Bangkok Travel Guide
Thailand’s capital and gateway city is Bangkok. Founded in 1782 by King Rama I, it is epitome of the country’s kaleidoscopic blend of old and new. More than anywhere else, it is an expression of the Thais’ respect for tradition coupled with their vibrant involvement with modern progress.
Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, a few kilometers upstream from its outflow into the Gulf of Siam, Bangkok sprawls across a flat alluvial plain. It is the capital in every sense of the word. It is where the Royal family resides, it is the seat of government and administration, and it is the focal point for virtually all major industrial, commercial and financial activity. It is the country’s main port and home to one tenth of the Kingdom’s population.
Such an all-important role is reflected in the capital’s proper name, Krung Thep. This translates as “City of Angel” and is the first in a whole string of illustrious titles that properly define the place — and, incidentally, earn a listing in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest place name. To the Thais Bangkok is always Krung Thep, the spiritual and symbolic as well as physical heart of the nation.
Initial impressions are of a modern, dynamic metropolis bustling with today’s business. The skyline is dominated by thrusting high-rise office buildings, condominiums, luxury hotels, department stores and shopping malls. But this is just alone aspect of Bangkok.
It takes only a short while to become captivated by the spell the city casts, and to realize that it is, indeed, the Orient’s most exotic capital. Joyfully exuberant Bangkok embraces latter-day developments though, surprisingly, modern building does not obliterate a wealth of monuments to traditional glories.
In the soaring roofs and tapering gilded spires of the Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Temple of Dawn and the rest of Bangkok’s more than 400 Buddhist temples, you are presented with images of awe-inspiring Oriental splendor. Contained within such monuments are masterpieces of sculpture, painting and decorative arts attesting to the nation’s artistic achievement.
Once you begin to explore Bangkok, you begin to realize just how much there is to discover. In addition to the city’s most famous monuments and sights, there are numerous lesser known places of great interest. Wat Ratchabophit, for example, is remarkable temple distinguished by rich ornamentation and an unusual layout comprising gilded chedi, four corner pavilions and circular cloister. It is located not far from the Grand Palace, yet it is often overlooked by visitors. The same is true of museums; the National Museum is not to be missed, though Wimanmek Throne Hall and Jim Thompson’s house also contain spectacular treasures.
Exploring the Chao Phraya River, Thailand’s historic waterway, and the small canals of the Thonburi give further insights into the history and character of this wondrous city. Indeed, the scope for sightseeing is near endless. The influence of the past and the enduring threads of the social fabric are not limited to the static. They continue to pervade daily life.
HOST OF PLEASURES
As culturally and historically fascinating as Bangkok is, it cannot be denied it is also a sybaritic city. In their unique character, the Thais combine a respect for traditions with a joyful exuberance, a love of sanuk, having a good time. Here the modern aspects of the capital complement the old and offer a host of pleasures.
Not least is the joy of dining. Thai cuisine, rich and spicy, is a true gourmet delight affording a huge variety of dishes to discover and relish. Seafood is also a national specialty and fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimps and more are to be enjoyed in either spicy Thai style or in Continental recipes. And should you ever wish for a change, Bangkok has restaurants serving just about every national cuisine deserving of the name from both East and West.
To match the variety of menus is the choice of eating places. From simple but good curbside food stalls and right up through the whole dining gamut to elegant, expensive restaurants and dinner cruises on the river, there is something to suit all tastes and pockets.
WORLD OF ENTERTAINMENT
When it comes to entertainment and nightlife, Bangkok has something for everyone. From displays of classical Thai dance to cocktail lounges and discos worth latest hi-tech sound and light systems, the choice is wide open. Unique to Thailand, the traditional sport of kick boxing, in which the protagonists use feet, knees and elbows in addition to gloved fists, is especially thrilling. Bouts are held most nights of the week at one or other of Bangkok two boxing stadiums.
This is the country’s most popular spectator sport and should not be missed — the reaction of the aficionados, cheering and yelling, is often as exciting as the action in the ring.
It should not be thought, however, that Bangkok does not offer more highbrow cultural fare. It does. the newly opened Thailand Cultural Center presents an excellent and varied calendar of performances featuring both Eastern and Western dance, drama and music. Leading hotels also stage occasional shows by visiting performers and theatre groups of international stature.
SILK & GEMS
Shopping is a further city delight and in recent years smart plazas, malls and departments stores have a mushroomed to augment the facilities provided by market and street stalls. At the top of anyone’s shopping list should be Thai silk.
Silk is a traditional material now produced in a wide range of colours and designs and offering excellent value. Bangkok is also a world centre for colored gemstones; rubies and sapphires are mined in Thailand while other stones are imported for cutting and setting.
Here you will discover gems and finished jewelry which, while not cheap, give superb value for money as you are buying at source.
TIP: For good deals in gold jewelry make a visit to Chinatown.
BEST IN THE WORLD
Not to be overlooked in Bangkok’s modern development is the superb range of the best in the world for the past eight years. But as with everything else, the city offers variety in accommodation and there are hotels in all price ranges, and with a selection of locations — fronting the Chao Phraya River, set amid lush tropical gardens or in the very heart of the principal commercial and shopping districts.
Complementing the standard of accommodation is quality of service. A sense of hospitality is deeply ingrained in the Thai character and there is scarcely anywhere else in the world where you are better taken care of, your every need met graciously and efficiently.
Bangkok International Airport (Don Muang), one of the most modern in Asia, served by almost 50 scheduled airlines offering direct flights from major cities worldwide. The Thai capital may also be reached by train from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia.
Getting around in Bangkok is inexpensive and convenient, Taxis and tuk tuks, three-wheeled motorized vehicles, are abundant and fare (to be negotiated with the driver in advance) are less than those in other major capitals. There is also a comprehensive public
bus network, with both air-conditioned and non-airconditioned
On the Chao Phraya there are river taxis and regular shuttle services, or you can hire your own longtail boat for a voyage of discovery. Finally, for sightseeing, there are a large number of tours available that offer an excellent introduction to the city for the first time visitor.
Stretching north of Bangkok are the Central Plains, an immensely fertile area typified by patchworks of emerald green rice paddies. In the heart of this region, about 80 kilometers from Bangkok, are the ruins of Ayutthaya, the nation’s capital for more than 400 years until its destruction in 1767.
In its 17th century heyday it was the most fabulous city in the Orient, and the ruins to be seen today give an inkling of its former glory. An excursion to Ayutthaya can be made via the Chao Phraya aboard a luxury rive cruiser. This gives a splendid view of riverine life, and also includes a visit to the former Royal summer retreat of Bang Pa-In, a fairytale scene of architectural wonders.
Further north from Ayutthaya is Lop Buri. The modern town in unexceptional, but scattered around are some remarkable ruins dating from the pre-Thai Khmer period and from the 17th century when King Narai held court here. Historically, Lop Buri is one of the most intriguing towns in the whole of Thailand.
West of Bangkok you can discover the world’s tallest Buddhist monument at Nakhon Pathom, and continue on the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai, built by allied POWs during World War II, between Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom is the Rose Garden, a country resort and cultural centre affording a good introduction to traditional Thai life.
Nearby the Rose Garden is Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo with an entertaining collection of animals.
Heading in a different direction, the Crocodile Farm lies 30 kilometers southwest of Bangkok and, with some 30,000 reptiles, is the largest establishment of its kind in the world.
Almost next door to the Crocodile Farm is the Ancient City, a “must” attraction for anyone interested in Thai culture and architecture. Here are faithfully reproduced scaled-down construction of the Kingdom’s most famous temples, palaces and other building complete in all their decorative detail. Several of the monuments are re-constructionsof long vanished architectural treasures.