The Mark of a Beloved King
Anyone who knows a little about Southeast Asian history is familiar with the influences of Western powers in the region, but perhaps not quite so many people are aware that Thailand was officially never colonized, unlike Vietnam, Myanmar or Indonesia. Nevertheless, European influence in the Kingdom has left its mark in a number of different ways and much of this is thanks to Thailand’s King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, who reigned from 1868 to 1910.
Known for his governmental and social reforms, many of which were based on observed Western principles of public administration, King Chulalongkorn was able to limit English and French influences in the Kingdom and save Siam from colonization, earning him the epithet, ‘Great Beloved King’ of the Thai people.
However, he did have a fervent appreciation of Western architecture and culture, which led him to invite a number of European architects and designers to Siam. As a result, it is still possible in Bangkok today to see many buildings and structures of European design and influence.
One Striking example is Hualamphong, Bangkok’s central railway station. Built in 1916, it was designed by Italian architects Mario Tamagno and Annibale Rigotti in the Italian Neo-Renaissance style, with a decorated wooden roof and stained glass windows. Tamagno was also responsible for the design of Santa Cruz Church, also built in 1916 and situated in Bangkok’s Thonburi District on the Chao Phraya River.
Chanthaburi town, approximately 250 km east of Bangkok, is another destination in Thailand that has been shaped by foreign influences to some degree. The town’s landmark is its famous Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the largest church in Thailand. It also has the biggest congregation of Roman Catholic Thais, many of whom are of Vietnamese descent, having fled to Thailand in the 19th century to escape religious persecution in their own country.
However, the original construction of the Cathedral dates back to the 17th century and was built by the French before it was renovated by the Thai-Vietnamese community two centuries later. The fact that Chanthaburi was occupied by the French army for 11 years during the reign of King Chulalongkorn is not known by many people. The occupation ended in 1906, a year before the king’s first trip to Europe to get a better understanding of foreign affairs on the world stage.
Join us on a trip to Chanthaburi to discover Thai, French and Vietnamese influences and to learn just why this picturesque town is such a melting pot in Thailand’s history. In addition to the Cathedral, we also visit the charismatic Chantaboon Waterfront Community filled with restored wooden houses that sit on the banks of the Chanthaburi River. One of this community’s most prominent buildings is Baan Luang Rajamaitri, the former residence of a local Thai aristocrat. Awarded by UNESCO as a building of special merit, the structure is a beautiful example of Sino-Portuguese architecture and now serves as a hotel and museum.
Chanthaburi is also on the way to several islands east of Bangkok in Trat province, in particular Koh Chang and Koh Kood, which lie in the Mu Koh Chang National Park, a protected marine archipelago. And if you are traveling overland to Siem Reap in Cambodia to see the stunning temples of Angkor Wat, Chanthaburi is a great place to break up your journey and enjoy the sights of this alluring little town.
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When staying overnight in Chanthaburi, Baan Luang Rajamaitri should be high on your list of accommodation choices. This small-scale boutique hotel and museum, located in the Chantaboon Waterfront Community, is the ideal place to start your historical exploration of present-day Chanthaburi.
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