THE LOPBURI: RIVER OF LOST OPPORTUNITIES
Text, maps & photographs by Tricky Vandenberg - February 2012

In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed
-Leonardo da Vinci-
The Lopburi River, borrowing its name from the ancient city of Lopburi, is one of the three tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, the others being the Noi
and Ta Chin (Suphanburi) Rivers.

The waterway runs through the southern basin of the Chao Phraya River, a mature deltaic plain built up by the accumulation of alluvial materials eroded by
streams from the northwest highlands. The plain, starting at Chainat and running towards the Gulf, is flat lowing land less than 15 meters above sea level.

The southern basin can be divided in two parts following a 5 m contour line running at 14 Deg 30 Min North: the Sing Buri plain (ground height is between 5
and 15 m above sea level with a slope of 10 m per 100 Km) and the Bangkok low land (ground height averages 2 m with some exceptional areas elevated
more than 5 m and with a slope of 4 m per 100 Km).

The Lopburi River runs basically through the Sing Buri plain until Bang Pahan district of Ayutthaya province. The Sing Buri plain is a terrace formed under an
open stretch of water, most probably under the ancient Gulf of Thailand at a high sea level stage during the Late Pleistocene.
(Map showing the Singburi plain, the Ban Phraek
trough and the Bangkok Low Land - Yoshikazu
Takaya)
The Singburi plain has a valley like depression from the northwest to the southeast which is called
the Ban Phraek trough; a trough engraved in the plain by a lowering sea level during the last glacial
period. The trough does not coincide with the Lopburi River, but its floor lies 2 to 5 m lower than
the average ground surface of the Sing Buri plain. The Lopburi River starts north of the trough and
enters it at Talung sub-district south of Lopburi. The river runs through the trough until it enters the
Bangkok low land starting near Bang Pahan. From Bang Phutsa till Maha Rat we find the Lopburi
River area bisects with numerous small and shallow distributaries. These waterways are younger
than the trough and formed during the Holocene. [1]

The
Bangkok low land, an area where the rivers are tidal, was formed under a littoral environment
during the last stage of the Holocene. At the height of the Holocene transgression the Holocene sea
covered most of the present Chao Phraya delta as far as north of Ayutthaya city around 4500 –
5300 years BC reaching a maximum height of 4 meters above the present mean sea level. From
then on the sea level fluctuated until it reached its present level around 500 years A.D. [2][3]
Ayutthaya is located in the northern part of this low land on what seems to be an old barrier island,
with a 2 to 3 m higher elevation than the surrounding low lying old lagoons. The southern part of the
Lopburi River between Hua Phai in Maha Rat district and Ayutthaya is as thus influenced by the
tides.

The Lopburi River splits off from the Chao Phraya River in Bang Phutsa in Mueang Sing Buri
district (1) and runs east towards the city of Lop Buri. At Phrommat, west of the city, it makes a 90
degree turn south and descends towards the city of Ayutthaya.

The Lopburi River is in fact a loop in the Chao Phraya River and receives the surplus water from
the latter. The waterway has one short tributary of its own, the Bang Kham River. The latter
originates in Ban Mi district of Lopburi province, flows southward and joins the Lopburi River near
Wat Pak Khlong in Bang Khu, Tha Wung district of the same province. The river is about 35 Km
long.
The Lopburi Rivers runs through the sub-districts of Bang Phutsa, Ton Pho and Mueang Mu of Mueang Sing Buri district in Sing Buri province; the
sub-districts of Bang Nga, Tha Wung, Bang Khu, Pho Talat Kaeo of Tha Wung district and the sub-districts of Bang Khan Mak, Phrommat, Tha Hin, Pho
Kao Ton, Talung, Ngiu Rai, Kong Thanu of Mueang Lopburi district in Lop Buri province; the sub-districts of Ban Mai, Ban Phraek, Sam Phaniang of Ban
Phraek district, the sub-districts of Khlong Noi, Phit Phian, Rong Chang, Chao Pluk, Nam Tao, Hua Phai of Maha Rat district, the sub-districts of Thang
Klang, Sao Thong, Bang Nang Ra, Khwan Mueang, Pho Sam Ton, Khayai in Bang Pahan district, and at last Suan Phrik sub-district of Mueang Ayutthaya
district, all in Ayutthaya province.


Controlling the river

The course of the Lopburi River is controlled by three water regulators. The Ton Pho water regulator is the river head regulator. It controls the water
inflow diverted from the Chao Phraya River into the Lopburi River. The water barrier is as thus situated close to the source of the river in Ton Pho
sub-district of Mueang Sing Buri district in Sing Buri province. The regulator has four gates to restrict the water flow and functions at the same time as a
cross regulator for the 120 Km Chainat - Ayutthaya Canal (Max. discharge 75 m3/s) which runs under the Lopburi River bed.
    (The Ton Pho main water regulator)                                                               (The Pho Kao Ton cross regulator)
The Pho Kao Ton water regulator is a cross regulator controlling the water level of the Lopburi River near the city of Lopburi. It is the second and middle
water regulator on the Lopburi River. The regulator has five gates. At Phrommat where the Lopburi River makes a 90 degrees south, two more waterways
are joining in from the north.

Bang Nang Ra water regulator is a cross regulator controlling the water level of the Lopburi River near Bang Pahan. It is the third and last water regulator
on the Lopburi River. The regulator has five gates.

The Lopburi River receives water from irrigation and drainage canals on its way south. We find these canals in Phrommat sub-district, north of the Pho Kao
Ton Water Regulator; at Maha Rat (near Wat Umong) where a waterway, which source can be traced back to the Chao Phraya at Chayo, descends south
into the Lopburi River; at the confluence of the Bang Kaeo canal in Hua Phai sub-district; and at the confluence of the Bang Duea canal in Pho Sam Ton
sub-district. These tributary canals are equipped with water regulators.
(The Bang Nang Ra cross regulator)
From the Lopburi River there are waterways running towards the Pa Sak River. There is a
split off in Ban Phraek sub-district and another in Nam Tao sub-district; both split-offs joins at
Ban Khlo in Bang Pahan district to enter the Pa Sak River near Nakhon Luang. Most of these
drainage purposes.

Water level control is done manually via water regulators built for the purpose of irrigation
control. The flow released into a canal should not exceed its carrying capacity to ensure safe
operation, while the carrying capacity decreases from upstream to downstream. The maximum
carrying capacity of the Lopburi River is 250 m3/sec. The water regulators on the Lopburi
River are not permanently manned by field operators.

In 2011 the Royal Irrigation Department [RID] used the regulators for flood control without
much success. A large number of field operators are required to adjust the regulators
continually and simultaneously in a manually operated system in the monsoon season. There
was seemingly no policy at what time to open or close exactly the different gates; a work
which had to be executed manually and required skilled operators at every regulator and
extremely good coordination between them not to exceed the maximum carrying capacity of
the different canal stretches - a daunting task. The manual operation of all these water
regulators is as thus a very weak point and only canal automation can improve the
effectiveness of water control in this area especially during the flood season.
Another weak point is the maintenance of the structures. On 13 September 2011 the Bang
Chom Sri head regulator embankment in Sing Buri broke and the heavy current created a gap
of 84 meters. The waters of the Chao Phraya massively hurtled down via the irrigation canals
million cubic meters of water flowed through the Bang Chom Sri regulator and it took the RID
weeks to repair. [7] The uncontrolled influx of this mass of water, made water level control of
the irrigation canal systems impossible and the canal system itself became a water highway,
flooding the whole alluvial plain. Negligence in maintaining the hydraulic structures and
waterways increased largely the damage to households, farms, fields and factories in Central
Thailand.

Too often we saw in 2011 the gates of the water regulators blocked by tons of garbage mixed
with water hyacinth, spanning the river in a dense carpet hundreds of meters long;
encroachments which basic maintenance procedures prescribe to be removed on a weekly
basis.
(Bang Chom Sri Regulator and Chainat-Ayutthaya
Irrigation Canal - September 2011)
(Blocked water regulator on the Noi River
- June 2011)
Ancient cities

There is only one ancient city on the course of the Lopburi River, not taken in account the city
of Ayutthaya at its mouth. Lopburi was an important ancient city located on the east bank of a
river which was called the Menam (in fact a name which was generally used to denominate a
river and can be translated as “mother of water”). The city was established as a circular,
moated settlement in the Lopburi River basin. (2) [6] It was known initially as Lavo and could
have been referring to Lahore (Lavapura), a city at present in Pakistan; settlers from the Indian
peninsula used to give their newly built cities the same name as the cities in their homeland.
Other names for the city were Lophaburi, Lawo, Louvo and Lo-Ho (Chinese).

The Yonok Chronicles stated that Phra Chao Kalvanadith, son of the King Takasila (ruler of
the city of Tak, the latter derived from Taxila, present in Pakistan) founded the city of Lavo in
459 (likely Maha Sakarat, thus 536 A.D.) in the territory of the Mon Dvaravati Kingdom (6th
- 13th centuries). [8]
Another source states it was founded by King Kalavarnadish, who came from Taxila (Takkasila) in Northwest India (now Pakistan) in 648 AD. [9] As far
back as the 6th or 7th century Lopburi had probably been a centre of Buddhist learning. There is evidence that Lopburi sent a mission to China in 1001 A.D.
[8] In the 10th century the Khmer civilization started to take shape. After the death of Jayavarman V in 1002 the Khmer throne was contested by
Suryavaraman and a civil war erupts. Suryavarman I (r. 1002-1050) assumed rule of the Khmer country and carried out an expansion in the Menam valley.

Lopburi probably at that time fell to the Khmer. Two Khmer inscriptions bearing the dates of 1022 and 1025 AD were found in Lopburi. [11] Lopburi
became an outpost of the Khmer empire. Lopburi fought off regularly the yoke of domination. It asserted its independence in the first half of the 12th century,
and sent again tributary missions to China in 1115 and 1155. [12] During the reign of King Suryavarman II (1113-1150) the area in the Menam Basin
centered on Lopburi fell again under the Khmer Empire. It seems to have been known as Kamboja Pradesa (Kamphut Prathet) and included cities as
Lopburi, Suphanburi, Ratburi and Phetburi. [13] The Khmer outpost became a powerful centre. Witnesses of this period are the Khmer prasats in Lopburi
City: Phra Prang Sam Yot, Phra Kan shrine, Wat Nakhon Kosa and Prang Khaek.

King Jayavarman VII (r. c.1181-1200) installed one of his sons as Viceroy in Lopburi (Phimeanakas inscription of 1195). In 1225 Chao Ju-kua stated that
Lopburi was among the dependencies of Angkor. The Khmer dominated the central part of the Menam Basin well into the early part of the thirteenth
century. [8] With the death of King Jayavarman VII around 1218, the power of Angkor started to disintegrate, and with it, its centre in the Maenam basin
also weakened. Tambralinga (Ligor) became independent around 1220, the Sukhothai Kingdom rose in 1239 and sometime in the middle of the thirteenth
century Lopburi regained also its independence.
(Wat Kamphaeng Laeng in Phetburi built in the reign of
King Jayavarman VII)
The city for a long time associated with the Angkorian civilization, was the major regional centre of Theravada Buddhist learning at that time. The rulers,
Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai, Mangrai of Lan Na and Ngam Mueang of Phayao all came to Lopburi for their education (13th century). [14] Lopburi began
to send frequent missions to China between 1289 and 1299. The fact that Lavo is not mentioned in the 1292 Sukhothai inscription listing the dependencies of
mentioned “Locac” in his travel descriptions. There have been discussions suggesting Locac was in fact Lopburi. [15] Ma Tuan-Lin (1245–1322), a Chinese
historical writer published in 1317 the comprehensive Chinese encyclopedia Wenxian Tongkao in 348 volumes. He described in a supplement Sien-Lo on
the sea-board to the extreme south of Chen-ching (Cochin China) as follows:
It originally consisted of two kingdoms, Sien and Lo-hoh. The Sien people
are the remains of a tribe which in the year (A.D. 1341) began to come down upon the Lo-hoh, and united with the latter into one nation....  The
land of the Lo-hoh consists of extended plains, but not much agriculture is done.
[13]

Ayutthaya may have been an outgrowth of a complementary alliance between Suphanburi and Lopburi and became the new power in the area. With the
founding of the city in 1351 by Uthong, who possibly originated from the area of Kamboja Pradesa, Lopburi lost its prominence. Ayutthaya was much closer
to the sea and was in a better position to control the river traffic of the vast area of the Menam Basin. Ayutthaya came to replace Lopburi as the major
regional centre of Buddhist teaching.

Ramesuan, son of Uthong became ruler of Lopburi immediately after the foundation of Ayutthaya. Lopburi became a stronghold and a “muang luk luang”
(city of a royal son).

Then the King was pleased to have King Phangua, who was an elder sibling of the Queen and whom the King addressed as older brother, become
King Bòromracha and go to mount the royal throne at Suphanburi. Then the King sent Prince Ramesuan up to mount the royal throne in Lopburi.

[16]

During the reign of King Narai (r. 1656-1688) Lopburi became again a royal capital as the king stayed in the city for about eight months a year. Most of the
architecture of that time reflects the mixture of Thai and Western styles. Remnants of this period are the Narai Ratchaniwet Palace, the Vichayen House, Wat
Phra Si Ratana Maha That, the Chai Chana Songkram Fortress and the Phra Thinang Yen.
(Narai Rachaniwet Palace)
Old poems, books and maps

The Siamese narrative poem “Khun Chang, Khun Phaen” mentions the river mouth at Bang Phutsa several times. This epic poem, started off in a
troubadour tradition of recitation for local audiences, passed on the text by word of mouth and originated around 1600 A.D. [17] In chapter 21 with the title
“Khun Phaen gives himself up”, we read: “
They forked at Bang Phuthra and passed in front of Lopburi.”; In chapter 42 with the title “Soi Fa and Simala
undergo ordeal by fire” we find: “
They headed the boat along, past the river mouth at Bang Phutsa, and further on past many villages”. Chapter 21 is
a chapter which Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit think, was unchanged from an Ayutthaya-era version. [18] We could as thus conclude that Bang
Phutsa was indeed the origin of the Lopburi River at the end of the 16th century and leading to the city of Lopburi.

Some books dating to the end of the 17th century describe the Lopburi River.
Nicolas Gervaise, a young French theological student of the “Société des
Missions Etrangères” remaining in Siam from 1682 until 1686 wrote the following [19]:

Louveau, which the Siamese commonly call Noccheboury, is a town which, so to speak, is to Siam what Versailles is to France. The kings formerly
had a country retreat there, but it was abandoned more than a hundred years ago, until the present king had it rebuilt. The town is situated on a
high plateau, which cannot be reached by the floods, and is perhaps half a league in circumference. Its plan is almost square and its walls are
constructed simply of earth, clad at intervals with a few brick bastions. During the floods it is almost entirely surrounded by water, but at other
times of the year it is only washed on one side by a small tributary of the great river, which is not deep enough to take large vessels. Its situation is
so agreeable and its air so pure that no one ever leaves it without regret. It is fourteen leagues from the capital travelling by the great river, but
the king has recently had a canal dug, which reduces the distance to only nine or ten leagues.  … but at other times of the year it is only washed on
one side by a small tributary of the great river, which is not deep enough to take large vessels.

We have here two possibilities: either Gervaise speaks of the Lopburi River as a small tributary of the Chao Phraya (which is in se correct) and in that case
he must have had a quite very good geographical knowledge of Siam; either he indicated the tributary on the south of Lopburi City, which is visible on
Bellin's map and indicated as
Rivière qui assèche 6 mois de l'année (river that dries out six months of the year). This waterway still exists partly today, but
is now merely a brook.
(1764 - Bellin - Ville de Siam ou Juthia - 2nd engraving)
(Origin of the Lopburi River at Bang Phutsa)
"but the king has recently had a canal dug, which reduces the distance to only nine or ten leagues."

This sentence remains a riddle. At the time of the publishing of Gervaise's book, which was 1688, the Lieue de Paris was defined as being 3.898 Km (since
1674). Gervaises wrote that the distance over the water between Ayutthaya and Lopburi was 14 Leagues or close to 55 Km. King Narai had it reduced to
only 9 or 10 Leagues, which is 35 to 39 Km. The distance today via the river between the two cities is close to 70 Km. Knowing that in a straight line there
is a distance of 48 Km between Lopburi and Ayutthaya, the writing of Gervaise is difficult to interpret. Even if the English League (4.8 Km) was used; the
distance would be 48 Km, which is still exactly flying distance.

Another French author,
Simon de La Loubère, who led an embassy to Siam in 1687 gave a short description of the Lopburi River in his work "Du
Royaume de Siam" [20]:  
Between the two cities of Tchainat and Siam, and at a distance, which the Maeanders of the River do render almost equal
from each other, the River leaves the city of Louvo a little to the East, at the 14d 42m 32s of Latitude, according to the observations which the
Jesuites have published. The king of Siam does there spend the greatest part of the year, the more commodiously to enjoy the diversion of hunting;
but Louvo would not be habitable, were it not for a channel cut from the river to water it.

The geographical position here given by de La Loubère is the location of Wat Krajiao in Ngio Rai sub-district of Lopburi province De La Loubère’s
mentioning of
- a channel cut from the river to water it - could be either the water track from Bang Phutsa to Lopburi or the defensive moat surrounding
the city of which parts still can be seen today.

On Bellin's map we read
La Rivière du Menam qui passe a Siam, an indication that the Lopburi River indeed watered the city of Ayutthaya. On the map,
the “Menam” makes a 90 degree turn to the west towards Sing Buri. A second smaller waterway runs north and was likely connected to the Bang Kham
River, a tributary of the Lopburi River. The tributary south of the city was silted overtime, but as written earlier, still some small stretches of that waterway
can be seen.
(French Plan of Lopburi – Bellin 18th C )
Henry Alabaster, a British diplomat to Siam, passes Lopburi on his way to Phra Phuttha Bat (Footprint
of the Buddha) in Sara Buri in 1868 and describes the Lopburi River as follows:

The nearest route from Yuthia to Phrabat is by a branch of the river flowing from the east; but as
our object is to see Nophburi, we take a smaller branch, and keep a northerly course. The main
river lies to the west of us. Our channel, which is about the size of the Thames at Richmond, is more
picturesque than the broad river below Yuthia, the trees on the banks not being dwarfed by too
wide an expanse of water. The floods being still over the country, enable us to avoid many a bend
of the river, and make short cuts across fields, and along what, in a month or two hence, will be
cart-roads. We are very glad to be rescued from such a place by the Governor, who at once calls on
us, and installs us most comfortably in a large and clean floating-house. In front of this house there
is nearly eighteen feet depth of water; yet we are assured that, soon after the floods abate, all the
water in the river will disappear, no boats will be able to approach the town, and water will be only
obtainable by digging wells in the sandy bed.
[21]

Here we find a confirmation of what Gervaise wrote in the 17th century. The Lopburi River was used to
shuttle between the cities of Ayutthaya and Lopburi, but became indeed shallow in the dry season.
The old Lopburi River track near Ayutthaya

The Lopburi River enters the Bangkok low land in Bang Pahan district. The waterway meandered in front of Wat Khao Din in Pho Sam Ton district
(presently called Wat Wara Nayok Rangsan) towards Wat Muang, passing Wat Pa Fai which was likely located on its right bank. The area here was largely
altered by the construction of the Asian Highway in the second part of the 20th century which cut through it.

Near Wat Muang we can find the remnants of the old river bed again. The waterway ran in between Thung Ban Lao and Thung Pho Sam Ton towards
Wat
Tha Yak in which vicinity the northern royal tax station was located. The stretch between Wat Muang and Wat Dao Khanong counts numerous old temple
sites. On its left bank stood Wat Utaphao, Wat Chedi Hak, Wat Khok Kham, Wat Pa Nai, Wat Hong and on its right bank Wat Pho Hom, Wat
Kamphaeng and Wat Pho Sam Ton. This old river bed is believed to be the old Lopburi River mainly because of the number of temples along this stretch.
The present Pho Sam Ton canal follows more or less the old Lopburi River. Stretches of the old river can be seen left and right of the canal, but much of
the landscape has been altered due to land filling.

The Burmese organized a military camp at the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767 on both banks of the Lopburi River, north of Wat Pho Sam Ton (brick remnants still
can be found). The location is mentioned in the Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya and an extra indication of the importance of this waterway in the Ayutthayan
Era.

The old track of the Lopburi River was until the early years of the 20th century an important and heavily used waterway. The river connected the northern
area of Ayutthaya with the Hua Ro market located in the north-eastern corner of the Ayutthaya City Island.

The old Lopburi River made a U-loop in front of Wat Tha Yak. In this loop stood Wat Pho Sam Ton,
Wat Chang Noi, Wat Chang Yai, Wat Tha Sai, Wat
Sam Pratu, Wat Long Thong, Wat Hong, Wat Sasada, Wat Luang, Wat Klang Raman on its left bank; Wat Sam Jin, Wat Khwit, Wat Tum was on its right
bank. (4)
A khlong lat was dug in this ox-bow straightening the river between Wat Tha Yak and Wat Klang Raman. This shortcut canal was called Khlong Bang
Khuat referring to the village Ban Bang Khuat on its track. Along this short cut no ruins of former monasteries were found. Due to the strong current, the
width of the shortcut canal increased overtime. (5)

In the epic Ayutthayan-era poem “
Khun Chang Khun Phaen” we find the mentioning of a Bang Lang Canal [23]. In my opinion this canal was the
northern branch of the U-loop the Lopburi River made near Wat Pho Sam Ton in the vicinity of Ban Maen. The canal had its origin in front of Wat Tha Yak
and ran west towards Wat Chang Yai and Wat Sam Jin. A Tambon Bang Lang, situated north of Ayutthaya, is mentioned by Prince Damrong in his book
“Our wars with the Burmese”. [24]

From Wat Klang Raman, the Lopburi River continued south towards the northeastern point of the city of Ayutthaya at Hua Ro. This stretch is indicated on
the maps as
Khlong Hua Ro (i.e. FAD 1993, Admin map of Ayutthaya).

On Bellin’s map we see the Lopburi River (called “Le Menam”) making a 90-degree turn west near
Wat Mae Nang Plum and looping around Ayutthaya,
leaving the city in the southeast in front of
Phet Fortress. (6) Ayutthaya was thus built in an oxbow of the river. The old Lopburi River continued until its
confluence with the old Chao Phraya River (at present
the Noi River) in Bang Sai.


The Lopburi River encircles the City of Ayutthaya

The eastern city walls of Ayutthaya in the mid-16th century were situated along the present Khlong Makham Riang, formerly called Khlong Nai Kai. The city
had on old defensive ditch in the east linking with the mouth (or one of the mouths) of the
Pa Sak River, presently the mouth of Khlong Khao San.

On Bellin’s map we see an arrow going in the opposite direction indicating that the Lopburi ran into this old defense moat, called
Khu Khu Na (7) or the
“ditch which crosses in the front”.  

Ayutthaya became a vassal state of Burma after its first fall in 1569. King Maha Thammaracha (r. 1569-1590) under pretext of a permanent threat from
Lawaek (Cambodia), started to increase the defenses of the city, a plan which altered the eastern and northeastern landscape of the city drastically.

In 924, a year of the dog, fourth of the decade, the King had the Royal Metropolis renovated. He had the moat by the front ramparts on the east
dug ten wa wide and three wa deep from the Maha Chai Fort at the Back Palace down to connect with Kaca Village. Then he had the city walls
moved out to the banks of the river, the outer limit of the Royal Metropolis, and connected with the Maha Chai Fort, and from the Maha Chai
Fort connected down to the Phet Fort.
[22]

In 1580, the old defensive moat in the east was dug 20 meters wide and 6 meters deep until the mouth of Khlong Khao San and was connected in the
northeast near
Wat Mae Nang Plum towards the Lopburi River. King Maha Thammaracha built new city walls extending them to the edge of the river. The
Maha Chai Fortress was built at the split of the Lopburi River, the location of the present Hua Ro market. (8)

At the time of connecting the broadened eastern defense moat with the Lopburi River near Wat Mae Nang Plum, the waters of the Lopburi preferred to take
the new course straight down through the eastern defense moat towards the mouth of Khlong Khao San.

Fearing that the old stretch of water along the northern side (where the Grand Palace is situated) would become shallow, a weir (made of large wooden
beams positioned in the river) was built, in order to block off the mouth of the ditch precisely in front of the Maha Chai Fortress, so that the waters of the
Lopburi still partly continued to flow north of the city and through erosion kept the Lopburi River at a constant depth. The Lopburi River encircled as thus the
city of Ayutthaya at that time.
Khlong Mueang takes shape

When the Burmese attacked the City of Ayutthaya in 1767, the weir - whether it was accidentally or a strategic gem is not known - in front of the Maha Chai
Fortress collapsed. The waters of the Lopburi River poured down straight into the canal in front of the city (old eastern moat), reducing the current of the
Lopburi River in front of Wat Mae Nang Plum. The Burmese in their stockade in front of Wat Mae Nang Plum (the
mounds of the stockade still can be seen
today), succeeded in building a bridge over the Lopburi River, dug a tunnel towards the foundations of the city wall and mined the wall. Finally the city wall
collapsed on 7 April at night, leading to the second fall of the city.

The weir being destroyed, the Lopburi River on the northern side of the city became shallow; the river banks developed larger and made the river narrower,
looking today as a canal (and bearing the name). We find at present the old ordination halls of the monasteries on the northern river bank - from Wat Mae
Nang Plum over
Wat Kuti Thong until Wat Sala Pun - far from the old river. The northern river bank expanded thus quite a lot. Phraya Boran Rachathanin
stated more than one hundred years ago, that there were no big trees along the waterway, indicating the silting of the banks was recent. On the southern part
from
Wat Khun Yuan onwards the river bank at the city’s side developed much. (9) Today many think that Khlong Mueang had been man-made, but that
was certainly not the case.

The river changes

In 1813 in the reign of King Rama II (r. 1807-1824) engineers tried to straighten the Chao Phraya River to flow through Ayutthaya. The Chao Phraya
flowed at that time near Wat Chula Mani in Ban Kum into the (present) Bang Ban canal and continued south via Bang Sai to Bangkok. The Noi River, also
an old Chao Phraya River track - joined the (old) Chao Phraya near Wat Sikuk in Nam Tao sub-district. [26]
Ayutthaya was connected in the northwest via the Maha Phram canal with the Chao
Phraya River. The Maha Phram canal started north of Kop Jao village, ran through
Maha Phram and took a southeast course near
Wat Khanon in Ban Pom towards the
Lopburi River where it joined at Hua Laem (Cape Head), northwest of Ayutthaya City
in front of
Sat Kop Fortress.

The Catholic
Seminary of the Holy Angels established by the French in the 17th
century was situated on the southern bank of the canal at Maha Phram. The location is
locally called "Tuk Farang" or "Tuk Maha Phram" and situated east of Wat Khlang. In
the bend of the Maha Phram canal towards Ayutthaya stood before the western royal
tax station, called
Pak Khu tax station (Pak Khu - mouth of the ditch). It was situated
south of Wat Lat Bua Khao along the canal and controlled the navigation coming from
and going to the Chao Phraya River, running at that time through the present Bang Ban
Canal.
Van Beek wrote that the Chao Phraya was blocked off near Ang Thong and pushed into the Bang
Kaeo Canal. Near Ban Mai the waterway was deviated into the Lopburi River and resurfaced in the old
Chao Phraya River near Wat Mai, 5 Km south of Wat Chula Mani, but the attempt to give the Chao
Phraya a new river bed failed and the project was abandoned. (10)

In 1857 a new attempt was undertaken but this time a channel was dug in front of Wat Chula Mani
southwards to Ban Mai. The river followed now the straight course south and joined the Maha Phram
canal at Wat Khanon. The Maha Phram canal as thus was shortened and lost its function of link to the
Chao Phraya River. Because of lacking current, the canal silted largely but still can be seen today. [26]

The deviation of the Chao Phraya River had of course an impact on the old Lopburi River. From Hua
Laem onwards it was now the Chao Phraya which took the lead in the old bed of the Lopburi River
west of the city of Ayutthaya as the river had a larger volume than the Lopburi River. The latter was thus
stopped off at Hua Laem. Overtime the silting process took also its toll on this river.
(The five most recent channels of the Chao
Phya before the river assumed its present
course - Steve Van Beek)
The new Lopburi River track

Phraya Boran Rachathanin wrote that the new Lopburi River track, north of Ayutthaya, was created more than 200 years ago due to a split, after the old
Lopburi River silted up and became shallow down the way to
Wat Sam Wihan. The new track went down in front of Wat Khao Din (present Wat Wara
Nayok Rangsan), turned south, ran in front of
Wat Borommawong and descended on Wat Tong Pu where it joined a canal coming from the Pa Sak River.
The current on the new river track was very swift and the track became finally the new Lopburi River.

The Burmese set up their army camps at Pho Sam Ton on the banks of the old Lopburi River in 1767, indicating the latter was still the main river track.
There are no Ayutthayan-era monasteries found between Wat Khao Din and Wat Borommawong, which is another proof that the new track was not yet
developed at that time. The conclusion of Phraya Boran Rachathanin is that this new river track was created sometime in the beginning of the 19th century,
thus after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767. (11)

Wat Borommawong is an Ayutthayan-era temple called before Wat Thale Ya. The temple stood on the south bank of a canal called
Khlong Nam Ya which
was connected with the old Lopburi River. Today Khlong Nam Ya has an exit into the new Lopburi River, but if this was the case in the Ayutthayan era is
not known.

The new Lopburi River track is in my opinion not a newly developed track, but a small river bed which existed already in the Ayutthayan era. It was possibly
a small natural tributary of the Lopburi River itself. After the old Lopburi River track silted, the river sought a new exit via this bed and due to the strong
current the river eroded and its banks widened.

The old Lopburi River track is said by the local villagers to be blocked off near present Wat Khao Din in Bang Pahan district in the early 70’s (some sources
state 2513 BE, other 2515 BE), when the Asian Highway was built. The stretch of water between Wat Muang and Wat Khao Din was filled up.

The old Lopburi river track became thus a simple dead-end canal, which goes presently under different names, following the area where it runs through. The
stretch between the mouth of the old Lopburi near Wat Sam Vihan and the mouth of the present
Khlong Wat Tum, north of Wat Pom Raman is called
Khlong Hua Ro. The stretch between the mouth of Wat Tum, north of Wat Pom Raman and the mouth of Khlong Chang near Wat Dao Khanong is called
Khlong Bang Khuat (5). The stretch between Wat Dao Khanong and Wat Muang is sometimes referred to as Khlong Pho Sam Ton.


The river today

The Lopburi River has been an important navigation route since early times. Old aged villagers along the waterway still can recall the boats shuttling between
the cities of Ayutthaya and Lopburi in the 1950’s. (12) Boats and barges provided until the mid 20th century an important means of transport for people and
commercial goods. Today, the Lopburi River is completely inapt for navigation because of the missing navigation locks at its water regulators. We find a river
crossed by bridges of different heights of which some in the season of the floods are even below water level. In general there must be lack of construction
directives and regulations on this matter as many temples built their own bridges and seems not to be concerned about any governmental instruction.

The lack of navigation locks at the regulators and the random construction of bridges literally kill the opportunity for Lopburi and Ayutthaya to initiate
historical river cruises between the two important ancient cities; river cruises we find in most western countries.
Because the river is not used anymore for navigation, the silting process set in very quickly over the years, making the river shallow and as thus largely
increasing the risk of flood. The Lopburi River became only a shadow of itself.

The sole purpose of the river today is irrigation, drainage and take-in of the excessive waters of the Chao Phraya River. Drainage is contributing to the river
pollution because of drained water contaminated with fertilizers and pesticides used in the fields, find its way into the river.

We kayaked the Lopburi River in 2010 and 2011 from its origin in Bang Phutsa until its mouth in Ayutthaya. The times we had to ground are kayaks
because of floating water hyacinth mangled with cut off banana stumps intertwined with garbage and rotten carcasses were numerous. The Lopburi River is
heavily polluted. On many places we found garbage dumps running into the river, permanently washed by the later. Plastic bags filled with household garbage
were thrown into the water and floating downstream until they start to decompose and sink to the bottom. Different reports on the water quality of the river
indicate serious organic and bacterial pollution threatening aquatic life. High levels of Coliform Bacteria and especially FCB (Fecal Coliform Bacteria) were
found in its waters over the years, deteriorating the river water quality which is at present poor. [27]

The take-in of the surplus waters of the Chao Phraya River is also questionable as the Lopburi River became very shallow. The silting process set in very
quickly over the years, as the river lost its navigation purpose. Due to the above explained construction problems nothing much can be done to dredge the
Lopburi River. The dredgers can simply neither ascend nor descend the river. Its function as an elongated “monkey cheek” to retain temporary the excess
waters of the main river starts more to look as a misguided attempt to flood the villages on its river banks.
Epilogue

This study on the Lopburi River is far from concluded and more considered as an amendment on what I earlier wrote in the essays “The Quest for the Holy
Water: Ayutthaya's Ever-Changing Waterways” and its sequel.

I still have to consult many more resources, which may of course lead to changes in the text above. I want to make a point that the Lopburi River once
encircled the City of Ayutthaya in the Ayutthayan era (until 1767) as many - even scholarly documents - indicate incorrectly the city being surrounded by the
Chao Phraya, Lopburi and Pa Sak Rivers.

The Quest for the Holy Water continues...
If the river leaves a lot of trash, it will come back sometime soon to get it.
-Author Unknown-
Footnotes:

(1) Cecil Carter defines the source of the Lopburi River at Ban Tha Khwai: “Below Paknampo the united river runs through the lower Menam plain. At Bang
Klong Kiew and at Chainat the river gives part of its water to the Supan River and the Menam Nawi, and at Ban Takwai to the Lopburi River.” Ban Takwai
meaning Village of the Buffalo Landing. [4]
(2) Based on (Sri) Dvaravati: The initial phase of Siam's history from Saraya, Dhida (1999.) O'Reilly wrote that Lavo was established earlier, in the late 6th
century AD.
Cecil Carter set Lopburi’s establishment at 493 A.D: “In southern Siam we find at the same remote period the cities of Sri Vijaya, on and about the site of
the present Phrah-Prathom village; and the then but recently founded Lopburi (a.d. 493), which was soon to become the chief centre of power for southern
Siam. [7]
(3) ลำน้ำเดิมคงจะลงลำน้าบ้านม่วงแยกตรงหน้าวัดเขาดินมาโพธิ์สามต้น [25]
(4) อ้อมไปทางวัดช้าง วัดสามประตู วัดตูม วัดศาสดา มาเหนือพะเนียดลงหน้าวัดสามวิหาร วัดแม่นางปลื้ม [25]
(5) ภายหลังมาคงจะได้ขุดคลองลัดตอนบนตั้งแต่ใต้วัดดาวคะนองมาบรรจบแม่น้ำที่เหนือพะเนียดเรียกว่าบางขวดเดิมก็คงจะเป็นคลองเล็กภายหลังเดินแรงจักกว้างขึ้น
[25]
(6) ลำน้ำสายนี้ตั้งแต่วัดแม่นางปลืมไปจนป้อมเพ็ชร์เป็นทางอ้อม [25]
(7) คูขื่อหน้า - later called Khlong Muang Na, or Front City Canal.
(8) This area was later called Hua Ro (literally Wait Head) likely for the reason people in the Ayutthayan era had to wait at the landing near Wat Mae Nang
Plum to be ferried to the “Noblemen Landing", the second official boat landing in connection with the
Front Palace, the seat of the viceroy or Uparat (the first
official landing being near the Grand Palace). Ban Hua Ro was a village area on the north bank of the Lopburi River, indicated on former military
geographical maps.
(9) และวัดทีอยู่ในฝั่งฟากข้างเหนือลำคลองเมือง นั้นตอเหนือ ตั้งแต่วัดแม่นางปลืมวัดกุฏีทองตลอดไปจนวัดศาลาปูน  
โบสถ์วิหารตั้งอยู่ห่างจากแม่น้ำเดี๋ยวนี้เข้าไปมาก  แต่ตอนใต้วัดขุนญวออกไปตลิ่งฟากตะวันตกข้างเมืองทางใต้งอกออกไปมาก [25]
(10) I tried to reconstitute the fourth track. Ban Mai mentioned in this fourth route (on page 11) is not 8 Km north-west of Ayutthaya, but 20 Km north of
Ayutthaya and 2 Km west of Maha Rat. I am not sure if I have to understand that the Bang Kaeo canal had been extended from Ban Mai to the Lopburi
River at Maha Rat in 1813. I did not find a Wat Mai about 5 kilometers south of Wat Chula Mani, but it could have been the village temple of Ban Mai
(Ayutthaya), in this case
Wat Bamrung Tham. North of Wat Bamrung Tham runs a canal which is connected to an irrigation canal which runs to Ban Mai
(Maha Rat) and further northwards to the Bang Kaeo water regulator on the Chao Phraya River. The irrigation canal runs from Ban Mai (Ayutthaya) over
Phut Lao, Ban Li, Bang Nang Ra, Ta Nim and Han Sang to Ban Mai (Maha Rat). South of Wat Hang Sang near Ban Mai (Maha Rat) is an old canal which
links up with the irrigation canal. This is likely the fourth track Steve Van Beek mentioned. The latter writes that the fourth track entered the old Chao Phraya
at Ban Mai in Ayutthaya, but this is not possible as the old river bed ran from Ban Kum towards Nam Tao (present Bang Ban Canal). Likely the engineers
widened and deepened an existing small canal running from Ban Mai towards the Maha Phram canal at Wat Khanon. This would explain Van Beek’s
account of the fifth track. [26]
(11) จึงเห็นว่าแม่น้ำสายนี้คงจะเกิดมีขึ้นใน ๑๐๐ ปี เศษเท่านั้น [25]
(12) Interview with Kamnan Man (หมาน) from Tambon Khayai on 26 January 2012. Man explained there was a fixed boat shuttle between Lopburi and
Ayutthaya by two large boats “ruea daeng & rua khiao” (the red and the green boat) in the 1950’s; which at the time of his army service he used to take the
shuttle regularly.


References:

[1] Topographical Analysis of the Southern Basin of the Central Plain, Thailand - Yoshikazu Takaya - The Southeast Asian Studies Vol 7 No 3 December
1969.
[2] Holocene highstand shoreline of the Chao Phraya delta, Thailand - J.R.P. Somboon, N. Thiramongkol, Department of Geology, Chulalongkorn
University- abstract.
[3] Late Quaternary geology of the Lower Central Plain, Thailand - Sin Sinsakul- Environmental Geology Section, Geological Survey Division, Department
of Mineral Resources, Bangkok, Thailand.
[4] The Kingdom of Siam - A. Cecil Carter (1904) - Page 35.
[5] Bangkok Post of 3 October 2011 - Up to 50,000 may have to quit Sing Buri and Bangkok Post of 4 October 2011 - Thaksin to PT: Don't bark at CTP.
[6] Early civilizations of Southeast Asia - Dougald J. W. O'Reilly (2007) - page 81.
[7] The Kingdom of Siam - A. Cecil Carter (1904) - Page 215.
[8] Ancient Cities in Thailand - Apha Phamorabut (1981) - page 35.
[9] Wikipedia.org/wiki/Lopburi - Data retrieved 8 February 2012.
[10] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) - page 21.
[11] The Kingdom of Siam - A. Cecil Carter (1904) - page 223.
[12] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) - page 20.
[13] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) - page 62, 63, 64-6 & 70.
[14] The Rise of Ayudhya - Charnvit Kasetsiri (1976) - page 18.
[15] The Book of Ser Marco Polo - Vol II - Henry Yule - Revised Henri Cordier - London (1903) - Chap VII - Wherein the isles of Sondur and Condur
are spoken of; and the Kingdom of Locac - page 276.
[16] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 10 / Source: Phan Canthanumat, British Museum, Reverend Phonnarat, Phra
Cakkraphatdiphong & Royal Autograph.
[17] The Career of Khun Chang Khun Phaen - Chis Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit - Journal of the Siam Society 2009 - Vol 97.
[18] Correspondence with Chris Baker on 30 January 2011.
[19] The Natural and Political History of the Kingdom of Siam - Nicolas Gervaise (1688) – Translated by John Villiers (1998) - White Lotus Press - page
35.
[20] A New Historical Relation of the Kingdom of Siam - Simon de La Loubère (London – 1993) -John Villiers (1986) - White Lotus Press - Part I - page
4.
[21] The Wheel of the Law - Henry Alabaster (1871) - Trubner & Co, London – page 276
[22] The Royal Chronicles of Ayutthaya - Richard D. Cushman (2006) - page 82 / Source: British Museum - Ayutthaya’s Fortifications Rebuilt, 1580.
[23]
The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen: Siam’s Great Folk Epic of Love and War - Translated and edited by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit
(2010) - Chapter 8: Phlai Kaeo is called up for the army and chapter 9: Phlai Kaeo leads the army.
[24] Our Wars with the Burmese - Prince Damrong Rajanubhab (1917) - White Lotus, Bangkok (2000) - page 316.
[25] Phraya Boran Rachathanin - Tamnan Krung Khao (1907) - pages 93-5.
[26] The Chao Phya, River in Transition - Steve Van Beek - Oxford University Press (1995) – page 11-2.
[27] Thailand State of Pollution Report of recent years.
(Source of the Maha Phram Canal along the Bang Ban
Canal)
(Wat Suea Bridge on the Lopburi River)
(Prasat Phra Phrang Sam Yot in Lopburi)