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?
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.
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.