BRIEF HISTORY OF THONBURI
Written by Assoc.Prof. Tipawan Chandrashtitya
Translated by Asst.Prof. Chiraporn Matungka
Thonburi was the third capital city
of Thailand from 1767 until 1782. In the
Ayutthaya period, the city was named
Thonburisrimahasamut, but it was already
known by western merchants as “Bangkok”
The word “Bangkok” originally meant the community on the west bank of the Chao
Phraya River where the land was bent into a horseshoe shape, which looked like an island
surrounded by water. The area covered the land between the Bangkok Noi and the Bangkok
Yai (or Bang Luang) canals. One hypothesis (as to the origins of the name is) that the word
Bangkok came form “Bang Koh”, meaning “island village” in Thai.
Bangkok was the first community of Thonburi, to which people had been coming to
settle since the Ayutthaya period. Because its location was convenient for transportation
both domestic and outbound, it wa a storage point for goods before they
were shipped further to Ayutthaya. During the reign of King
Borommarajathirat II (Chao Sam Phraya), in 1433, Bangkok was a customs duty port of the
Ayutthaya Kingdom. The rank of the person incharge was “Nai Phra Khanon
Thonburi” which is the earliest documented appearance of the name
“Thonburi” in the history of Bangkok.
In 1522, during the reign of King Chairajathiraj of Ayutthaya, the king commanded
that a canal be dug in order to make a shortcut in the Chao Phraya River between the mouth
of the Bangkok Noi canal and the old river in front of the Temple of the Dawn, forming a
straight shoreline for the convenience of the international cargo ships that sailed to Ayutthaya.
As a result, the old river became a canal while the new manmade section became a part of
the river. With this new streamlined shore, Thonburi ‘s importance increased continuously
up to 1557.
In 1767, Ayutthaya was invaded and conquered by the Burmese for the second time.
However, King Taksin the Great gained the country’s independence back within 6-7 months.
Taking in to account that Ayutthaya had suffered extensive damage and that the city was
too large for his army to protect, he moved his people to Thonburi establishing it as the new
The town centre of Thonburi had long been an old town community located at the
Old Palace (the Royal Navy Base at present), In 1665 a Fort, “Vichaiprasit” was built by
command of King Narai the Great of Ayutthaya, at the mouth of the Bangkok Yai canal. It
was designed and constructed by French architects and engineers of King Narai’s however,
after King Narai’s death, The Great Phra Phetraja, the new king, had all theFrench soldiers
captured and demolished the fort. King Taksin later had his palace built at the place that
was once Vichaiprasit Fort.
The main strategic reason for making Thonburi the capital city was its outstanding
location. This city was a customs duty and seaport outpost, which controlled all inbound
and outbound cargo ships. Moreover, it was an old town with many forts already built, as
well as a large number of temples. There was no need to waste time for reconstruction, as
its location was near the river mouth. And in case of enemy attack, it was easy to escape
to the sea.
During the 14 year reign of King Tasksin the Great, he helped the economy recover
and united the land and the people. The capital become replete with wealth and food, which
made Thonburithe countre ofpolitical and economic power, Itbecame a worthy
successor toAyutthaya. Afterthe death of KingTaksin in 1782,
King Rama I of the Chakkri dynasty had the city moved to the East bank of the Chao Phraya
River, establishing Bangkok as the new capital. From that time, Thonburi became a part to
Geographically, Thonburi has area of only 25 square kilometres. The neighburing
province to the North is Nonthaburi, to the West is Nakom Pathom, and the south is
Samutprakarn, where some parts reach the Gulf of Siam. East of Thonburi is the Chao
Phraya River. Since Thonburi is in the tropics, the weather is hot and humid all year round.
Since the land is a delta on the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, the soil is fertile, and
suitable for agriculture. As a result, in former time people in Thonburi typically worked in
agriculture, notably cultivating orchards. The land at the mouth of the river where Thonburi
is located was once a sea and lat
er became a fertile delta with several waterways, which
made constructing canals in this area easy to do. Consequently, there are so many canals
in Thonburi that this city has been called “the Venice of the East.”
Even though Thonburi was the capital city for only 15 years, this place had long
been an old city community which was economically important as a tax collecting gateway
town. It has also been a fertile land for agriculture. Moreover, Thonburi has long been a
multi-cultural community of different ethnic groups of people: the Chinese, Mon, Indian,
Japanese and Dutch merchants were present since the Ayutthaya period. One of this
distinguished proof is a Dutch Warehouse in Bang Pakok district, being called New Amsterdam.
The identity of Thonbur is entirely different from Bangkok. Besides having several
canals, this city is the centre for arts, architecture as well as Thai ways of life in Thonburi
from past to present are generally peaceful and happy ,ones due to the simple slyle of living
on the river and canal banks with the cool atmosphere, all make Thonburi a surprisingly