Friday, March 15, 2013

Nuggets of History on Bangkok’s F1 GP Street Race Circuit (By Peter Chan)


When holiday-makers are asked to rate their Bangkok experiences, it’s somewhere between “excellent” and “exceptional”, depending on what brought them to Bangkok in the first place.  Though there are many different ways to look at a Bangkok trip, most of us associate Bangkok with eating, shopping, clubbing and “sextertainment”. 

Photo 1: Visitors to Bangkok doing the usual way.  If you are thinking of just MBK/Chatuchak Market, there are better ones in Bangkok.

When you tell others that it is a Bangkok historical and heritage trip, it brings out blank looks.  Even worse when one speaks about doing a Bangkok walking tour, it usually conjures images of temples, parks & gardens, shrines, palaces, traditional crafts, floating markets, museums, Chinatown and cultural shows led by tour guides who have the authority and insights on the subject(s).    But walking is not something one can associate with travelling Singaporeans because their preference have been always longing for air-conditioned buses and taxis with occasional stops at places of interest. 
By doing it that way, there are many things one can miss.  Let me use the F1 street circuit as an introduction to the history/heritage of Bangkok.  Though I have walked these parts several times over many years, I never had to stitch the parts together like what I am about to illustrate.  Instead of using modern-day photographs, I will revert to those archaic 1940s black-white to give the “authentic look”.

Photo 2: Proposed F1 Grand Prix street circuit in Bangkok.  The beige line indicates the proposed street circuit.
Recently Bangkok came into the news that she will host the night F1 Grand Prix in 2015.  The race will be on the Bangkok streets, the second in Asia after Singapore but what makes the Bangkok street race a novelty is the skyline.  Singapore’s street circuit has the backdrop of modern CBD office skyscrapers and few historical landmarks in the Civic District.  Contrast this to Bangkok which offers historical landmarks almost everywhere and at every corner.

Photo 3: On Ratchadamnoen Road.  Is that Sebastian Vettel or Mark Webber in a Team RED BULL?  RED BULL thrills the Bangkok crowd with sudden hard braking and thick bellowing smoke from burning tyres.

The street circuit would take up the following roads: Ratchadamnoen Klang Road – Ratchadamnoen Nai Road – Thawang Road – Maharat Road – Na Phralan Road – Rachini Road – Chaofa Road and back into Ratchadamnoen Road. 
On this street circuit, there are two clear definitive timelines of history and heritage in architectural designs; the first built around the time when the monarchy system was ruling Siam, and the second when a new civilian government took over after the 1932 Revolution.  
The Rattankosin District has buildings with ornate roofs and intricate eaves commonly associated with traditional Thai architecture.  It is a symbol of the monarchy system.  Ratchadamnoen Klang Road projects the modern 1940s Modern Style blocks with no wall engravings and spires, a somewhat reflection of a less hierarchical society immediately after the abolition of absolute monarchy. 
To see and get a sense of perspective takes up to 2 days of street walking.  Not to worry, there are sidewalk bistros, MacDonald, Thai fine dining restaurants, street hawkers, parks and benches along the way. This means you can seat in heavenly coolness of a café, fiddle with your tablet PC one moment, and the next time you are back under the sun.  One good point, Bangkok’s humidity is less brutal than Singapore.

Photo 4: Ratchatdamneon Klang Road towards the Golden Mount Temple area.  This is Bangkok’s Champ Elysees.  The area has also seen three major political upheavals from 1973 – 1992.  At the bottom you see a khlong which offers Bangkok’s favourite water-boat taxis.  Between the khlong and road is Fort Mahakan.


Photo 5: View from Chao Phraya River.  The royal capital city was located in the Rattanakosin District after its move in 1782 from Thonburi in the west across the Chao Phraya River to the east.  It was the seat of government and the Royal Family until the abolition of absolute monarchy.  The Royal Hotel is rumoured to have many ghostly tales because of the student unrests in the 1970s.

 Photo 6: View towards Chao Phraya River.  The Rattanakosin District flanked by the Chao Phraya River on one side, the future Kaosan Road backpackers haven [top right] and Wat Pho [bottom left].  Previously the District was occupied by the Chinese community who relocated further south to the Yaowarat (Chinatown) area.  Notice that the Somdet Phra Pin Khao Bridge across the Chao Phraya River was not built then.  Across the Chao Phraya River from the Thammasat University (the second oldest university in Thailand) is Thonburi Railway Station.

That many of the buildings you see in the above photos are still here is testimony to the efforts of the Fine Arts Department which regulates the protection of 6,400 historical monuments/buildings.  We have the Ministry of Defense Building, Supreme Court, Royal Hotel, Memorial Bridge and Fort Mahakan as some examples.
Finally, it is not inconceivable what Hamilton, Alonso or Button would see when each of them looks up at the Bangkok skyline.  Maybe next time we talk about where the drivers could have some clean fun?

Photo 7: Bangkok Nights in and around the proposed F1 GP street circuit.  [From left clockwise – Grand Palace, Democracy Monument, Golden Mount Temple, Rama 7 Bridge and Emerald Buddha Temple].

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