Bangkok’s Portuguese Legacy -Thonburi’s Hidden Colonial Gem
Wandering around Silom, Siam, and Sukhumvit, you’ll be hard pressed to see much of old Bangkok these days, with nearly every corner of space occupied by new condominiums, cafes or mall developments. However, if you want to take an interesting historical and architectural stroll into the former “Venice of the East,” a quick ferry ride will bring you to the Thonburi neighborhood across the river where you can discover Bangkok’s Portuguese legacy.
Chinese churches in old Siam
During the 1500s the first foreigners set foot in Thailand, which was known as Siam at the time. These settlers were Portuguese traders who established the ancient capital of Ayutthaya and traded arms for textiles. When the Burmese sacked Ayutthaya in 1767, the Portuguese resettled in Bangkok on a plot of land along the Chao Phraya River. With the help of the local Chinese community, they built the Santa Cruz church in 1769 and today it is known as Kudi Jin, which means “Chinese church” in Thai.
Catholic culture in Bangkok
The church still stands today and remains both an architectural gem as well as a center point for the Thai-Catholic community that includes a multi-cultural school and community center in the piazza-like church square. Wander through here and you’ll find antique wooden teak homes with Jesus portraits on the walls and Mary door knockers, art murals in the alleyways, a new museum cafe, and even the longstanding Portuguese bakery Thanusingha, where the same family has been serving traditional Portuguese cakes with sweet Thai tea for five generations.
Travel Tip: Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and get a Chao Phraya River ferry to the Yodpiman Riverwalk Pier, where you can catch a cross-river ferry to the Kalayanmitr Pier across the way. Santa Cruz church is visible from the river, so you will have no trouble finding it.