Just another capital city, eh? Nothing special about the name, you say? A normal 7 letter word like New York, Beijing, Nairobi and Colombo: B-A-N-G-K-O-K, right? Well, no.
Bangkok’s true name is actually a whopping 168 letters long! (Actually over 176 counting the spaces in between) The exact number varies due to different translations from Thai to English, but what harm can a few letters do to so formidable a name. You can try counting for yourself. Here’s the real deal:
“Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit”
Back in the late 1700s, when Thailand was known as Siam, the city was founded by King Rama, the First (a.k.a Phra Bat Somdet Phra Borommarachathirat Ramathibodi Sisin Borommaha Chakkraphat Rachathibodin). At that time, the city was known by a tad bit shorter name “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Si Ayutthaya”.
Krung Thep stands for ‘the City of Angels’.
Maha Nakhon stands for ‘the great city’.
Si Ayutthaya is the Siamese version of ‘Sri Ayodhaya’ – a tribute to the birthplace of Lord Rama, who just happens to share his name with the founding king.
Half a century later, Thailand was ruled by the Fourth Monarch of Siam, King Mongkut (a.k.a. Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramenthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua). It was during his reign that the flabbergasting 168-letter name was officially used.
Little did he know that he had potentially given his capital the Guinness World Record for the longest place name. By digging into the Pali and Sanskrit etymological roots, the full name can be translated as:
“The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, erected by Vishnukarman at Indra’s behest ”
To make things a lot easier, the locals today just call their city ‘Krung Thep Maha Nakhon’ or simply ‘Krung Thep’ or ‘City of Angels’. Surprisingly, the name Bangkok is only what the world knows Krung Thep as, and not its ‘actual’ name.
‘Bang’ is Thai for ‘village on a stream’ or just ‘village’ and ‘ko’ probably stands for ‘island’. This makes sense due to the abundance of rivers and water channels in Krung Thep.
Alternatively, it could be a corruption of the name Bang Makok or ‘village of wild plums’. Makok is the local name for the fruit plant Elaeocarpus hygrophilus.
Be it plums or islands, Bangkok or Krung Thep, anything is easier to remember than the humungous name that was originally bestowed upon the City of Angels but was shortened to its present identity by a world that is growing lazier by the day and shortening everything in sight. TTYL.