Bangkok is one of Southeast Asia’s largest and most vibrant cities. It contains the lion’s share of Thailand’s wealth and is ten times bigger than the country’s next biggest city. It is also the seat of Government and usual residence of Thailand’s Royal family.
Almost all tourists to Thailand arrive in Bangkok and experience it’s many faces; from crowds of people and its famous traffic congestion, to its exciting and somewhat naughty nightlife, through to world class hospitality and shopping, fine restaurants and a multitude of impressive tourist attractions.
Bangkok facts: Bangkok is known in Thai as Krung Thep, which are the first two of more than fifty syllables that make up the official name given to the new capital established here towards the end of the 8th century. In short it is popularly referred to as the City of Angels’ and made famous more recently by the 1975 hit song ‘One night in Bangkok’.
Bangkok facts: More than six million people live in the municipal region of Bangkok which extends over 560km² . However, many more million commute into the city from neighbouring satellite towns that support the capital.
Bangkok facts: Bangkok is bisected by the Chao Phraya river which is Thailand’s longest and is fed by a watershed of four main rivers in Northern Thailand. Bangkok itself lies on the east side of this wide meandering river, while the older Thon Buri is found on the west bank. In fact Thon Buri was established as the original new capital by King Taksin (Rama I) in 1769 after the fall of Ayutthaya. However he moved the seat of power across the river three years later.
Bangkok facts: Until the early twentieth century Bangkok was made up of many canals, earning itself the name ‘Venice of East’. Many of these were gradually filled in to create streets and drainage systems, but some remain albeit severely polluted. Over the river in Thon Buri many of the canals have survived and now provide an interesting canal tour, showing how Bangkok once was.
Bangkok facts: Bangkok has always been at the centre of political change, centred around the democracy monument on Ratchadamnoen avenue. In October 1973, after prolonged student uprising demanding a proper constitution the Military government were forced to resign following bloody clashes. A similar crisis ended in bloodshed again exactly three years later resulting in the military stepping in and installing a right wing government. Again in May 1992, following a shock coup a year earlier, the people power took to the street once more and the government were forced to step down after further bloodshed.
Bangkok facts: Despite the opening in 1999 of the two-line sky train and the metro system in 2005, Bangkok continues to suffer from chronic traffic congestion, which usually starts as early as 6:30 am and lasts until 10 am, it starts again at 3:30 when schools are let out and may continue well into the evening. Late in the rainy season (September and October) flood waters from the North create particular havoc, especially when combined with high tides and tropical storms.
Bangkok facts: The area of Rattanokosin Isle and Banglamphu are part of the Royal quarter and contain many of the most popular attractions, such as the Grand Palace, Wat Po and National Museum – therefore no mass transit systems have been permitted to penetrate the area. They can only be reached by bus routes and taxi or boat.
Bangkok facts: The Siam square and Silom areas can now be considered the city’s unofficial centre, where the transport intersects and many tourists invariably end up. Over the last three decades the ex-pat community has based itself in the areas along Sukkumvit Road which now boasts the biggest cluster of hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping areas.
Bangkok facts: Towards the end of the nineteenth century, during the reign of King Rama V, the Dusit area was laid out with broad boulevards and leafy suburbs. Today much of the government departments are based here, including Government House, as well as the Vimnamek Palace, National Assembly Hall and Chitlada Palace, Zoo and Royal Turf Club.
Bangkok facts: One of the most famous streets in Bangkok is now the backpacker magnet of Khao San Road which attracts a kaleidoscope of culture from around the world, including bemused Thais. It is one of the liveliest and busiest tourist areas of the city yet twenty years it was nothing more than a cluster of guesthouses that then found their way into the Lonely Planet and the rest is history.
Bangkok facts: One of the most tradition areas of the city, which has retained it’s old character, is Chinatown and Phahurat, where life continues in a timeless fashion. Another area that is on the tourist map for different reasons is Patpong – two streets nicknamed after the original owner in the sixties who rented the shops out to go go bar owners who wanted to cash in on the influx of Westerners (mostly GIs on R&R from the Vietnam war).
Bangkok facts: There are believed to be 200,000 US$ millionaires in Thailand and 95 percent live in Bangkok. The average factory worker salary in Bangkok is 8,000 baht ($200). A 45m² Luxury studio in the centre of the city rents for about 40,000 baht a month. You can eat a bowl of noodles from a pavement restaurant for 20 baht, but a pint of Guinness sells for 250 baht at a typical Sukkumvit bar. If you’re really feeling flush you can buy a Maserati, Bentley or Ferrari in the newly opened Siam Paragon shopping mall near Siam Square.