1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bangkok

BANGKOK, the capital of Siam, on the river Me Nam, about 20 m. from its mouth, in 100° 30′ E., 13° 45′ N. Until modern times the city was built largely on floating pontoons or on piles at the edges of the innumerable canals and water-courses which formed the thoroughfares, but to meet the requirements of modern life, well-planned roads and streets have been constructed in all directions, crossing the old canals at many points and lined with well-built houses, for the most part of brick, in which the greater part of the erstwhile riparian population now resides. The centre of the city is the royal palace (see Siam), situated in a bend of the river and enclosed by walls. At a radius of nearly a mile is another wall within which lies the closely-packed city proper, and beyond which the town stretches away to the royal parks on the north and to the business quarter, the warehouses, rice-mills, harbour and docks on the south. The whole town covers an area of over 10 sq. m. Two companies provide Bangkok with a complete system of electric tramways, and the streets are lined with shade-trees and lit by electricity. All over the town are scattered beautiful Buddhist temples, which with their coloured tile roofs and gilded spires give it a peculiar and notable appearance. Many fine buildings are to be seen—the various public offices, the arsenal, the mint, the palaces of various princes and, in addition to these, schools, hospitals, markets and Christian churches of many denominations, chiefly Roman Catholic. There are four railway stations in Bangkok, the termini of the lines which connect the provinces with the capital.

The climate of Bangkok has without doubt recently changed. It has become hotter and less humid. Though a minimum temperature below 60° F. is still recorded in January and December, a maximum of over 100° is reached during the hot weather months and at the beginning of the rains, whereas up to the year 1900 a maximum of 93° was considered unusually high. The cause of this change is not known, but it is attributed to extensive drainage and removal of vegetation in the immediate neighbourhood of the town. The annual rainfall amounts to rather over 50 in.

A four-mile reach of the Me Nam, immediately below the city proper, forms the port of Bangkok. From 250 to 400 yds. broad and of good depth right up to the banks, the river offers every convenience for the berthing and loading of ships, though a bar at its mouth, which prevents the passage of vessels drawing more than 12 ft., necessitates in the case of large ships a partial loading and unloading from lighters outside. The banks of the port are closely lined with the offices, warehouses and wharves of commercial houses, with timber yards and innumerable rice-mills, while the custom house, the harbour master’s office and many of the foreign legations and consulates are also situated here. Of the 750 steamships which cleared the port in 1904, three out of every seven were German, two were Norwegian and one was British, but in 1905 two new companies, one British and the other Japanese, arranged for regular services to Bangkok, thereby altering these proportions. It is notable that the heavy trade with Singapore shows a tendency to decrease in favour of direct trade with Europe. A fleet of small steamers, schooners and junks, carries on trade with the towns and districts on the east and west coasts of the Gulf of Siam. The trade of Bangkok is almost entirely in the hands of Europeans and Chinese. The principal exports are rice and teak, and the principal imports, cotton and silk goods and gold-leaf. The value of trade, which more than doubled between the years 1900 and 1907, amounted in the latter year to £5,600,000 imports and £7,100,000 exports. Of the total trade, 75% is with the British empire. Many of the best known mercantile firms and banks of the Far East have branches in Bangkok. The unit of currency is the tical (see Siam).

The government of Bangkok is entrusted to the minister of the capital, a member of the cabinet. Under this minister are the police, sanitary, harbour master’s and revenue offices. The police force is an efficient and well-organized body of 3000 men headed by a European commissioner of police. The sanitary department consists of a board of health, a bacteriological laboratory and an engineer’s office, all managed with expert European assistance. Under the act of 1905, the want of which was long felt, the port and the city water-ways are controlled by the harbour master. Local revenues are collected by the revenue office. The ordinary law courts are under the control of the ministry of justice, but in accordance with the extra-territorial rights enjoyed by foreign powers in Siam, each consulate has attached to it a court, having jurisdiction in all cases in which a subject of the power represented by such consulate is defendant.

The population, which is estimated at 450,000, is mixed. Mingling with Siamese and Chinese, who form the major part, may be seen persons of almost every race to be found between Bombay and Japan, while Europeans of different nationalities number over 1000. The death-rate is high, especially among children, owing to the prevalence of cholera, smallpox and fevers during the dry weather. Sanitation, however, is improving and much good has resulted from the boring of numerous artesian wells which yield good water.

Before 1769 Bangkok was nothing but an agricultural village with a fort on the river bank. In that year, however, it was seized by the warrior, Paya Tak, as a convenient point from which to attack the Burmese army then in occupation of Siam, and upon his becoming king it was chosen as the capital of the country. (See Siam.)  (W. A. G.)