now crossing the river but no others have stood through the immense changes and historic events that Memorial Bridge has seen in those years.
Located just 15km from the northern city of Lampang is one of Thailand's oldest living temple complexes with some of the best preserved examples of early Lanna architecture in the country and many fascinating cultural artifacts.
Phra Pradaeng is a great place to escape from the city and for Siamrat one of the hidden treasures there is the pair of old temple buildings at Wat Bang Nam Phueng Nok.
In the mid-nineteenth century growing European influence in Siam resulted in a new style of architecture for wealthy families called "gingerbread". One hundred years later many of these old homes are being restored to their former glory.
These days the community of Westerners resident in Thailand is dominated by British, Americans, Germans, French or Scandinavians. But in fact the western community with by far the longest history in Thailand is the Portuguese who first arrived in 1511 some one hundred years before any other European nation.
On 11th May 1949 Radio Bangkok announced to the world that from that day on Siam would be known as Thailand. But in fact this was the second time this name change had occurred within ten years and the change was not particularly popular. So why the change?
Anybody who takes an interest in Thai history will soon hear the phrase "He is today considered the Father of Thai........" where the blank might be anything from "Navy" or "Postal System" to "Art" or even "History". After a while one realises that there are many of these "fathers" some of whom are mentioned in... Continue Reading →
As any visitor to Thailand quickly discovers, this country has a deep culture and history replete with miraculous tales of heroic deeds. Quite a few of these tales involve strong women who through bravery and sometimes a bit of powerful magic overcome adversaries and save the people from certain destruction.
One hundred years ago the second largest export of then Siam was teak and this industry helped shape modern Thailand. It also left behind some beautiful architecture.
The Emerald Buddha is the most venerated Buddha image in all of Thailand and is the highlight for many of the 8 Million visitors to the Grand Palace each year. But few of these visitors consider where this sacred image originated from or are aware of the journey travelled by the Emerald Buddha prior to being installed within the Grand Palace
Western tourists flock to Bangkok every year drawn by the spectacle of glittering exotic temples. But some might notice that many of the other grand old buildings appear to be of European style, betraying the influence once held by Italians in early Bangkok.
Wat Yannawa on the banks of the Chao Phraya river is a peculiar temple dominated by a large concrete replica of a Chinese junk
Everybody associates Bangkok with its magnificent Buddhist temples, but along the Chao Phraya River are a series of beautiful Catholic churches
At Phra Chulachomklao Fortress a visitor can see the formidable British guns that were intended to protect the route to Bangkok and learn about the "Paknam Incident" of 1893 when France nearly took over Siam as a colony.
Everyday thousands of tourists pass up and down the Chao Phraya river but few pay any attention to the decaying but still magnificent relic of Bangkok's 19th century Customs House
Putthamonthon is a public park west of Bangkok. Its centre piece is a graceful 15.87 metre tall Buddha statue.