Situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, on the Chao Phraya River bank, near the Gulf of Thailand, Bangkok was founded in 1782 by the first monarch of the current Chakri Dynasty - King Rama I and it is now the spiritual, cultural, diplomatic, educational and commercial capital of Thailand. Bangkok covers an area of 1500 km2 and has a population of approximately 10 million people, concentrating over 10% of the country’s population. In terms of size, it is the 22nd largest city in the world and an important financial and economic center of South Asia.
The town was initially a small fair, known as Bang Makok, with the full name Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. In recent years, Bangkok has turned into a vibrant, modern and sophisticated city, which offers to its visitors both the excellent facilities of a cosmopolitan city, and a great wealth of objectives and cultural attractions. Often referred to as the "City of Angels" or the "Venice of the East", Bangkok is a true metropolis, with over ten million inhabitants, more than 400 temples, 800 hotels and sky-scrapers with a futuristic architecture, and not less than 22 areas deserving the title of "city center".
Although upon landing in Bangkok things might seem quiet, once you are in front of the airport, things change: a lot of taxi drivers will accost you trying to rip you off, and the cost of a trip will definitely be higher than the real one. Ideally, you should know very well where you want to get to and know the approximate price for a taxi ride from the airport to the hotel.
Initially, Bangkok might seem like a nightmare for those unfamiliar with the city. Rambling highways, suspended trains, and crowded streets full of merchants offer the city a very futuristic yet oppresive atmosphere. What creates more confusion is the lack of a city center in true sense of the word. Bangkok is divided into districts which can be explored very easily now, due to latest generation suspened trains. Besides, taxis, tuk-tuks, motorcycle taxis and buses are everywhere and facilitate the access from one area to another.
In terms of hotels, Bangkok offers a large varitey of accommodation. There are luxury hotels such as Peninsula Bangkok Hotel or the Oriental Hotel Bangkok, ranked among the top 10 most exclusive hotels in the world. Sukhumvit Street is the place where the most famous hotels belonging to international chains are located: JW Marriott, The Landmark, Intercontinental, Sheraton and The Davis. However, the oldest and most luxurious hotel remains to be Oriental Hotel Bangkok. For those who can not afford to lodge themselves here, there is a large choice of other hotels and motels, where prices are much lower and the conditions better than you think.
The cultural wealth and countless attractions make this city a very popular place. Every year, more than 15 million tourists chose Bangkok as their holiday destination. Crowded streets, heat and the lack of personal space can be overwhelming for some visitors, but for many others, the sheer dynamism is intoxicating. Among the most beautiful tourist attractions there are: the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun), Lumpini Park, Ancient City (Muang Boran) and Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho). Also, you can also visit the shrines in Bangkok, dedicated to Buddhist and Hindu deities that, according to popular belief, bring happiness, good luck, love and fertility: Erawan (a Brahman shrine), Trimurti (dedicated to the god of love), Ganesha (it is said that those who visit this shrine are more likely to be successful in arts area and have great achievements in the professional area), shrine of Tubtim goddess (fertility goddess).
Going to Bangkok and not visiting the Grand Palace is like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower. The Grand Palace, built in 1782 is the official residence of the King of Thailand. This is a unique architectural objective, where the most important and venerated Buddha statue from Thailand is located, dating from the fourteenth century. It is recommended to visit the Grand Palace early in the morning to avoid crowds. However, in order to be able to visit everything, one day is not enough. You should not wear shorts or sandals in this area, as access is not allowed except outfits that they would consider decent.
Equally famous and beautiful is the Temple of Dawn or Wat Arun, situated on the bank of the Chao Praya river. Wat Arun is a Khmer style pagoda and was built in the honor of the Indian god of the sunset, Aruna. The central tower, called Phra Prang, has a height of 79 meters and is decorated with small pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain. Besides, Wat Arun has four towers, smaller in size, representing the 33 heavens of the earth.
Wat Pho is one of the most interesting temples in Thailand. The temple hosts over one thousand images of Buddha, among which the famous Reclining Buddha, measuring over 45 m, the largest statue in Thailand. Before entering the temple, visitors must be barefoot, and only after they can proceed to see the famous statue. Nowadays, Wat Pho is internationally acknowledged for being a meditation centre and for traditional Thai massage practiced and taught here.
Certainly, you should not leave Bangkok without visiting the Floating Market. This is actually the channel network of Chao Phraya, the river that crosses Bangkok, where locals come with boats to sell or buy various products. The traffic on the water is more intense than on the streets of the largest cities in peak hours, and the view that one can enjoy is unique: the boats loaded with fruits, vegetables, flowers, sweets and spices, each merchant trying to sell as expensive as possible. Lately, there have emerged floating markets outside the city as well, such as those of Damnoen Saduak and Tha Kha. Mahachai is the largest market for fish and seafood, along with local handicrafts.
If you want to escape the city traffic, Lumpini Park is the best choice. You can enjoy having a meal with your family close to the picturesque ponds in the park or walking to admire the park landscape. Muang Boran is one of the largest outdoor museums in the world. Also called the Ancient Town, here you can admire the most famous monuments and buildings in Thailand. Another attraction is the National Museum, considered the largest museum in Southeast Asia. Its collection includes authentic archaeological treasures.
Officialy called “Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute”, visiting the snake farm is worth the effort. Before entering there, you will get a briefing on how to react if you are attacked by a snake. Here you can watch different species of snakes in cages and you will have the opportunity to watch how snakes are fed. At a 30-kilometer distance from Bangkok, there is another strange "farm". The Crocodile Farm hosts not less than 60,000 representatives of this species. Animals may be fed by visitors, while every hour performances are held involving crocodiles. The farm also hosts different snakes, gibbons, lions and trained elephants. There is a small dinosaur museum where the skeletons of these animals are exhibited.
Bangkok is also considered one of the greatest commercial centers of the world. "You come with a suitcase and walk away with ten of them" is what those who have visited the city usually say. Shopping in Bangkok has an international reputation. Most shops have discounts of up to 80%, quality products can be found in large commercial centers, while the reproductions of original products are sold on most streets, at very low prices. And if Paris has the Champs Elysées while New York the Fifth Avenue, Bangkok has Ratchadamri. This is the avenue where the shops of some of the most famous companies in the world are located. You could also go to Chatuychak, the market is open only on Saturdays and Sundays, covering 20 hectares, where you can find animals, plants, fruits and local crafts. Everything is of great quality, while prices are ridiculously low.
When it comes to leisure time in Bangkok, there are plenty of opportunities to choose from. A major attraction here is the spa treatments. For golf lovers, Thailand is a paradise with an impressive number of available terrains at a relatively low price.
At night, Bangkok is a show: colorful lights, flower stalls, fruits and handicrafts, music and outdoor dancing. Among the many places you can lose yourself in, the best are: Phatphong, the area where the night bazaar along with the most"spicy" places in the city are located (with an impressive jewelry and silver objects offer) and Silom Village, where there are shows with traditional music and dances every evening. Also, you can pay a visit to the many jazz clubs, pubs and cafes.
Indeed, there is much to be discovered in Thailand, and besides its famous monuments, there are less known places, yet equally interesting. On the west bank of Menam, there can be found the "klongs", a labirinth of channels and small tributaries, where the "river people" live, using canoe and the famous Champanala, typical Far East boats. Their colorful clothing, beautiful women and floating markets bring a special charm to this city where you are greeted with masks of deities, flowers, craftsworks and Buddhist priests, along with everything that represents the comfort of a modern world.
Bangkok has a tropical monsoon climate, and registers the highest average temperature among all the cities of the world.
By Maria Morari
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