Less than 250 years have passed since the then Bangkok, a small village called Bang Makok, home to a community of Chinese merchants who traded with the then capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya, became the capital of what, in 1939, would become the Kingdom of Thailand.
Advocate of the relocation, King Rama the First, had a series of majestic buildings erected, amongst which a lavish Royal Palace where an statue emerald representing the Buddha was kept, which you can still admire at the Wat Phra Kaew temple and from which the first name of the city originated: Rattanakosin, “The city of the Jewel”.
Called by its own population Krung Thep, “The City of Angels“, an abbreviation of a ceremonial name so long and unpronounceable to be listed in the Guinness Book of Records, this little former village of traders has become a metropolis in constant change, set halfway between Eastern and Western way of life, known throughout the world as Bangkok.
It is chaotic, without a “directional sense”, without neither head nor tail, without a real city center. Yes, it is all true, but this capital suspended between past and present, between the ultra modern and the old, the luxurious and the rundown, is lovable for its excesses and unbearable for its traffic. It is in this metropolis of more than six million souls where technology and superstition alternate, and where you breathe a strong spirituality by visiting its temples, contrasting with the noises of a daily life today hopelessly projected toward the future. It is here where strong smells penetrate evocative alleys as well as large road arteries, in this capital that, with its merits and its flaws, remains one of the most charming and secure destinations in the world.
For the visitor who arrives in Bangkok, the impact could not be happier. Especially during the first time one can feel as if lost in a world that does not belong to us. We feel disoriented, clueless, insecure, and completely disconnected from the reality that surrounds you. Then we begin to immerse ourselves amongst its magnificent temples and their roofs in the form of a snake’s scales, in the colors of the means of transportation, of flowers, and of the night lights. We lose ourselves in that sense of ancient culture that wraps us in places like Ayutthaya and Sukhothai; we abandon ourselves amongst the smells of food and incense; we advance along canals where people live their lives, between children who swim in murky waters and floating markets where goods are still exchanged from boat to boat as in times past; we relax under wise hands that alternate strength and delicacy, performing the old art of massage.
It is with these small things that Bangkok conquers you, in a past which is present and will be future; with this fanciful navigation in time where the only true reality is the friendliness of the people, their smile, their sense of hospitality, people who offer their best face, one that is still more than ever the mysterious face of the East.
Photos by © Guglielmo Zanchi (Pluto)