Bangkok (1890-1910)/ Road Construction: the Forming of the Amphibian City

 

Bangkok’s march towards Westernization was specially marked up by series of road construction, as is known as the process of “from water to land”. The years from 1980 to 1910 saw a particular acceleration of road construction in the late Chulalongkorn reign. In order to better understand the role of the road development in this particular period of westernization, it is helpful to have a review its overall history.

 

Road Construction before 1890

Bangkok had long been relying on waterways for transportation and irrigation. Well-paved roads were only seen in the royal palaces and temples, but much as a means of beautification and were occupied only on occasion of ceremony. The local indigenous road is described as follows in an Englishman’s journal:

“The land passages are scarcely passable, and frequently will not allow two persons to walk abreast…the streets in genera l nothing more than foot-paths, overgrown with bushes, bamboos, and palms.”

Charoenkrung Road, also known as the New Road, was the first artery road commissioned by King Mongkut under the westerner’s petition. Since then, the road construction kept in a slow pace because of the low demand. The economic activities still happened along the canals and the roads only acted as the supplement of the growing canal system for the commercial transportation and mostly went in parallel with the existing canals.

Road Construction 1890- 1910

The construction started to speed up in the 1900s when most of today’s artery roads were built. The growing followed the overall V-shape pattern of the time, in which constructions were most active in the new Dusit District and the Sampeng Area (the most commercialized western and Chinese settlement area).

For the south Sampeng Area, the construction was featured by the Amphur Sampeng project, which proposed more than 18 roads to cut in the commercial district. Being both the most commercialized area and the foreign and Chinese settlement, the region had more sophisticated road network than anywhere else.

For the Dusit District, a road network composed of 50 roads was planned for this western-inspired royal suburb, with the royal Ratchadanomoen Avenue connecting it with the Grand Palace.

 

The “Amphibian City” I use here refers to Bangkok in this intermediate stage of its transformation from a traditional Thai hydrophilic city to a modernized terrestrial city. On one hand, waterway as the major economic passage way and daily transportation remained active and still recalled the traditional Thai communal living and economy. On the other hand, the emergence of the road network, with the development of shop houses along it and the introduction of the automobiles, was leading Bangkok to a westernized modern city which finally took over the former.  

 

References:

Porphant Ouyyanont. 1999. “Physical and Economic Change in Bangkok,1851-1925”. 東南アジア研究 / 京都大学東南アジア研究所 編. 36 (4): 437-474.

STERNSTEIN, L., & DANIELL, P. (1976). Thailand: the environment of modernisation. Sydney, McGraw-Hill.

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