During the late 18th century, Bangkok maybe just a small town on the Chao Phraya riverbank during the Ayuthaya Kingdom but it was a thriving town. Thanks to its location, it was a busy trade center where local and foreign merchants traded their goods. Fast forward to 2015, Bangkok is one of the largest cities in Asia with a population of more than 10 million people. It is also a highly cosmopolitan city with a unique charm. Among modern buildings and big shopping malls, there are still many hidden areas where you can get a glimpse of Bangkok in the old days.
If you take a boat ride along Chao Praya River either on express boats, you may notice a large Buddhist monastery and a Catholic church sitting on the riverbank. In between the two religious shrines is an old Chinese pagoda believed to be in existence before the founding of Bangkok as the capital 1782. Having a walking tour to visit these three historical places is quite an amazing experience.
We start at the Buddhist monastery. Locally known as Wat Kanlayanamitr, it got its name from the family name of a high ranking government official who donated his land to the monks. King Rama III also added a big Vihara building to house the capital’s biggest Buddha statue. The Buddha statue is highly revered by Chinese people who live in the area. The temple is also home to Thailand’s biggest bell (3.83 m. high and 30 tons).
We then proceed along the riverside walkway the Chinese community where the multi-storey pagoda is situated. This area, known as ‘Kudi Chin’ was given to the Chinese and Portuguese community during the reign of King Taksin (1767 – 1782) as a reward for their loyalty. Locally called Kuan An Keng in Chinese, the pagoda was built in 17th century and known for housing the statue of Chinese Goddess Kwan Yin. The Shrine looks amazing from the outside. The carving work above the main entrance of the shrine shows great skill of the artist. Unfortunately, photo taking inside the shrine in prohibited.
Walking a little further from the pagoda, you will see a Catholic church – Santa Cruz Church or the Church of Holy Cross. The Church was also built in 1770 during the reign of King Taksin as the center of Portuguese community near Kudi Chin. However, the church fell in calamity during the reign of King Rama III. It was rebuilt after that and became one of the landmarks on the Chao Praya River.
The Portuguese community here is famous for making an original Thai version of sponge cake. The story has it that the recipe was created by a Portuguese lady who moved from Ayutthaya and resided in this community. The recipe includes a mix of sugar, eggs and flour baked in a special oven that gives the texture of the cake unique. It is crumbly on the outside but soft on the inside. Now, there are only a few shops here that maintains the original recipe.
If you enjoy walking, these 3 places are worth visiting.