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Thailand may be known as the “Land of Smiles,” but Bangkok is known for being hot, hot, hot! Bangkok was named the hottest city in the world by the World Meteorological Organization. Red hot Bangkok!
Bangkok is also known as “Temple City,” as there are over 400 temples sprinkled throughout the city! One of the temples, Wat Pho, even houses one of the most famous Buddha statues in the world. You’ll feel like a mouse standing next to this huge Reclining Buddha!
Get ready to dive into the history of Bangkok and learn 31 breathtaking facts about the history of Bangkok!
Table of Contents
King Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, decided his dynasty definitely needed a new palace. Construction took place from 1782 all the way until 1925. Different leaders and royalty in Thailand continued to add and add and add onto the palace until it was positively palace perfection! Royalty did call the palace home until 1925.
King Rama I didn’t just want to plop the palace down anywhere. He chose the location of the Grand Palace with a strategy in mind. The palace is situated very close to the Chao Phraya River— the prime location for defending against potential invaders. Even though there was a large Chinese community calling the area home, he forced them to evacuate and relocate outside the city limits. What King Rama wants, King Rama gets.
The palace is 218,400 square meters and approximately fits in a rectangular shape. However, it’s more like a complex inside. The palace is filled with buildings, halls, gardens, courtyards, and temples. One of the reasons that there are so many different structures is because many kings, over a 200 year period, continued to build. Many kings meant many buildings!
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Inside of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, there is a masterpiece mural painting on the wall of Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Of course, we’re not talking about a simple little mural here. We’re talking about an enormous mural that has 178 scenes that portray the epic story of Ramayana!
All the Kings of Thailand in the Chakri Dynasty are called Rama, a term of supreme honor and respect that derives from the Hindu God Rama, an avatar of Vishnu. It’s not really all that surprising that the focus of the mural would be the story of Ramayana. Rama, Ramayana… same, same, but different.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is indeed a Buddhist Temple. However, the mural outside focuses on one of the major Hindu epics of ancient India. How did that happen?! Essentially, the mural is based on the Thai version of the epic. Although the theme comes from the Hindu story, the characters and the settings are all Thai!
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Soi Cowboy is a short street in Bangkok that is notorious for its go-go bars. There are around 40 bars shoved together on the 150 meter long street. The bars are very tourist-oriented and entrance to the bars on Soi Cowboy street are always free. Soi Cowboy is kind of red-light district in Bangkok.
Soi Cowboy took its name from the cowboy hat-wearing American who was a retired airman. He was the first man to open the first bar on the street back in 1977. Soi is simply the Thai word for a side-street branching off a major street. Ergo, the Soi Cowboy!
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Back in the middle of the 19th century, Thailand was still called Siam. Siam signed the Bowring Treaty that opened themselves up to foreign trade. Naturally, this brought in ships and sailors. These foreign seafarers needed a rest house on shore to enjoy some time on land before heading back out to sea. To meet this new demand, two American’s, Captain Dyers and J.E. Barnes, founded the Oriental Hotel right on the shores of the Chao Phraya River.
What goes up must come down and unfortunately, the original Oriental Hotel burned down to the ground in 1865. The Americans threw in the hotel towel, but to Danish captains picked it right back up and built a replacement hotel. By 1876, the Oriental Hotel was officially back up and running.
Today the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok has been rebranded as the Mandarin Oriental, and is now a five-star hotel! The original structure that was finished in 1876 is still incorporated in this beautiful star-studded hotel. It has undergone huge renovations of course, to ensure that the awards would keep on coming!
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Bangkok’s Chinatown is the world’s largest Chinatown! Take that San Francisco! Bangkok’s Chinatown was established back in 1782. The area mainly acted as a home for the Teochew immigrant Chinese population. It didn’t take long until they actually became the city’s ethnic majority!
In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, Chinatown was Bangkok’s main commercial hub. The residents of Chinatown were adept merchants, with a keen eye for trade and business deals. Especially after the Bowring Treaty that liberalized international trade, Chinatown was the main center of the import-export business! They had the game on lock!
Chinatown is home to the largest gold Buddha statue in the entire world. We are talking a 9.8 feet tall statue that clocks in with a weight of 5.5 tons! That’s as heavy as an elephant! Or, in case you were wondering, five panda bears. The value of this giant gold statue is 250 million dollars!
Did you know that originally back in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the area that is Chinatown today was simply a wilderness area outside of Bangkok’s city walls? Wilderness no more, Chinatown is a thriving hub of Chinese culture and culinary delights! I’ll take two moon cakes, please!
One of the main roads through Chinatown is Yaowarat Road. This winding, meandering road is evocative of a dragon’s curving body. If you know a thing or two about China, you know they love their dragons! Given the shape of the road, it was believed to be an auspicious and lucky location for business.
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Thailand was called Siam until 1939. Westerners designated the country as such, and curiously that was likely a name given by the Portuguese. To the Thai people themselves, the name of the country has always been Mueang Thai. So Thailand seems a bit more fitting of a name, doesn’t it?
During the 19th and 20th century when Europe was colonizing up a storm. Thailand endured as the only Southeast Asian state to dodge the colonization bullet. Whoa! How did that happen? Basically, it’s attributed to reforms enacted by King Chulalongkorn and because the French and the British wanted to keep Thailand as neutral territory to prevent conflicts from breaking out between their other colonies.
Since Thailand was never brought under European colonial domination, independent Siam was governed by an absolute monarchy until 1932. Then there was a bit of a revolution… and Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy. However, the military has held a lot of power and has been overthrowing rulers left and right. Parliamentary democracy is people’s popular choice here in the 21st century.
Even though Bangkok was the capital of Thailand since 1782, the population grew very slowly during the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was documented that in 1822, the population was under 50,000. In the 1930s, after the discovery of antibiotics the population had a big population boost. We get it. Medicine means survival. Check!
Bangkok’s population in the 2010 census was recorded at 8.28 million. However, just 5.7 million of the 8.28 million people are actually registered residents in Bangkok. These unregistered residents technically commutes in from the surrounding cities so although they work in the city, they cook their dinners and rest their heads elsewhere.
In 1828, it was documented that Bangkok’s population was 75% Chinese. However, by the 1950s the Chinese population plummeted to 50%. Now, most people in Bangkok are of Thai ethnicity. Of course, Bangkok is still quite the melting pot, with huge populations of Japanese, Chinese, Burmese, and Cambodians residing in the city.
Wat Pho is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. The temple is actually the oldest traditional school of Thai Medicine and the birthplace of Thai Massage. The massage school is still located on the temple grounds to this very day!
On some of the many walls of the temples and stupas, and on granite slabs as well, you will find a pictorial encyclopedia in Wat Pho! Illustrated by pictures, the encyclopedia spans many subjects, from health to proverbs, from medicine to literature—the walls sure have stories to tell!
Inside of Wat Pho, you’ll find one of the biggest Buddha statues in Thailand. The Reclining Buddha is 46 meters long and 15 meters high. The Reclining Buddha is covered in gold and has mother of pearl eyes. Wat Pho is also home to the largest collection of Buddha images in all of Thailand!
The Reclining Buddha has some pretty special feet. On the bottom of Buddha’s feet, there are 108 holy signs illustrated in both Chinese and Indian styles. These 108 different laksanas all exemplify the characteristics or signs of a true Buddha. They are made out of mother of pearl.
As the first communities in Thailand were formed around the Chao Phraya River, it seems only natural that these riverside communities would want to have conveniently located markets. Instead of putting them on the banks of the river, why not just have them float in the rivers instead?! On Bangkok’s floating markets you can find souvenirs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and delicious food!
Floating Markets first gained popularity between 1350 to 1767 when adjoining canals were used as trading centers. However, during the late 1700s and early 1800s, roads and railways were constructed which enabled some floating markets to close and pop back up along the modern modes of transit. Luckily, not all the floating markets closed. You can still get your boat-side shopping fix in Bangkok at the Damnoen Saduak, Amphawa, and Taling Chan floating markets!
From food markets to street stalls to foot carts, Bangkok has it all when it comes to street food! Street food culture first came to Thailand by way of Chinese immigrants in the late 19th century, but it didn’t gain popularity among the locals until the 1960s. The urban population boom was the catalyst that helped Thai’s to embrace street food culture. It didn’t take long, just ten years, until it displaced home-cooked meals and instead became the locals preferred way of eating their meals!
As Bangkok is divided by the Chao Phraya River, there is an obvious need for bridges in Bangkok. One of the most notable bridges in the city is the Rama VIII Bridge that was completed in 2002. When it was completed, it was the world’s largest asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge! It no longer holds that title as the world just keeps on building bigger and bigger things!
The Bang Na Expressway is a bridge that actually stands over a highway rather than a body of water. It once was the longest bridge in the entire world, clocking in at a massive 54 kilometers long! It can accommodate six lanes of traffic and cost over $1 billion dollars to complete! It was finished in 2000, and ever since 2004, it lost its title as the world’s longest bridge. Today it is the 6th longest bridge in the world.
As the largest and most populous city in Thailand, Bangkok is sure to have a fabulous history. From Wat Pho to Pad Thai Noodles, there is plenty of curiosities in Bangkok!
While we didn’t mention it earlier, we just can’t help sharing one more fun fact about Bangkok. The world-famous energy drink, Red Bull, was created in Bangkok in 1976. The drink’s inventor, Chaleo Yoovidhya, was the third richest man in Thailand at the time of his death. Guzzle down that last fun fact!
You also might want to know that Bangkok goes by another name. Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. That’s right. That traditional Thai name is officially the longest name for a place. Even the Guinness Book of World Records says so!
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Lily Allen-Duenas is a wandering yoga instructor, massage therapist, and reiki healer. For the last two years she’s been journeying around the world, teaching yoga on island resorts in Cambodia, surf hostels in Sri Lanka, and wellness centers in the Phillipines. Lily loves building her life around her passions, health, wellness, and travel. You can follow her journey at wildyogatribe.com or get social with her @wildyogatribe