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Bangkok, Thailand
Ben’s Place of the Week

Bangkok, Thailand

Coordinates: 13 45 N 100 31 E

Population: 6,604,000 (2005 est.)

Maps necessarily require some distortions and abbreviations: it simply isn’t possible to fit every place name and natural feature on a single page or sheet of paper. Of course, this may seem rather obvious to anyone who’s ever squinted at an atlas in search of his or her hometown. Arguably the best example of this fact is the city westerners know as Bangkok. Called Krung Thep by the people of Thailand, the full name of the capital founded on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in 1782 is a whopping 43 syllables.

Roughly translated, it means “Great city of angels, the supreme repository of divine jewels, the great land unconquerable, the grand and prominent realm, the royal and delightful capital city full of nine noble gems, the highest royal dwelling and grand palace, the divine shelter and living place of the reincarnated spirits,” which would probably challenge a Thai T-shirt designer as much as any cartographer. In addition to angels, jewels, and royal dwellings, the busy—and slowly sinking—metropolis of Bangkok is also characterized by an extensive system of canals called khlongs.

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Ben Keene is the editor of Oxford Atlas of the World. Check out some of his previous places of the week.

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