What’s In a Name? That which we call Bangkok by any other name would smell as putrid.Posted: April 17, 2011
To adoring farangs the world over, Thailand’s sin city is known simply as “Bangkok.” But what is the meaning of the name? And would Bangkok smell any better if was called something else? In the following passages I will attempt to unravel the mystery of the name and reveal a few misconceptions, too.
The Birth of an Angel
When Phra Buddha Yodfa (Rama I) moved Thailand’s capital from Thonburi in 1782, he wanted to build a city worthy of the previous kingdom of Ayutthaya. He set about driving piles into the marsh-ridden ground and began the construction of the Grand Palace. The plot of land that Bangkok was built on was then known as Bang Kok, which means “The Village of Plum Trees.” Over time, this name was forgotten by the locals but survived in the international appellation Bangkok. In fact, the Thai people don’t usually call their capital city “Bangkok” at all.
To Thai people, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep. But that’s not the end of it. The Thai name for Bangkok is the longest name for a capital city in the world and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records. Below is the full, ceremonial name of Thailand’s capital:
“Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.”
Long, isn’t it. If that doesn’t mean much to you, here’s the translation:
“The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, 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 Vishnukarma.”
This ceremonial name is derived from two ancient Indian languages, Pāli and Sanskrit. The only Thai word in the name is the initial Krung which means “capital”. It is still taught in schools, though nowadays, most of the younger generation do not understand the meaning of the archaic words. The older generation may remember the name thanks to a popular song, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (1989) by Asanee-Wasan Chotikul. If you ask a Thai person about this song, you may be lucky enough for them to give you a rendition. If you can’t get that, click on the name of the song above and listen to it on YouTube.
The common misconception that most farangs have is that “Bangkok” means “The city of angels.” So, next time you hear two farangs arguing over the meaning of “Bangkok,” you can amaze and perhaps perplex them, by revealing that Bangkok does in fact mean “The Village of Plum Trees.”
Whatever we call this concrete jungle, it will always smell like warm dog vomit mixed with chilli sauce; my favourite dish on the soi.