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  Cover story : 25 Nov 2004
Vol. 21 No. 16
  Charoen Krung Road
  Where Memories Remain Alive
By Dararai

Click to enlarge Map
of Charoen Krung
Every place has its stories and anecdotes. The older the place, the more interesting stories it has. Legends enhance the value of the places, bringing out their significance. Old communities in Bangkok have their different stories of trading and ways of life. Brief anecdotes of Charoen Krung Road, and its communities, which are part of the Old Town area of Bangkok, will be related here.
Si Kak Phraya Si Intersection in the olden days
Charoen Krung Road was constructed in Rama IV's reign (1851-1868). It is one of the earliest roads constructed with Western techniques. Along both sides of the road, shophouses are lined up, forming a string of business communities extending from Yaowarat Road, which is parallel to Charoen Krung. (See map.)
Si Kak Phraya Si at present
Newly finished and not yet named, the road was commonly called "New Road" before King Mongkut (Rama IV) bestowed on it the name of "Charoen Krung", which means the prosperity of the city.

The road may be divided into two sections. The northern section starts from Sanam Chai Road (near the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and ends at the General Post Office. And the southern section starts there and ends at Thanon Tok. At the beginning, the northern part was planned to be built straight to the city wall. However, Deputy King Pin Klao, who was the younger brother of King Rama IV, protested that it would run counter to the strategic principle, since a straight road towards the Grand Palace would allow the enemy to easily attack the city wall. Thus, a curve was made at Damrong Sathit Bridge. And the whole road is 8,575 m in length.

Reason to construct the new road

During the reign of King Rama IV, foreign diplomats started to come to live and work in Thailand. They requested permission from the King to build a new road to facilitate their riding horses at leisure time to get fresh air which would make them healthy. King Mongkut considered that although Thailand had some roads, they were not as spacious or tidy as those in the European countries, which was a shame to his country. Thus, the king ordered the road to be built. The construction took three years from 1861-1864.

The overall condition of the road
After its completion, the southern section of the road was too large to be put into full use because at that time, there was just a small number of inhabitants in that part of Bangkok. So, only one side of the road was used, which was enough since the only type of vehicles available was rickshaws. Most people still preferred walking barefoot. However, by around 1890 AD, the road seemed to be too narrow as more and more western automobiles were brought into this country. Alongside were rows of one-storey shophouses which belonged to the Chinese who came to settle down in Thailand. This area was the earliest trading community of Bangkok.
Automobiles in the reign of King Rama V
And at present, there stand one-stop-service shops selling necessary things for using in the Chinese-style wedding ceremony such as wedding dresses, pillows, mattresses and offerings, which are in red and pink.
a rickshaw
Interesting Points on the Northern Section of Charoen Krung Road
Si Kak Phraya Si has its name derived from Phraya Si Saha Thep, the leader of Peguan immigrants who migrated to Thailand during the period of Rama IV and settled down there. "Kak" is a Chinese word meaning intersection. At present, it is one of the bustling jewellery centres of Bangkok.
Top left: Sampheng market in 1870's with the now dismantled Sam Yot arch in the background
Top right: S.A.B. Intersection at present
Chaloem Krung Theatre is regarded as the first theatre in South East Asia to have an air-conditioning system and was the most modern and largest one at that time. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) who was fond of films, gave an amount of money from his privy purse to construct the theatre. Renovated in 1992, it is now still in use.
Top left: Sam Yot Intersection today
Top right: The S.A.B. building in 1910's
Nearby is Damrong Sathit bridge or Saphan Lek Bon where Charoen Krung Road makes a turn to the south as mentioned. At present, it is crowded with shops and stalls selling game players, toys electronic utilities and miscellaneous goods.
Adjacent to the bridge is an old community named "Sam Yot". The name derived from the now dismantled arch with three pinnacles atop the city gate there.
Woeng Nakhon Kasem Market is a big retail and wholesale market of machines, auto parts and musical instruments. Next to this, the S.A.B. Intersection stands. Nowadays, the office of Sing Sien Yit Pao, the oldest Chinese newspaper in Thailand, is located.
Si Phraya is the road connecting Charoen Krung to Rama IV Road. "Si Phraya" refers to the four high-ranking officials who joined together to buy a piece of land between Surawong Road and Phadung Krung Kasem Canal. Then they constructed the road passing through that land and transferred the right to the public.
The Rare Stone Museum, located on Charoen Krung Road, between Soi 26 and 28, is the first of its kind in Thailand and perhaps in Southeast Asia, too. One will be impressed by the beauty and uniqueness of each piece of stone displayed there. Open daily: 10:00 am to 5:30 PM Tel: 0 2236 5655-6, 0 2236 5712 Fax: 0 2237 2112
General Post Office
Interesting Points on the Southern Section of Charoen Krung Road
Now let's move to Charoen Krung's southern part near the General Post Office, Bang Rak District. This area has been important since the first foreigners, Portugese, came to set up their consulate here in 1820.
Bangkokian Museum is situated in Soi Charoen Krung 43. It reflects the lifestyles of middle-class Bangkokians during World War II (1937-1957). An interesting corner is the kitchen in the old days. Opening hours: 9:00 am - 3:30 PM Contact Ajarn Waraporn Surawadi on Tel: 0 2233 7027.
The Assumption Church
General Post Office was once used as the British Embassy. At present, this bulky structure still serves as a post office.
The Assumption Church was built in 1822 by Reverend Pascal to honour the Virgin Mary. Later in 1919, it was renovated to accommodate the increasing number of Catholics. Construction materials such as marble and colour stained glass were imported from France and Italy. The church is regarded as the most beautiful Gothic church in Thailand.
The Oriental Hotel was the earliest modern European style hotel in the Rattanakosin period. It was established in 1876 by two Danes named H. Jarck and C. Salje. Famous writers Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham used to be guests here.
The splendid architectural style of
OP Place today
OP Place is a shopping centre which is located in an ancient commercial building built in 1908 AD Initially, the building was constructed as Falck & Beidek Store. Later, the place successively changed its name to Oriental Plaza Shopping Centre and OP Place. Constructed in Neoclassic style, the building consists of two storeys with a three-storey tower at each wing. Three gabled porches are exceptional elegant. Best quality silk, clothes, jewellery, antiques, leather products, carpets, paintings and a variety of handicrafts are available at OP Place. A branch of Chitralada shop selling products under the royal projects is situated here as well.
OP Place in 1908
For those who have time, wherever you are in Bangkok, you are recommended to visit the place. Shopping here in the atmosphere of old town allows you to have a glimpse of Bangkok in the olden days. Address: 301/1 Soi Charoen Krung 38, Charoen Krung Road, Tel: 0 2266 0186-95 Fax: 0 2237 4062
The old building of the
East Asiatic Co., (Thailand) Ltd.
The former office of the East Asiatic Company (Thailand) Limited is now well-conserved as a historical building. It was a foreign company running teak concessions in the north. Also, it imported goods by water freight via the Chao Phraya River.
Customs House
Customs House is an old Italian-style construction on the river bank. It was completed in 1890. All imported commodities at that time were subject to a 3% tax. Here was where importers paid their money. Though shabby, it is now lodged by families of the fire brigade people.
Wat Yannawa
Wat (temple) Yannawa is a royal temple established in the Ayutthaya period (1350-1767 AD). In King Rama III's reign (1824-1851) of the Rattanakosin period, the temple was renovated with a pagoda in the form of the Chinese junk of 200 years ago built in memory of this type of seagoing vessel which had played an important role in Thailand's foreign trade. The name Yannawa was bestowed by King Rama III.
Shops and stalls along the road
It will be found excellent to drive along the road on holiday or when you have plenty of time to drop by at some of the interesting places mentioned above and enjoy shopping along the road. A one-day excursion can be arranged by spending the morning shopping along Yaowarat Road which is just a few hundred steps away, and spend the afternoon on Charoen Krung. (See map.) Consult your travel agent or advertisers in Thaiways about a personalised programme and enjoy your trip.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see
Romanization System of the Thai Language .

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