Opinion: Bangkok VS Krung Thep Maha Nakhon

A Tuk Tuk drives past Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand on Aug. 3, 2021. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / AP
A Tuk Tuk drives past Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand on Aug. 3, 2021. Photo: Sakchai Lalit / AP

When it comes to the English name of the capital of Thailand, are you Team Bangkok or Team Krung Thep Maha Nakhon?

The debate raged on late Wednesday night and lasted for days after the Royal Society of Thailand received a nod of approval from the Cabinet, subjected to further scrutiny by experts and the Foreign Ministry, to officially have the English name of the Thai capital altered to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon and to put Bangkok inside a bracket instead.

Despite both the Royal Society and culture minister Itthiphol Kunplome having quickly announced a truce hours later and effectively said both can now be used interchangeably, Thais and foreigners could not help joining the debate and take side for either Bangkok or Krung Thep Maha Nakhon.

Although I am, as a Bangkokian, largely on Team Bangkok, I empathize with those on Team Krung Thep Maha Nakhon as well. Here I will try to passionately assume both stances, one at a time. Let me know which team you are on.


Team Krung Thep Maha Nakhon

The change from Bangkok to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (or the Great City of Angels) in English is long overdue.

For around two centuries, we have allowed Westerners to refer to our great capital city as Bangkok, a mere district of olive trees according to one version of history. Bangkok is an old name of the place before the city became the capital of Siam and subsequently Thailand.

Many Thai women suffer the needless embarrassment induced by rude sexist jokes made by Westerners of Bangkok being the city where you visit to “bang (your) cock.” Changing the capital’s name in English to match its Thai name, which is Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, is thus the most sensible and right thing to do to honour our great city.

The culture minister was right when he said on Wednesday that while we can use both names interchangeably, the name Krung Thep Maha Nakhon was bestowed by no less than King Rama I, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon as the new capital, and the culture minister will be promoting the use of the name Krung Thep Maha Nakhon in English.

This will honour our great king as well as doing away with the seedy connotations tied to the name Bangkok. I repeat, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon is incomparable to that of the olive tree district that is Bangkok (บางกอก).

I know some foreigners will have a hard time pronouncing and remembering Krung Thep Maha Nakhon at first and this may take quite a while and an effort, but heck, Thailand is nobody’s colony nor was it ever one – so suck it up, ladies and gentlemen, and learn to call our great capital by its proper name of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon from now on.

This is a decision made by the government of a sovereign state and when other cities or nations change its name, for whatever reason, we do respect that. Bombay was changed to Mumbai – no problem. Rangoon to Yangon – okie dokie. Hanyang to Seoul – why not, that is a snub to the Chinese imperialists!

After all, it is each nation’s rights and it is their business. We do not moan or ask questions because we are not Indians, Burmese or Koreans – it is their domestic affairs and decisions.

Dear foreigners, please do not whine. You will eventually get used to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, or just call it Krung Thep in short (or KTMN), and we will be utterly pleased when we hear you pronounce it almost correctly. It is the effort and respect that count.

BTW, we are not extremists, because if we truly were, we would have asked all of you to call our capital Krung Thep Maha Nakhon by its full official name, which is “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amorn Rattana Kosin Mahin Thara Ayutthaya Maha Dilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Buirom Udomratchaniwet Maha Sathan Amorn Piman Awatan Sathit Sakka Thattiya Witsanukam Prasit.” Now, be thankful!

Team Bangkok

It took two centuries to build a great catchy brand that is Bangkok, which is filled with lores and myths associated with it through literature, films, music, and popular imaginations, so why throw the name down the Chao Phraya River?

The name Bangkok is unabashedly racy, exotic, and universally recognized. It is easy to pronounce with just two syllables compared to six of the other. The name alone makes foreigners feel ‘excited.’ Suddenly wanting foreigners to call our capital city Krung Thep Maha Nakhon is just, well, dumb and insane. (May I laugh too?)

Why throw away a readily recognized global brand name for something that foreigners will struggle to even remember not to mention pronounce? Why, dear Buddha?

Is this about the vanity of petty nationalism? Is it Prayut and the mostly very old ‘experts’ at the Royal Society dreaming of finally having a lasting legacy that would outlive their mundane life and appalling records of accomplishments? Or is it about some people wanting to get a hand at a new budget to eventually be allocated to change signages from Bangkok to Krung Thep Maha Nakhon?

What will happen to universities or companies with the word Bangkok on? Will Bangkok University become Krung Thep Maha Nakhon University in English; the Bangkok Post the Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Post; Bangkok Bank Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Bank? And Bangkokians, will we become Krung Thep Maha Nakhonians? Maha Nakonians, really? You can’t make this shit up!

I think some people in power should learn to prioritize. If something are not broken, why fix or even change it? One indication of a real sense of insecurity is when you cannot even take a ‘bang cock’ joke and simply laugh and shrug those farang morons off. I mean those making such a joke say more about their moronic conduct and it cannot and would not dent our great city.

In fact, they unwittingly promoted it for tourism in general, and sex tourism in particular, and that is good for the economy. And unlike Bangkok, Amsterdam’s De Wallen district do not get that free promotions from the likes of Longman Dictionary as city of prostitutes. I am for legal sex works, BTW. They are human too, just like the rest of us and we should treat them with respect for engaging in an honest profession unlike some corrupt politicians, businessmen, and coup-addicted army generals – and tax them too.


After the debate arose on Wednesday night, I checked the original version of the song “One Night in Bangkok” performed by Murray Head and compared it to the song “Krung Thep Maha Nakhon” by Thai singers Asanee-Wasan Chotikul, and you know what is the difference? The former has 35 million views on YouTube over the past five years while the latter 25,000 views after one full year.

So let me say this to all those Thais who support the use of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon: chill, be a proud and confident Bangkokian and continue to just call our great capital Bangkok in English followed by a Siamese smile.

A Mahanakonian just does not sound right. Otherwise one might as well change the name Thailand back to Siam or Pradesh Thai and have the full official name of Bangkok, I mean Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, used in English as well.