|KHLONG MAHA NAK
|Text & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - January 2010
Reviewed - March & August 2010, April 2013
|Khlong Maha Nak is situated off the city island in the northern area in Phukhao Thong
sub-district. The canal dates back from the period of the Burmese-Siamese war of 1563-
1564 also called the "White Elephant War". The Burmese King Bayin Naung requested
two white elephants (1) from King Chakkraphat (r. 1548-1569) , but the latter refused to
deliver. Bayin Naung took his army to Siam. The news of the invasion reached
Ayutthaya and war preparations were made.
Maha Nak was a monk at the Phukhao Thong (1) Monastery (2). He left the monk hood
in order to prepare the defenses north of the capital to counter the upcoming Burmese
attack. With his relatives and disciples he erected a stockade from the Phukhao Thong
Monastery to Pa Phlu Monastery along the east bank of the Chao Phraya River. Outside
the stockade a ditch was dug, hence called Khlong Maha Nak. Parts of this ditch can still
be seen on the Phukhao Thong plain. 
The reason of this construction remains a bit obscure. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab wrote
that presumably the City of Ayutthaya was built closer to the bank of the river on the
north side (ie. the old Lopburi River) and was as thus more within the reach of the
Burmese guns than on the other sides; certainly the Grand Palace and the Dock of the
Royal Barges were.
Other sources stated it was built in order to protect the naval forces. The Royal Navy
was indeed located close in its vicinity. The Marine Vessel Dockyard was situated near
the mouth of Khlong Takhian and housed 30 marine warships and 100 more smaller
fighting vessels, under the supervision of Phraya Racha Wangsan. The Riverine Vessel
Dockyard was at Ban Wat Tha Ka Rong and provided shelter for approximately 200
vessels. Also the Dockyard of Royal Barges was close to the southern edge of Khlong
Maha Nak, between Wat Choeng Tha and Khlong Khu Mai Rong near Wat Phanom
Phraya Boran Rachathanin wrote that Wat Phukhao Thong was situated in the middle of
an islet, thus on high ground and encircled by a canal called Khlong Wat Phukhao Thong.
The Maha Nak Canal ran from Wat Pa Phlu towards Khlong Phukhao Thong and from
there southwards till Wat Sala Pun, where it turned west passing behind Wat Khun Yuan
and in front of Wat Pa Phlu, ran into the main river north of Hua Laem (Spear Head). 
One thing is sure: the defense wall ran parallel with the east bank of the Chao Phraya
River to the west and parallel with the Lopburi River to the north, including Wat Phukhao
Thong - protecting the capital by creating a large buffer zone, which had to out range the
big guns at that time.
The Maha Nak Canal was revived when Bangkok became the new capital under Rama I
and the name taken from the old capital of Ayutthaya. Bangkok was laid out on the same
lines as Ayutthaya and was to be entirely surrounded by water. To achieve Bangkok city
island, a canal was cut along the east side of the town, passing Wat Sakae (4) in a
northerly direction, to join the Bang Lamphu Canal, which existed already at that time.
The Maha Nak Canal was branched off from this newly dug canal a little to the north of
Wat Sakae, so that the youth of the new capital might indulge during the flood season in
aquatic sports and the traditional singing contests which has been common in the days of
Ayutthaya. Ten thousand Cambodians were impressed to carry out the work. After the
canal was dug, the Cambodian labour was used to restore the ordination hall of Wat
Sakae. The monastery came under the royal patronage and received the name Wat Saket
(5) in commemoration of the lustration rites undergone by Somdet Chao Phraya Maha
Kshatriyaseuk in April 1782, prior crushing the revolt against King Taksin and ascending
the throne as Rama I.
King Rama III decided to erect a great stupa at Wat Saket , corresponding to the famous
steeple of the Golden Mount at Ayutthaya at the foot of which flowed the Maha Nak
Canal and whose mighty ruins still towered above the site of the old capital. Building
material from the ruins of Ayutthaya was used to construct the giant stupa. The
foundations of the Elephant Bridge (inter alia) were dismantled and the laterite brought to
Bangkok to be used for the foundations. Wat Saket became known as the
Golden Mount or Phukhao Thong in memory of the edifice in Ayutthaya. 
(1) Free translated "Golden Mountain".
(2) Burmese history relates some Siamese had fought with the Burmese on the
frontier and the Burmese king took the incident up to demand one of the white elephants
of Siam. 
(3) The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya cite Phukhao Thong Monastery prior of the
construction of Chedi Phukhao Thong in 1569 by the Burmese. The monastery at that
time was likely known by another name. All chronicles, except the Luang Prasoet one,
have been written after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, with a lot of discrepancies as result.
(4) Sakae: Combretum Quadrangulare Kurz, (Sakae Na). Medicinal plant (tree) in
(5) Saket: Sra Keça - Lustration of the Hair (purifying bath).
 A Short History of Burma - S.W. Cocks - page 49.
 The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 32
/ Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
 The Chronicle of Our Wars with the Burmese - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab
(1917) - edition White Lotus 2001 - page 22/23.
 Discovering Ayutthaya - Charnvit Kasetsiri & Michael Wright (2007) - page 297.
ฉบับชำระครั้งที่๒ และ ภูมิสถนกรุงศรีอยุธยา (2007) - page 97.
 History of Wat Saket - R. Lingat - Journal of the Siam Society - Volume 23.3 1929-
|(Extract of a begin-20th century map)
|(View of the Maha Nak canal near Hua Laem)
|(View of the Maha Nak canal near Phukhao Thong)
|(View of the Maha Nak Canal)
|(View of the Maha Nak Canal)
|(Wat Saket, Bangkok from "Photograph album of
Siam, 1900" - The base of the structure was a
dodecagon, the outer surface was of brick, while in
the centre were heaped earth and blocks of stone.)