From my first Bangkok night tour with Grasshopper Adventures I knew that I wanted to learn more of these communities I saw along the tour route. Along the way we had passed Muslim communities and Christian settlements. They must be a story here, I was sure.
As it turns out that these are the first settlements of Bangkok and the area from which Bangkok takes its English name.
The area was first called Bang Makok, meaning roughly the Hog Plum Tree Settlement. From that name the earliest European adventurers in the 1500s dubbed the area Bangkok. So, it has been called by foreigners ever since.
What gave the area its diversity of religions? Thailand is overwhelming Buddhist. Why were these very early settlements of Bangkok so diverse with Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists?
As I studied the early history of Bangkok and talked with its modern inhabitants, a picture emerged of an early trading center where the east and the west came together, of Persians, Arabs, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Dutch traders traversing the Chao Phraya River to the old capital in Ayutthaya.
In those early days there was a fortress on the river, Wichai Prasit Fort, in the area of Bangkok where traders had to stop to pay customs and possibly to transfer their goods to smaller boats for the journey up the river.
Following the sacking of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767 and the ensuing civil war, the new capital of Thonburi was established around this fortress in Bangkok. The Portuguese, who has supplied the Siamese with modern weapons, the Chinese traders and the Persian and Cham muslims, who were mercenaries, traders and laborers, all established settlements around this new capital of Thonburi.
What a rich history this was! Not many Thais and even fewer foreign visitors had any idea of the history of this area.
I really wanted to create a much more intimate tour which really delved into the history of the founding of Bangkok and which brought visitors in contact with the modern inhabitants.
So, I started riding the back lanes and alleys of these neighborhoods meeting the local and looking for possible tour experiences.
In the community of Wat Kalayanmit , I found a community who was willing to host foreign visitors for home cooked Thai meals in their homes.
In the community of Kudijeen, I found the descendants of the early Portuguese traders, with a bakery, the Thanusingh Bakery, where they made a traditional Portuguese cupcake.
Eventually, I would name the tour Where Bangkok Began and passed through 5 of the first communities of Bangkok.
The tour started in the early evening and did a slow meander through the communities visiting the community around the Santa Cruz church, the Bangkok’s oldest standing mosque, the Bang Luang Mosque, then passing through an old Persian community to stop at the Wat Hong Rattanam, then to the Temple of the Dawn before stopping in Wat Kalayanamit for a dinner. On the way back the tour would then stop at the Temple of the Reclining Buddha for a bit of serenity before finishing at the Grasshopper Office.
The bike tour was a great hit with everyone who went on it. They loved the dinner. But the tour never sold very well. There were a few reasons why:
- It was a bit too long at 6 hours
- It was too in-depth
- The original name did not really attract many customers
Later we changed the name of the tour to Bangkok Bike and Dine. It sold a bit better under this name. But in the end we had to stop the tour as the community of Wat Kalayanamit was kicked off the land by the abbot of the temple. We tried resurrecting with the neighboring Kudichin community around Santa Cruz church but as the tour did not really sell very well, we eventually stopped offering the tour.
I learned a lot in developing this tour about the founding of Bangkok and made a few friends along the way. I might be biased but I think it was a great tour but we didn’t quite find the right market. Maybe one day another chance will present itself.