Rama IV Road

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

There is only one road mentioned in the Christian Bible. “Via Recta” or “Straight Street” (Acts of the Apostles, 9:11). It is located Damascus, Syria where St. Paul was said to have stayed on a visit. That street still exists, although a far cry from two millenniums ago when the Romans constructed it. Bangkok had its own Straight Street in the 19th century, but no one wanted to use it after the road as constructed.

It is commonly known that “Charoen Krung” (“Prosperity of the City”) or New Road (as the foreigners at the time named it) was the first road in Bangkok built using modern construction techniques. It is also widely considered as Bangkok’s first road opening in 1864. But actually “Thanon Trong” (or “Straight Street” later to be called Rama IV Road) is older.

In 1856, a year after the Bowring Treaty was signed, western merchants were pouring into Bangkok. They proposed a trading community be established some distance away from the city proper at what is now called Phrakanong. They requested a canal be dug that would lead to a new warehouse site since everything in Bangkok had to move by water. They wanted a shorter water route from these proposed new warehouses to the city’s centre that would bypass the 20 kilometre sinuous journey up the Chao Phraya River to the wharfs at Songwat Road. In 1857 a 5.18 kilometre canal was dug from Klong Padung Krung Kasem to Phrakanong. It was called “Klong Thanon Trong” (or “Straight Street Canal”) by the locals since it did not have an official name. It was also called Hua Lamphong canal. The soil from the excavated khlong was piled up along the side it and a roadway was created at the same time. Some of the excess soil was later used to construct Charoen Krung Road.

But when the canal was completed the merchants refused to move to Phrakanong. They claimed it was too far away to do business at the city centre. So the roadway and canal remained unused for quite some time until the city extended eastwards. In 1893 a small railway line, Thailand’s first railroad, was constructed from what was the original Hua Lamphong railway station Southeast to Paknam. In 1900 the Hua Lamphong canal was still bordered by the roadway, but now it was paved. In 1919, King Vajiravudh (King Rama VI) renamed the road King Rama IV Road. In 1947 the canal was drained and paved over to extend the roadway’s width. The train line was discontinued in 1960 due to falling ridership and increased roadway traffic. There was also a tramline that started in the 19th century along Rama IV Road and other routes, but all the tramlines were discontinued in 1965. The tram rails were all paved over with concrete. In the 1980s and 1990s several flyover were added to increase the traffic flow including the Thai-Belgian bridge flyover and the Thai-Japanese friendship flyover. This explains why Rama IV Road is much wider than all the other streets in Bangkok having a canal, a roadway, a train route and a tram line simultaneously.

Rama IV Road (Thai: ถนนพระรามที่ 4) starts at the Mo Mi intersection in the Samphanthawong District of Bangkok’s Chinatown. The roadway then terminates at the junction of Sukhumvit Road in Khlong Toei District close to Khlong Toei Port. Rama IV Road is one of the most important city arteries. The road is always bustling and busy with heavy traffic. Rama IV Road is an important connector to all three parts of Bangkok’s central Business District, Wireless/Ploenchit Roads, Silom/Sathorn Roads and Sukhumvit Road. Along the way are Hua Lamphong Railway Station, Wat Hua Lamphong, the Royal Thai Red Cross. Lumpini Park with Rama VI Memorial Plaza, the New Sam Yan Market, 3HD and King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital. Although Rama IV Road is in a very geographical advantageous position, it has seen uneven urban development through the decades. 

The Western section boasts many luxury commercial and residential developments including The PARQ, One Bangkok, Dusit Central Park and Samyan Mitrtown are close to to four MRT stations, while the Eastern section has seen less upscale development. This is due to the proximity to Klong Toey port, a loading bay for container ships. However, the whole road is expected to see major new developments over the next few years.

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