Bangkok is the vibrant heart of Thailand - it is the country's capital, largest city, its main port, cultural and economic center, and the one place where history and modernity come together in an exceptionally combustible mix.
The city is vitally important to the rest of the region as a major financial and economic center. High rise buildings are constantly being built in Bangkok, not far from the cultural sites that have brought in tourists in droves.
The area's growth has made it one of the most densely populated regions in Southeast Asia; 20 million Thais live in the urbanized area containing Bangkok and its exurbs.
Such conditions have created problems, to be sure: Bangkok visitors have to deal with pollution, traffic congestion, and petty crime. Bangkok's weather may also cause some concern - it is hot and humid all year round, with temperatures between 78 - 90 degrees F (26 and 31 degrees C).
For the traveler willing to brave these risks, Bangkok is a wonderful city full of new discoveries just waiting to be uncovered.
Getting Your Bearings On Bangkok
Since its founding in the 18th century on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, Bangkok has expanded to assimilate Thonburi (the former capital of old Siam) and other outlying areas; the combined area is known as Krung Thep Mahanakhon, covering an area of 2,996.7 square miles (7,761.50 sq km).
Fortunately, almost all the tourist spots are concentrated on the east side of the Chao Phraya, near the old royal precinct of Rattanakosin. This area includes the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and the National Museum.
Across the Chao Phraya stands the old city of Thonburi , the capital of Siam for a brief moment before the new capital was raised on the other side of the river. Thonburi hosts Wat Arun, a sacred temple and well-known city landmark.
To the north, the Banglamphu area beckons, a popular destination for backpackers and budget travelers. To the northeast, the Dusit district hosts the Chitralada Palace (home to the King and his family), the Houses of Parliament, and the Dusit Zoo.
To the east you'll find Yaowarat, Bangkok's Chinatown district. Go further east to find the major hotels and embassies along the river. Go north and you'll come to Silom Road, with its tourist hotels and go-go bars. Even further north, you'll hit Siam Square and its limitless shopping options.
North of Siam Square, you'll find the city's garment district Pratunam; to Siam Square's west, you'll find the Sukhumvit road area and its many hotels and bars.
Getting Around – Trains, Buses, and River Ferries
Most tourists enter Thailand through Bangkok, through the busy Suvarnabhumi Airport. Once they're through the gates, they can get around by taxi, bus, tuktuk, Skytrain, or by boat, all of which connect the important parts of Bangkok.
Traffic, once totally unmanageable, has abated somewhat; still, you can avoid the roads and see the important parts of Bangkok without resorting to the roads.
Most historical sites are accessible by express boat. You can also escape the gridlock by boarding the Skytrain or subway, either of which stop at most important hotel and shopping districts.
Many of these areas are also accessible on foot, but do take note of Bangkok's year-round heat: drink a lot of water as you go. Work your way around the scorching hours of 10am-2pm, and avoid any sightseeing on those hours.
Sights To See – Historical and Modern Destinations
The most popular tourist sights are within a stone's throw of the historic Rattanakosin district. Among them are the the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaeo, as well as the Wat Pho that houses the immense Reclining Buddha, and the Wat Arun in historic Thonburi.
Not far from the historical district, more modern entertainments await you: endless shopping options throughout the city, mostly concentrated near Siam Square, or the seamy attractions of Silom Road.
If you're lucky, you'll make it to Bangkok in time for one of its many scenic festivals - from the solemn Royal Ploughing Ceremony to the wet and wild fun of Songkran.
- Walking Tour of Wat Phra Kaeo and the Grand Palace, Bangkok
- Bangkok's Markets - Great Shopping at Banglamphu, Chatuchak, and Patpong
- Songkran Festival - A Splashy Thai New Year
- Royal Ploughing Ceremony - Religious Royal Ritual in Bangkok, Thailand
Where To Stay – A Wide Range of Budgets
To suit the wide variety of visitors it welcomes each year, Bangkok also offers a wide range of hotels for every budget imaginable. Two of the ritziest hotels in the world call Bangkok home: the Oriental Hotel and the Peninsula Hotel.
If you need cheaper accommodations, head on to the Soi Ngam Dupli area, or the backpacker's quarter of Khao San Road and its many hostels and guesthouses. Khao San Road is within easy walking distance of the Chao Phraya River and its express ferry, and is easily accessible by bus.
Sukhumvit Road caters to the mid-to-upper budget range: 3-5 star hotels interspersed with excellent dining and nightlife options. Silom Road also offers a blend of mid-range and business-class accommodations.
Choose a hotel near the river or the train system; you'll be thankful for the incredible convenience it affords you to be able to avoid the roads to get around.