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The Bangkok of today is quite a contrast from only a few hundred years ago, when it was a small trading post on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, surrounded by wild plum trees. Formerly the village of Bang Makok (meaning "place of olive plums"),on Rattanakosin Island, it soon became known as the city of Bangkok.
In 1782 that King "Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke" (King Ramathibodi) or simply, Rama 1, moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok and began work on the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
These amazing structures, (Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha) were completed by 1785. In addition, Rama 1, dug defensive moats, built canals, constructed temples and erected city walls. Rama 1 also founded the House of Chakri, the current ruling royal house of Thailand.
Just as with the former capital Ayutthaya, Bangkok was originally created as an island city by cutting a series of canals connecting to the Chao Phraya River, earning the name "Venice of the East". Canals were the main means of transport with a large network of water-roads thus having a large percentage of inhabitants living in floating houses. It wasn't until the mid 1800's thatl the first roads were constructed.
Prior to this time Bangkok was little more than a trading post and front line defence for Ayutthaya. The city now stands on the East bank of the Chao Phraya river, 40 kms from its mouth on the Gulf of Thailand. Thonburi, on the West bank is also included in the Bangkok greater metropolitan area.
Bangkok's buildings and canals were originally modelled on Ayutthaya, and designed to reflect the former (lost) glory of that city. Later development turned its back on the original heart, resulting in a city that now sprawls in all directions across an alluvial plain. This explains why there is no readily identifiable "central" down-town area. Bangkok is a cluster of distinct districts, but without any logical connection. The confusing layout of Bangkok is exasperated by notorious traffic congestion, appalling noise and pollution levels.
Nevertheless, Bangkok is the Thai capital in every sense. The Royal family reside there, it's the seat of Thailand's Government and Administration, as well as the focal point for virtually all industrial, commercial,and financial activity. Bangkok is Thailand's main port, aviation gateway, and home to 15% of Thailand's citizens.
Sometimes trying to be all things to all people, Bangkok has borne the brunt of fairly recent rapid growth. Increasing modernisation has meant compromising its traditional identity for a more westernised one. Despite this Bangkok remains a paradox which embraces the new, while still taking deep pride in the old, as displayed by the coexistence of Palaces and temples, beside office towers, deluxe hotels and shopping malls.