History of Samut Prakan

Old Paknam Old Paknam
City Hall Paknam Market

Samut Prakarn was built between 1620-1628 in the Ayuttaya era. The original site for the city was on the west side of the river where Phra Pradaeng is today. It was a sea port for foreign merchandise ships that traded with Thailand. After the capital was moved to Bangkok in the late 18th Century there was a need to fortify the approach from the sea. King Rama I had the Wittayakom Fort erected on the left bank. Today the site is now occupied by Phra Pradaeng Nursing Home.

King Rama II saw the need to strengthen the fortifications, town moats and town walls. Many of these had been built during the Ayuttaya period and had long since dilapidated or been pulled down. A growing conflict with Vietnam made the task more urgent. In 1819 he commanded to have Samut Prakarn re-located across the river at Paknam in order to help guard against possible attacks from the sea. Gun batteries were built on both sides of the river as well as on a small mud island.

Phra Samut Chedi  Bang Pu Seaside Resort
Phra Samut Chedi Bang Pu Seaside Resort

For many years Paknam was just a small fishing village. A contemporary report in the mid 1660’s reported that there were only a handful of bamboo huts and no facilities for repairing ships at Paknam. However, its key position at the river mouth meant that it soon grew in importance. All ships coming up the river had to first stop at Paknam to let aboard a customs officer. For a period of time all ships had to also unload all of their guns here, before proceeding up river to Bangkok.

One of the first views Europeans had when they first arrived by boat in Thailand was a brilliant white pagoda [see Phra Samut Chedi] which sat on a mud island in the middle of the river. Work started on the temple in the reign of Rama II and was completed after his death in 1828.

 Chao Phraya River

The First Telegraph Service

The telegraph was first used in Thailand between Bangkok and Samut Prakan in 1875 during the reign of King Rama V. The total distance was 45 kilometres. Later, this cable was further extended to reach the Pu Rai Peninsula which included a submarine cable connecting the lighthouse located on the river delta. The purpose was to enable the lighthouse to report on shipping traffic arriving and departing Chao Phraya River.

The First Telephone Service

Later, the first telephone service was introduced in 1891. This line connected the Ministry of Defence in Bangkok with Phra Chulachomklao Fortress in Samut Prakan. The telephone greatly improved communication between Bangkok and this strategic fort, as it enabled instant reports by naval personnel of any untoward or hostile foreign naval activities which might penetrate up the Chao Phraya.

Towards the end of the 19th Century many of the forts were again falling into a state of disrepair. King Rama V was worried about the British and the French who were rapidly colonising much of the surrounding countries. He had the foresight to start construction of another fort which would protect the entrance to the estuary.

Naval Academy Festival
Naval Academy Local Festival

The Paknam Incident

The Phra Chulachomklao Fortress, or Paknam Fort, was built on the west side of the river at the entrance to the estuary. It was armed with seven Armstrong guns and the fort was commanded by a Danish captain. Work was completed during 1893. It was finished just in time as during that year Thailand was in territorial dispute with France over Laos. Within a few months of opening, the fort faced its first and only battle.

On July 13th 1893, a skirmish took place between two French ships and the garrison manning the fort. Both sides suffered casualties. Although a smaller ship which was acting as a pilot boat for the French ships was badly damaged, the gun-ships still successfully bypassed the fort and other Thai gun-ships and made it up-river to Bangkok.

The Paknam Railway

The first railway in Thailand ran from Paknam to Bangkok. The contract was given to a Danish company, Paknam Railway Company, in 1886, to build the railway. Work on the metre gauge railway started in 1887 and continued for six years. It was formerly opened on 11th April 1893. It carried both freight and passengers on the 21 kilometre track to Bangkok. There were four services a day and the one hour journey stopped at ten stations along the way. In the year that it first opened, Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns wrote about a train trip from Bangkok to Paknam. “The route to Paknam is more interesting than I thought. One crosses not only through rice-fields but also through palm tree plantations. At a certain moment, the track borders the river and one has a rather beautiful view of Paknam.” After running for about forty years, the line was electrified and replaced with railcars. These continued to run up until 1960 when the line was pulled up.