Rattanakosin Island, the origin of Bangkok
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I was born and grew up here, the place many have called the city of the gods, Krung Thep Mahanakorn. For the foreigners, you may be more familiar with the term Bangkok, which was the name of this city in the past as well. Yes, I was born and grew up here, yet I realized only little did I know about Bangkok and how the city came to be the way it is today. Thus, I planned my little journey to get to know more about my hometown. From my home in Lad Prao area on the east side of Bangkok, my journey would end at Rattanakosin Island, the destination where I hoped to provide me the answers to all my questions. Rattanakosin Island was in the old capital district at the heart of Bangkok and the reason that the area was called an island was probably from the location. Rattanakosin Island was geographically surrounded by water, Chao Phraya River to the west and Khood and Rob Kroong canals to the east, just like the late Ayudhya Kingdom. On a Sunday morning when the road was rather free like this, I felt like it’s the best chance for me to feel Bangkok the way it was likely to be in the past. Just only a while, my bus passed Paan Fah Leelat Bridge and entered the six-lane Ratchadamnern road. I closed my eyes and imagined this very same road in about a hundred years ago. Inspired by French most famous avenue of Champs-Élysées in Paris, Ratchadamnern road was then so wide and scattered with only a few ancient cars driven by Thai aristocrats, and some trams, which were a popular public transportation of the time. Bangkokians and cattle still walked along side by side in the old days. Who would have thought that in just a century later, that very same empty road would be packed with cars and people it seemed like six lanes wouldn’t be enough. Before I knew it, the bus took me to an open space with a building, which happened to be my first stop of this trip, Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall. This is the place that could answer all my questions about my hometown, and gave me more insightful details that would make my trip more fun. I stepped down from the bus and a magnificent bright-yellow building in a western architectural style was there in front of me. You couldn’t miss a great entrance to the inside of the building, and once you were in, you’d be stunned by the gigantic television screen and a hospitable attendant ready to give you the help on your visit. After buying the ticket, I had to wait for my round of the tour so I took a look around the first floor of the building, just outside the exhibition area. Next to the ticket counter was the souvenir shop where you could find stuff like t-shirts, pens, or knick-knacks that were designed with elegant simplicity and a modern touch of Bangkok signature. Walked a little further and you’d find the meeting point which was a coffee shop where internet service was also provided. A small library, located at the end of the stairs next to the coffee shop, housed several books about culture, history, and tourism of Rattanakosin area, tidily and alphabetically organized, in both Thai and English. White sofas were at a corner for the readers to spend their time reading here. This really was a kind of library a Bangkokian like me would like to see more in Bangkok, the World Book city in 2013. When my turn came, I saw that my group had a wide range of members; students, teenagers, an old lady in a wheelchair, a mother and her kid, Europeans, and two Japanese girls; all eager to know more about this charming city just the same. While listening to the basic instructions before the tour began, I couldn’t help feeling happy for the kids today to have opportunities to learn from such decent and creative source of knowledge. There were nine main exhibition halls and along the hallway were boards telling history of Rattanakosin by interestingly compare the event of Rattanakosin era to the notorious world events chronologically. Who would know that an American inventor and engineer, Robert Fulston, created the world first commercial steam engine ship in XXXX, the same year King Rama I built Sutat Thep Wararam temple in Bangkok. Each exhibition hall showcased different themes of presentation to take you back in time as much as possible to 200 years ago; whether they were the Royal Palace miniature, models demonstrating royal lifestyles, or simulation of Rattanakosin way of life. You would also find the feature board showing the relation between Thai prestigious performing arts like Khon and other types of dance. However, what amazed me the most must have been the integration of multimedia and technology into the presentation so artfully. For example, the first hall was the four-dimensional presentation about the establishment of Rattanakosin era in the reign of King Rama I. Apart from the 3D visual and sharp clear sound that took you back to around 200 years ago, the steam which was poured down would cool your body and represent the peaceful life under the monarchy. Another round-shaped room demonstrated different kinds of Thai traditional performing arts with tasteful presentation in 360 degrees. I walked in and out of each hall with such joy and excitement since this was how technology was presented in a very relatable and meaningful way. Three hours passed like a blink of an eye and I started to understand and fall in love with my hometown, the hypnotizing Bangkok, eventually. Before ending my tour here, the attendant told me I could have a great view of Rattanakosin Island at the fourth floor of the building, and so I did. The opening space I mentioned earlier was King Rama III Memorial Park, which was previously Chalerm Thai Pavillion, a famous theatre in the past, before it was renovated to be a welcoming house for the royal guests as we see today. Not far from it we could see the Golden Mountain, or officially called Phra Barombanpot, glowing in the afternoon sun. On the front left was Pom Mahakarn, one of the remaining two white fortresses protecting the old city in the past, and next to it, the one and only Loha Prasat in Ratchanadda Temple. What a view! Then it was time for me to take a real closer look of the old capital area around Rattanakosin Island, and buy myself some lunch too. I walked along Ratchadamnern Klang road until I met the Democracy Monument, then took a left turn to Dinsor road, one of many old small roads scattered with tasty food and old restaurants as the exhibition suggested. Not long after I entered Dinsor road, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration nobly appeared on my left with a large open area called the City Hall and the elegant red Giant Swing, landmark of Bangkok. This has been the place that kept our beloved Bangkok safe and sound through these years. Then I turned right to Mahannop road, which was abundant with food shops; wanton, Pad Thai, Chinese crispy pork with rice, Kra Poh Pla, or even traditional snacks like Chinese bun with pork stuffing, Pa Tong Ko, and Thai traditional coffee and tea. After taking my time to explore all the shops, I finally had Betong chicken with oily rice, my all time favorite since I was a kid, as my lunch. Then I walked some more along Mahannop road and let my meal got digested until I saw Tiger God Shrine at the crossroad. I took another left at Tanao Street to see a T-junction named after three aristocrats in the past, Praeng Sappasat, Praeng Nara, and Praeng Pootorn respectively. Buildings in this area were so delicate and antique I felt like I was walking in a set of a period soap opera. Though it was hot and humid, the alluring atmosphere and buildings prevented me from getting tired but kept taking wonderful photos of my city. I walked through Saranrom Park and arrived at Wat Pho unknowingly. I looked around the exquisite chedi in Wat Pho to admire its delicacy and beauty for quite some time before I ran into several statues of practicing hermits that reminded me of how tired and stiff my body was. So I decided to try the world renowned traditional massage of Wat Pho for the very first time before the afternoon session of my tour today. Thai traditional massage of Wat Pho has been outstandingly famous among Thai and foreigners especially Japanese. It was even said that there were Japanese masseurs giving instructions on how to give massage in Japanese language. While having my first massage, my masseuse and I had a little chat and she told me that the traditional massage of Wat Pho was a branch of many knowledge inscribed onto stones discovered in the temple since the reign of King Rama III, and so Wat Pho has been recognized as the first university of Thailand. By June 2011, UNESCO has registered all 1,440 stone inscriptions of Wat Pho as the world heritage already. Feeling more relaxed, I started my afternoon trip. I took a short walk to Museum Siam, situated next to Tangtrongjit Vocational School. Museum Siam was a new type of museum operated under the concept of “Plearn”, which combined the word “play” and “learn” together. When Bangkok was the destination of my trip, another question rose in my mind, “Where was the origin of Siam?” Museum Siam was a place where Thai and foreigners could come to find the answers and more. I really enjoyed flooding myself with amazing information and presentation here I almost forgot having to leave before nightfall to go to Wat Pra Kaew before it got too dark. When the walls of Wat Pra Kaew appeared to my eyes, somehow they always reminded me of a very famous novel “See Paen Din”. The sky was already getting dark when I left Wat Pra Kaew for the Royal Palace; a place truly represents the glorious Thai culture, which remained impressively breath-taking every time I visited. A number of spotlights shone to the Royal Palace brightly when it was dark and created a picture that originated other names for Bangkok like “The city of the immortals” or “The city of heaven”. I took a break to admire the view of Wat Pra Kaew at Sanam Luang, a wide plain held sacred for many royal rituals and ceremonies from the past until today. After a long trip today, my legs were exhausted and my stomach cried out in hunger again. I took a Took-Took, another signature vehicle of Bangkok to Santi Chaiprakarn Park around Tha Pra-atit area at the bank of Chao Phraya River. Nearby was Pom Pra Sumen, another fortress of the city in the past. I had a nice and light dinner in one of many pubs and restaurants along Pra-atit road before ending my trip by chilling out while watching the spectacular Rama VIII Bridge. The soothing atmosphere, the wind, and the view prompted me to see Bangkok in a way I had never seen before and I was glad. Today I’ve learned about my hometown, Bangkok, in a more meaningful way. And I had to say, for its long history and grand culture, Bangkok was a city I could be very proud of.