Today I’m on a boat trip organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Thai media to explore historical neighborhoods along the river in Bangkok where foreigners used to live. The trip is called “ย่านฝรั่งในบางกอก” (Foreign Quarter in Bangkok). This project is part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ cultural diplomacy. Its purpose is to create historical awareness, which is an important foundation for learning about the nation’s cultural heritage and important past events and create a correct understanding of the history and culture of the country.
[STOP 01] Wat Rachathiwat in Dusit district was originally established pre-Ayutthaya. It was given its present name by King Mongkut who once resided here. Of interest is the Khmer style ordination hall with murals in a fresco style by an Italian artist.
In 1674, King Narai granted land in Bangkok to the Portuguese community to build the Church of Immaculate Conception. Later, Vietnamese Christians settled here. The present church building dates back to 1847.
[STOP 02] After establishing Thonburi as the capital, King Taksin granted the Portuguese a piece of land in an area now called Kudichin on which they built the Church of Santa Cruz in 1769. Back then, the church was wooden. It was later renovated in 1834, 1916 and 1996.
The present day Church of Santa Cruz dates back to 1916. The Thai name is Wat Kanlaya. The church is not often open to the public, but if you get a chance, it’s worth looking inside as it is really beautiful.
[STOP 03] The Kudichin community is one of the few Western communities in Bangkok which managed to maintain its cultural heritage. A good place to learn about the history of the Portuguese is at Baan Kudichin Museum. Entry is free. Closed Mondays.
One of the famous snacks in the Kudichin community is Khanom Farang, which is a cupcake brought to Thailand by the Portuguese many years ago. They still make them in the same way with the original recipe passed down through the generations. You can find other unique food here too.
Our boat tour is on one of the new electric catamaran boats belonging to MINE Smart Ferry. The MFA rented this one for the day but normal trips cost 20 Baht. This is a cashless boat. You have to use either a contactless credit card or QR Code.
[STOP 04] Lunch today was at Krua Khun Kung on the bank of the Chao Phraya River near the Grand Palace. My favorite dishes were green curry with chicken (top left) and soft shell crab curry (top right)
[STOP 05] Holy Rosary Church, or Kalawar Church in Thai, is an old Gothic style Roman Catholic Church in Talad Noi on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. The plot of land was given to the Portuguese by King Rama I in 1786. The present church is 120 years old.
Holy Rosary church was built in Gothic Revival style. It follows a cruciform floor plan, with the main façade facing the Chao Phraya river. The church has Gothic-arched doors and windows throughout, and its stained glass work is said to be among the most beautiful in Thailand.
[STOP 06] Statue of Captain John Bush who was Harbour Master during the reigns of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn. He was also the first Director General of the Marine Department. He was so famous that the road where he lived is called Captain Bush Lane.
This is the entrance to Bangkok Yai Canal. This was the original route of the Chao Phraya River. A shortcut called Khlong Lat Bangkok was dug in 1542 which saved hours on the journey to Ayutthaya, the former capital. This is one reason why foreigners still call this area Bangkok.
[STOP 07] Thailand’s first Thai bank was started in 1904 and after a few name changes became the Siam Commercial Bank in 1939. The Talat Noi Branch is the first and longest running bank branch in Thailand. It is located in Talat Noi of Bangkok.
The Talat Noi branch of Siam Commercial Bank, on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, was designed by Italian architect Annibale Rigotti in the Beaux-Arts style, just over 100 years ago. You are allowed to visit during normal banking hours.
[STOP 08] Assumption Cathedral in Bang Rak dates back to 1809. The present larger church was built in 1909 due to a growing congregation. Most of the marble and stained glass windows came from France and Italy. The tower is 32 meters high.
Assumption Cathedral is the principal Roman Catholic church of Thailand. The cathedral hosted both of the Papal visits to Thailand; Pope John Paul II in 1984 and Pope Francis more recently in 2019.