How Thai-Belgian bridge of friendship was built
4 June 2018
FORMER Belgian Ambassador to Thailand Baron Patrick Nothomb was in the same room with former minister Chavarat Charnvirakul at the Silom residence of the Belgian Ambassador on Saturday as he recalled the building of the Thai-Belgian Bridge, the first fly-over bridge to ease traffic congestion in Bangkok 30 years ago.
The capital city of Bangkok has been infamous for its traffic congestion since the Thai economy took off in the late 1980s.
Nothomb, who was the Belgian ambassador to Bangkok between March 1985 and October 1988, recalled the suggestion made by his then commercial attache to offer Bangkok an iron bridge that had been dismantled in Brussels. He managed to convince the Belgian government that it would be good for relations to ship the for the 2,000-tonne iron bridge from its home to Bangkok.
The next major challenge was how to quickly install the heavy structure across the Rama IV and Sathorn-Wireless Road intersection, since the traffic condition there was already the city’s worst. A long construction period would cause repercussions.
Chavarat, who runs the Sino-Thai construction firm, made it possible. “I was here in this room for a kind of reception party and the ambassador called me and said, ‘Khun Chavarat can do it’,” he said. “I took the job and spent only a weekend holiday for the bridge erection.”
Nothomb said, “I was very anxious and excited if it would be done on time, as we had already invited HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon to inaugurate the bridge.”
The erection work began at 6pm on Friday, April 23, 1988 and finished 56 hours later, 4 hours earlier than scheduled, Chavarat said.
The Thai-Belgian bridge later became not only the role model for how to ease congestion at many intersections in the capital as the Bangkok authority erected eight additional bridges in the 1990s, but also a symbol of diplomatic relations that saw Japan donate a viaduct along the traffic axis in 1989.
The Thai-Belgian Bridge has stood as a symbol of the relations between the two countries since then, and this year authorities have decorated the bridge to commemorate its 30th anniversary and the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, according to Belgian Ambassador to Thailand Philippe Kridelka.
In order to commemorate the 150th anniversary of ties, the embassy, with collaboration from many agencies of government and non-government organisations, has organised seminars and workshops on various issues.
The first workshop was on LGBT issues and held in February, as Thailand seeks a legal instrument to handle the issue and Belgium has particular experience with same-sex marriage, Kridelka said. Two workshops are to be held in November on road safety and smart cities to exchange knowledge and views, he said.
The road safety workshop would look at how children could be encouraged to wear helmets while sitting on a motorbike, he said, noting that Belgian company Solvey every year contributes helmets to schools to raise awareness.
To forge cooperation for human resource development, Thammasat University and The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven have signed an agreement to kick off next year a programme in which 20 young Thai engineers will be chosen yearly to go to Leuven and continue their training as engineers. “We hope that when they come back to Thailand they will contribute to economic development,” he said.