Bangkok became the capital of Thailand in 1782, when the royal court relocated from the city of Ayutthaya, which had been left in ruins following years of conflict with the Burmese. After settling temporarily on the western banks of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi, the capital moved again, this time to the area of Rattanakosin in present-day Bangkok. Almost entirely surrounded by water, the new location was easier to defend against potential attacks. The final move marked the beginning of the Chakri Dynastry. Rama I named the new capital Krung Thep (City of Angels) in reference to the past glories of Ayutthaya, and he ordered the construction of two of the Kingdom’s most illustrious religious monuments, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, to consolidate the new capital’s ruling status.
During the subsequent reigns of King Monkut (Rama IV) and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), the city developed rapidly, culminating in the modernisation and explosive growth of the 20th century. After visiting some European capitals, Rama V moved the royal family to the leafy enclave of Dusit. The modern architectural monuments built in this neighborhood include the Thai Parliament Building, the impressive marble Wat Benchama Bophit and the enormous teak Vimanmek Mansion.
Greater Bangkok now covers an area of 7,761.50 km² and is home to some 12 million residents. Ratanakosin remains the spiritual center of the city, graced by the dazzling splendor of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew and nearby Wat Pho.
Modern downtown Bangkok stretches southeast of Ratanakosin and looks very much like many other Southeast Asian capitals, with gleaming skyscrapers, deluxe apartment projects and lots of snarled traffic. The core of the new city encompasses the Sathorn and Silom districts and Sukhumvit Road, which includes upmarket shopping plazas and leafy public parks. These major downtown neighborhoods are connected by the BTS Skytrain and the MRT subway systems. These gradually expanding public transportation networks, with their bright, snaking trains carrying excited tourists and weary commuters alike, have not only helped relieve the city’s notorious traffic congestion and pollution, but given this City of Angels a modern, 21st century feel.
Thai rarely call their capital ‘Bangkok’ but instead refer to it as ‘Krung Thep’ (City of Angels), an abbreviated version of the full ceremonial and official name. This can be translated as ‘The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Intra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.’ It is no surprise that the Guinness Book of Records registered it as the world’s longest name for a capital.