Bang Rak: what’s in a name?

Bang Rak is a community that sits alongside the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. It has an ethnically and culturally diverse population of around 47,000 (as of last year). The Bang Rak District Administration was formally established in 1912. However, the community has been around much longer than that. To better understand Bang Rak’s history we must first look at the origins of its name.

Presently the name Bang Rak is translated as ‘love village’. For this reason Bangkokians like to get married there and go there on Valentine’s Day. In earlier times the name appears to have meant something else, though.

According to Marc Askew the word bang (บาง) refers to ‘water-hamlets’; floating communities on the Chao Phraya River sitting along side land-based structures. To quote Askew [1994: 162-163]:

“The first land-based settlements clustered along waterways near the wat [temple] which served religious, educational and recreational functions. These “Bang” [which may be translated as “water hamlet”] settlements formed a loose network around the terrestrial urban core of the palace and its moats.”

The word bang may also mean small waterways that flow into larger ones. It may have evolved from the word ‘บัง’ (pronounced similarly to the word bang) which means a settlement alongside a river that has boats constantly passing through and docking.

bangkok

Meanwhile, the word rak, in adition to meaning love, can also refer to a type of plant that grows in the area known as the ‘rak tree’. One story has it that the community grew up around the trunk of a large ‘rak tree’.

As Bang Rak was also the site of an early missionary hospital, some people believe that the rak of Bang Rak is short for raksa (รักษา) which means to treat a sickness.

dsc_0009These are some of the theories about where Bang Rak might have gotten its name. Who knows, maybe it’s all of them combined.

References/Credits:

  1. The Meaning of the Word ‘Bang’  (In Thai)
  2. Narrative of a Residence at the Capital of the Kingdom of Siam, With a Description of the Manners, Customs, and Laws of the Modern Siamese – Frederick Arthur Neale  
  3. Bang Rak District
  4. Bangkok’s Population and the Ministry of the Capital in Early 20th Century Thai History
  5. List of Districts in Bangkok and Their Populations (In Thai)

More Information:

  1. Districts of Thailand
  2. Bang Rak (In Thai)

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