I’ve always wondered where city names came from and who decides how a city will be referred to. It can be very useful as a traveler to make sure you use the proper name to get understood by the locals.

There’s a story behind every name. And while it’s usually history or geography that decides for it, sometimes it canbe as simple as a one-person unilateral creative decision. Thailand’s King Mongkut was pretty good at that apparently…

I don’t know much about Thai history but randomly got to learn why Bangkok is called Bangkok. Or why it’s actually not called Bangkok but everyone calls it Bangkok. Yes, it’s a bit confusing.

My first explanation about Thailand’s capital city name was given to me by a very interesting documentary that I watched in a hostel near Khao San Road. Here’s the extract (explanation at 1:30):

“Hey, you in Bangkok sweetie. There’s a reason they don’t call it Bangcunt.” explains Kimmy. Watch the video, it’s pretty obvious… Or don’t, you probably got it anyways. It’s not a magic show.

Not very satisfied with this explanation, I decided to ask to knowledgeable people about the history of the name. And guess what: Bangkok is not actually called Bangkok in Thai! Only foreigners use that name and the actual name use by Thais is Krung Thep meaning “city of angels”. But wait, there’s more: that’s not even the actual real name.

Bangkok, or should I say Krung Thep, is just short for:

กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุทธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบุรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

How fun! But don’t you want to know what that means? Here it goes in English:

“The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma”.

No one knows why he decided to call the capital of Thailand like this, except for King Mongkut, a creative name maker who made it to the Guinness Book of Records thanks to that. Congratulations!

Now you know what you need to say to not look like a tourist on your next trip to Thailand. And since we figured you might want some help remembering it all, here’s a song that you can sing to learn this name in a fun and easy way:

I now watch it every night in order to remember it. But honestly, I might just look like a tourist and say Bangkok next time I’m there. Truth to be told, I like Kimmy’s explanation better…