A vast urban sprawl of concrete, chaos and congestion, Bangkok is still without doubt one of the most exciting cities in Asia, not to mention one of the most endearing and entertaining. Providing vast amounts of opportunity and mystery in equal measure, Bangkok is a terrifically complex city, with an endless maze of fascinating streets, fascinating sights and a radiant, always-smiling people ready to welcome visitors from anywhere into their midst.
Polluted, hot and dusty it may be, but Bangkok holds the key to the mysteries of South East Asia. For a city with such a sinister reputation, the Thai capital has to be one of the most tourist-friendly cities in the world. Nowhere is that demonstrated best than in the original backpacker’s ghetto of Khao San Road, a terrifically vibrant street with a carnival atmosphere day and night, with cheap hotels, cheap bars and vendors galore – the perfect base for travelers to set off and explore the rest of this hedonistic destination.
History and Culture
Close to Khao San, on the banks of the River Chao Phraya, sit epic sights such as Wat Pra Kaew, a temple which houses the famed Emerald Buddha, an enormous sculpture made entirely out of translucent jade. Nearby, the Grand Palace, home to a dynasty of revered Thai monarchs has now been converted into a huge museum which boasts of both stunning architecture and delightful works of art.
Staying local, the Royal Barge Museum is also worthy of a visit, housing some of the most beautiful ornamented barges ever made. While close to the river, a longtail boat trip is also an essential activity, providing one of the best tours of the city from a quite unique perspective, via its network of canals.
Of the more than 100 Buddhist temples in the city, the ones to see include Wat Arun, one of the oldest, and Wat Mahathat, which is a center of education and the base of some of Thailand’s most revered religious figures.
Shop Until You Drop
Bangkok is also a bargain hunters dream – with markets and shopping malls seemingly everywhere, all overflowing with cheap designer goods (some are fake, but even so the quality is usually good), DVDs, gadgets, souvenirs. The Weekend Market, or Chatuchak Market as the Thai’s know it, is the largest outdoor market in the world, with more than 9,000 stalls and vendors selling just about everything that could possibly be sold, while the MBK mall in Siam Square is a Mecca for cheap clothing, mobile phones and jewelry.
As the sun sets into the horizon, Bangkok really comes alive – the city has a worldwide reputation for its hedonistic nightlife, and action of all sorts is never far away. Dazzling neon lights advertise an overload of trendy pubs and nightclubs, together with the more infamous “girlie bars” which steal the show in streets like Patpong and Nana Plaza. A night out in Bangkok, whether good or bad, will always be something to remember.
Main attractions: The Grand Palace, the Floating Market, Vimanmek Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Lumphini Park, Siam Square, Sukhumvit, Democracy Monument, the Chao Phraya River and so many others.
Official Language: Thai
Area: 7,761.50 km2 (2,996.7 sq mi)
- Voltage: 220-240 Volts (U.S./Canada are 110-120 Volts)
- Primary Socket Types: Chinese Grounded, Chinese Non-Grounded Others sometimes found: British BS-1363
- Multi-voltage appliances (laptops, etc.): Plug adapter
- 110-120V electronics: Plug adapter + step-down transformer
- Hair dryers, curling irons, etc.: Plug adapter + voltage converter
Other places to see & things to do: Rajamangala National Stadium, Kasetsart University, Ratchadamri Rd., Sathorn's Robot Building, Jim Thompson’s House, and many more.
Images courtesy: Mike Thomas - Fotolia.com, Siim Teller