Bangkok, one of Southeast Asia’s most thriving commercial centers. Many first-time visitors to Bangkok have little idea of what they will actually encounter. Bangkok metropolis, accommodating around eight million residents, is a sophisticated, fast-growing and, on occasions, traffic-clogged city.
Referred to today as the City of Angels (Krung Thep in Thai), Bangkok was once called the “Venice of the East” because of its many canals. Although many canals have been filled-in, taking away some of the city’s old-world charm, it is still one of the most intriguing places worth visiting in Southeast Asia. Many visitors keep coming back to the city, some for business, some for vacations and some even to settle down here. Without doubt, modern-day Bangkok is a tourist mecca of the East offering a greater variety of things to see and do than any other city in Southeast Asia.
Established in 1782 as Thailand’s capital, the official, full name of the city is probably the longest in the world: Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Maha Sathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathatthiya Witsanukam Prasit.
Bangkok, City of Angels, offers an abundance of sites and attractions for tourists and is famous for its Buddhist Temples (Wats) including the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), adjacent to the Grand Palace. This temple, and other beautiful examples of carefully-preserved Thai architecture, are referred to in more details in our section on day tours.
Bangkok, located in the center of the country, is also an excellent stepping-off point for visiting other parts of Thailand.
Although the measured pace of old Siam is now a thing of the past, the country’s rich cultural and natural heritage still survives.
Accommodation in the city covers a variety of price ranges, but all offer high standard of service presented by friendly staffs. The city probably has the highest concentration of luxury hotels in the world.
Today, hotels and shopping venues offer amazing bargains, following the depreciation of the Thai baht currency in 1997. And for those in search of bargains, Bangkok has excellent examples of Thai handicrafts; Thai antiques; paintings; T-shirts; in-fashion accessories; high-grade Thai silks and high quality jewellery.
Our section on Amazing Shopping directs you to some of the best spots in the city for bargain hunting.
The city also boasts a cornucopia of inexpensive restaurant featuring mouth watering dishes from all regions of Thailand and international cuisine from just about everywhere in the world. Many gourmets of Thai foods, now rated No.5 in the world’s culinary top ten, considering Bangkok to be on a par with Hong Kong for gastronomic experiences.
The city offers a broad variety of restaurants, ranging from simple noodle stands to the most elegant dining rooms. Visitors from Europe and North America who consider themselves connoisseurs of Thai food will find Bangkok a gastronomic paradise!
Despite the country’s economic downturn, Thai people continue to be outwardly friendly, greeting visitors with their usual gracious hospitality and sincere expressions of friendship – traits which have earned Thailand the title of “Land of Smile”. And this is no gimmick as you will discover by the time you have to leave Thailand.
When the time comes, we hope you will leave the city of Bangkok feeling a deep warmth for its many charms and find it fascinating enough to enable us to welcome you back again and again.
Located in the center of the country, quite close to the Gulf of Thailand, the greater Bangkok Metropolis (including the former capital of Thonburi on the other side of the Chao Phraya River) covers an area of 1,600 square kilometers.
The city is situated right in the middle of the rice bowl of Asia, also known as Chao Phraya River Delta.
Climate and Seasons
If you like it hot, Bangkok is the place for you.
Average temperatures rarely dip below 25 degrees Celsius during the city’s three seasons. Between November and February the weather is warm and dry with temperatures from 19 to 33 degrees Celsius; March-May is hot with temperatures rising to as high as 42 degrees, and from June to October (rainy season) it is warm and sometimes wet, but never cold. Even the rain is warm!
December is the peak tourist month but if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy off-season hotel rates, come during the summertime. The summer monsoon season may carry some heavy rains but these quite often occur during late evening and overnight and are unlikely to spoil your enjoyment. However, take note that August and September are the wettest months so visitors are recommended to take the weather into account when planning a trip to Bangkok.
Bangkok’s resident population is said to total some eight million people, representing approximately thirteen percent of Thailand’s total population.
Most residents are ethnic Thais, with around twenty-five percent of the city’s inhabitants being Chinese or of Chinese descent. Chinese influence is strong, particularly in the business sector. The second largest group is of Indian descent, whose heritage can be traced to northern India. The city is also home to illegal immigrants from Burma, Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Buddhism is the prevailing religion in Thailand and approximately 95% of the population are Buddhists. Muslims constitute around four percent of the population and live mostly in the southern provinces bordering Malaysia. There are also small Hindu and Christian communities.
Since Buddha statues and images represent the Buddha, visitors are asked to behave respectfully to all statues and images so as not to cause offence to local people. It is illegal to take any Buddhist statues out of Thailand without the express permission of the Fine Arts Department.
Thai currency is made up of baht and satangs. Commonly used coins are 25-satang, 50-satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht denomination. There are different sizes of 1 and 5 baht coins in circulation, so be careful when you count your money. Banknotes, which are printed in both Thai and Western numerals, increase in size according to value and are in different colours: 10 baht is brown; 20 baht is green; 50 baht is blue; 100 baht is red; 500 baht is purple and 1,000 baht is grey/beige. It is difficult to change large notes in some market areas, so remember to ask for some small notes when changing money.
Banks are opened from 9:30 hours to 15:30 hours during weekdays. In Bangkok, you will find many of the banks have foreign exchange services opening until late in the evening every day, particularly in popular tourists spots.
Travellers’ cheques give the highest rate of exchange. American dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency, but most other major foreign currencies can be exchanged at the banks. Payment by credit cards is becoming increasingly common at most major tourist spots and in most hotels and high-class restaurants.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) sponsors a number of useful publications about Bangkok and the rest of Thailand including its own Holiday Time in Thailand. Tourist publications about the country provide useful information about things to see and to do, along with a useful calendar of festivals and events taking place in Bangkok and throughout the country.
Getting around in Bangkok can probe perplexing for newly-arrived visitors, but once you become acquainted with the bus system, you can go to just about any place in the city. If you have appointments to keep, allow extra time to cope with the traffic congestion, which occurs during peak hours in several parts of town.
Visitors are recommended to try the Chao Phraya Express Boat System and, if you take to the roads, you will find the metered taxis with quite reasonably price. The Open Air Motor-Tricycles (called Tuk-Tuk or Sam Lo) are good for short distance if you want to avoid being exposed to automobile exhaust fumes.
Thai language is tonal with each syllable having five different tones (high, rising, falling, middle and low). The meanings relate to the level of the tones used. Verbs have no tenses and most words are monosyllabic. There are also a number of regional dialects which can be confusing even to the locals.
Although English is not generally spoken, many Thai students understand and speak English to a certain degree and they could be helpful during your stay in Bangkok.
Some visitors find Thai language one of the world’s most difficult to learn, but with a little practice, most visitors can pick up a few useful words or phrases.