Of the many bridges spanning the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, one of the most unique is Saphan Rama VIII
Opened in 2002, the 475-metre span known as the Rama VIII Bridge links Wisut Kasat Road in Ban Phan Thom district on the Bangkok side of the river with Arun Amarin Road in Bang Yikhan on the Thonburi side, less than two km upriver from 1973-vintage Phra Pinklao Bridge.
By the mid-1990s, traffic congestion in inner Bangkok, from Koh Rattanakosin to Dusit, had become particularly severe, with Phra Pinklao Bridge widely regarded as the worst spot.
With its eighty-four cables fanning out on either side of a single inverted Y-shape pylon, the Rama VIII span’s impressive harp-like silhouette completely eclipses the functional cement-and-steel monolith at Phra Pinklao, particularly when illuminated post-sunset.
Canadian bridge-builders Buckland & Taylor provided the striking design, which was built under a joint-venture contract that included Canadian, Chinese, and Swiss, as well as Thai interests. Jorge Torrejon and Don Bergman, project manager and chief engineer for the span, had previously produced Vancouver’s Alex Fraser Bridge, a dual-pylon, cable-stayed bridge which was the world’s longest following its completion in 1986.
Construction began in 1999, and when opened in 2002, Rama VIII Bridge became the world’s fifth largest single-pylon, asymmetric cable-stayed bridge. Planted on the Thonburi side of the river, the distinction pylon stands 160 metres tall. Two dual-lane carriageways, with shared pedestrian and cycle paths on either side, pass through the two legs of the pylon over the bridge deck.
The bridge design received multiple engineering awards in the year following completion, including the 2003 Eugene C. Figg Jr. Medal for Signature Bridge and a 2003 Award of Excellence from Canadian Consulting Engineers.
The late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who brought together traffic engineers and urban planners to decide on the construction of a new bridge, made the decision to dedicate the new span to his older brother Ananda Mahidol (20 September, 1925 – 9 June, 1946). Ananda served briefly as Rama VIII, the eighth monarch of Thailand from the House of Chakri, before his untimely death.
The bridge was inaugurated on September 20th, 2002, King Ananda’s birth anniversary. Architectural iconography includes lotus motifs along the pedestrian railings, as well as gold-painted cable sheaths, and, at the base of the pylon, octagonal (symbolizing Rama VIII) pavilions resembling the feet of an elephant, a Thai symbol of royalty.
The pylon tower itself contains a lift leading to a glass observation deck in the pinnacle, enclosed in a 15-metre-high frame shaped like a lotus bud, a symbol of Buddhist equanimity. The bridge observation deck is said to be the world’s tallest of its kind. It is currently closed to the public, except by special authority of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
In the decade that followed the opening of the bridge, a 35-rai green park was appended to the base of the bridge on the Thonburi side, using grounds that once housed the state-owned Bang Yikhan liquor factory. A large standing statue of Rama VIII, three times life size, was added to the park in 2012, along with a small museum devoted to photos, art, and artifacts related to Rama VIII history.
Although little known to most Bangkok residents, Rama VIII park is enjoyed by many Thonburi residents who stroll, jog, relax, and organize special events here, as well as musical and dramatic performances at the octagonal pavilion and outdoor stage. Any royal barge procession is celebrated grandly at the park riverfront. The park is open daily 5am to 9pm.
In the 15 years since its inauguration, the Rama VIII Bridge has evolved into a potent national symbol, even appearing on the inverse of 20 baht banknotes, behind a portrait of King Ananda.
By Joe Cummings/CPA Media