Arriving in the early 16th century, the Portuguese were the first Europeans to venture into Siam -- one can imagine the stir that the bearded, light-skinned, musket-carrying aliens must have caused in Ayutthaya.
They quickly established friendly trade relations and set up the Portuguese Village, or Baan Portuget, now marked by a small museum and spooky graveyard.
By 1538 some 120 Portuguese soldiers served as personal bodyguards to King Chairacha, introducing the Siamese to firearms in an era when wars came and went like sports seasons do today. Many Portuguese served as mercenaries on Ayutthaya’s endless military pursuits. They were rewarded with a large chunk of land along the Chao Phraya River to the south of the city, establishing a village and more than one Catholic church.
The Portuguese settlement was the first part of the city to be hit when the Burmese attacked in the 1760s and, at least initially, it held its ground. After assisting General Taksin in the re-taking of Ayutthaya, the Portuguese were rewarded with a plot of land in the new (but short-lived) capital, Thonburi, now marked by Santa Cruz Church in Bangkok.
On the site of the old San Petro Church at what’s left of Ayutthaya’s Portuguese settlement, a shadowy museum contains several info boards detailing the long history of Thai-Portuguese relations. The “highlight,” we guess, is an excavation pit with several crumbling Portuguese skeletons lying exposed. There are no antiques or other exhibits of any kind.
The Portuguese Village is probably only worth a visit if you’re Portuguese or have a special interest in looking at skeletons while on holiday. There was literally no one there when we last stopped by, but the doors were open.
How to get there
The Portuguese Village is located off Route 3469 in the far southern reaches of Ayutthaya, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and a few km south of Wat Phutthaisawan.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 29th February, 2016.