The city that never sleeps
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is one of the most iconic cities in Asia and one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. The city is located along the Chao Pharaya River and is characterized by a non-stop mentality, both in growth and atmosphere.
Bangkok, with its population of about 10 million, is a city of contrast: Even though you can find the latest trends from everything between clothing, food and gadgets when exploring the flashiest capitalist of South-East Asia, the city is also absolutely dotted with everything ancient, sacred and spiritual. There are more than 400 stunning Buddhist temples around the city that vary in size from the magnificent to the modestly gorgeous. The quiant canals that flow between houses and lanes balance out the sometimes very congested streets and high ways, and there are numerous parks that cool the city’s air and provide shadowy tucked away corners where you can rest your feet and mind.
For shopaholics, there are numerous, massive high-end shopping centres, not to mention the endless street vendors whose stalls’ are filled with bargains. Some stores are even open around the clock. Golfing, indoor amusement parks, crocodile farms and the exotic nightlife are examples of Bangkok’s huge variety in entertainment options. You’ll never have a dull moment in the City of Angels!
- Key facts and History
- Climate and Weather
- Best of Bangkok
- Food and Drink
- Videos from Bangkok
Facts and History
Official name: Thailand
Capital City: Bangkok
Government: Constitutional monarchy
Population: 67 million
Area: 510,890 sq. km
Main religions: official religion Buddhism (94.6%), Islam (4.6%), Christianity (0.7%)
Life expectancy: 77 (women), 72 (men)
Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
Main exports: electronics, computer parts, automobiles and car parts, textiles and shoes, fish, rice, rubber
GNI per capita: US $10,300
Time Zone: UCT/GMT + 7
Bangkok was only a small town until a new canal was dug from the then capital Ayutthaya via Bangkok to the ocean, to shorten the distance between the old capital and the Gulf of Thailand. European ships began to sail to Bangkok and the town became a duty port where missionaries, traders and explorers would gather together before continuing on to the capital.
Bangkok saw rapid economic growth, and in 1767, when Ayutthaya was destroyed, a new capital was established on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, in the town of Thornburi, which is now a part of Bangkok. In 1782, Bangkok became the official capital of Thailand when King Rama I of the Chakri Dynasty built his palace on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River. The city was also renamed ‘Krung Thep’, which means ‘the City of Angels’. Thai people still usually refer to the city as ‘Krung Thep’; ‘Bangkok’ is the international version of the name. The city has also been referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to its numerous canals.
Geography and areas
The Bangkok Metropolitan, also known as Greater Bangkok, is the urban conglomeration of Bangkok, which includes the city and the five adjacent provinces of Nakhon Pathom, Pathum Thani, Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon. Bangkok itself is a huge city divided into 50 districts.
The area around Siam Square, including Ratchaprasong and Phloen Chit Road, is Bangkok’s modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a city centre.
The Sukhumvit Road is one of the longest boulevards in the world; it actually is over 400 km long and reaches all the way from Bangkok to Cambodia. The Bangkok stretch of the road crosses through an exclusive district popular among expatriates and upper class locals. The area is filled with quality hotels, condos, spas, boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs. Nana has the most cosmopolitan street life. Phromphong is more focused in dining, while Thonglor and Ekamai have become the high streets of the newly rich.
The area around Silom Road and Sathorn Road is Thailand’s financial centre by day but the primary party district by night when quarters there, like the infamous Patpong, come alive.
Climate and weather
The climate in Bangkok is a tropical wet and dry climate, which means that the area has a distinct wet and dry season and an average temperature of over 18 degrees Celsius every month. Seasons in Thailand can be roughly divided into a rainy season and the summer; and the high season and tourists follow the climate patterns. The rainy season begins in May and continues till the end of October. During the rainy season, the weather has a tendency to be unpredictable, consisting of some heavier monsoon rains as well as long periods of the loveliest, uninterrupted sunshine. The rains are short, soft and warm by their nature and even during the rainy season, the sun shines in practice daily. An added bonus during the rainy season is the completely lowered price range.
Summer starts, at the latest, in November and banishes the left over rain clouds from the horizon. The weather is excellent all summer long, and since the summer season in Thailand takes place during the European winter, Thailand is a popular Christmas break destination for Westerners. The summer season continues till May and during the season the daily temperatures often rise above 30 Celsius.
Best of Bangkok
An enormous Buddhist temple area. The main attraction is a 46 meter statue of Buddha.
A true Asian wonder and the former official residence of the Thai royalty. The palace is very decorative; think numerous things covered in gold. The temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred place in Thailand, is located in the same area.
Khao San Road
The street where the journey starts for most of the backpackers in Bangkok. It’s noisy and crowded with tourists and you can buy anything from visas and tickets to bracelets, even get your hair braided. Nightlife on Khao San road is very busy and the street is especially popular among travellers from around the world.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The world’s largest market with over 15,000 stalls in an area the size of 15 football fields. Every day, a total of 200,000 people visit the area. You can get anything you need, and everything you don’t need: food, clothes, shoes, plants, art, animals, animal supplies etc. Don’t forget to haggle. The best time to go shopping is immediately after the market has opened, because the air is still cool and there are less people about. Also, most vendors believe that the first sale of the day brings good luck.
Bangkok has a lot to offer. In addition to the above spots, you should try the Bangkok river cruises, affordable spas and massages, Thai cooking courses, and numerous festivals and events. There is also loads else to entertain you at night, apart from drinking. Try shopping, dining and going to the movies, for example. For sports, cable skiing, golf courses or Muay Thai kickboxing are worth your pennies.
Transportation and getting around
Rivers and canals
Many of the canals have now been filled and turned into streets but there are still many authentic old canals to be found and explored by, for example, a canal boat. There are river boats and ferries that run along the Chao Phraya River, for example, the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which has over 30 stops along both banks of the river.
The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) provides a regular bus service. The buses run within Bangkok as well as to the nearby provinces. Air-conditioned buses are more expensive than non-air-conditioned ones. Some buses run around the clock.
Long-distance buses run to all parts of the country but make sure you know which terminal your bus leaves from. There are several bus terminals in Bangkok and the terminal depends on where the bus is headed.
Skytrain (BTS) runs above the city. There are a total of twenty-three stations along two lines. There is also an additional line that runs directly from the centre to Suvarnabhumi airport. Passengers can buy single tickets or BTS passes and there are student discounts available, too.
Bangkok metro system (MRT) runs underneath the city. It’s another good option besides Skytrain when you want to avoid the traffic and get around the city fast. There are single tickets, passes and student discounts for the metro as well. There are also several stations where you can change from BTS to MRT or the other way around.
Long-distance trains to and from the Hua Lamphong railroad station connect Bangkok e.g. to Laos and Malaysia.
Bangkok is one of the main air traffic hubs in Southeast Asia. There are two airports in Bangkok: Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang. Suvarnabhumi is the main airport and most of the international flights depart from there. Don Mueang is smaller and used mainly for domestic flights. It’s easy to fly almost anywhere from Bangkok. Air Asia is a popular low-cost airline, with very affordable prices. Find out more about traveling in Asia from here.
There are many taxi options you can choose from in Bangkok, everything from tuk-tuks to motorcycle taxis and taxi cars. Tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis are not as comfortable as normal taxis because of their open cabins that do not protect the customer from the dust and pollution of the surrounding traffic. Remember to agree on the price before hopping on a tuk-tuk or a motorcycle taxi. Taxi cars are quite affordable and the air-conditioning is very pleasant on a hot day. Just remember to make sure that the driver turns on the meter or he might charge extra.
Food and Drink
Thai food is very aromatic and most often quite spicy. Jasmine rice is an important part of the cuisine, as are noodles. A large variety of herbs and spices are used in the cooking, many of which are not common in Western countries. The food is eaten with a fork and a spoon. The fork is held in the left hand and used to push food into the spoon. The food is then eaten from the spoon. Vegetables, beef, pork, fish, chicken and shrimp are all included in Thai cuisine.
Dining out is much cheaper than in Western countries. A meal can cost as little as 0.50 Euros. Food can be bought in restaurants as well as from street stands. Remember to always drink bottled water. Restaurant wise Bangkok has everything under the sun, including all the Western fast food restaurants. Do yourself and your waistline a favour, though, and dip into the local, healthy cuisine. You’ll save money and won’t fall asleep during the afternoon lectures.
- Spas & massage
- Cooking courses
- Festivals & events
- Cable skiing
- Golf courses
The currency in Thailand is Thai baht (THB). One baht is divided into 100 satang. One euro is approximately 40 baht, depending on the exchange rate. Credit cards are accepted at major establishments, but you might have to pay an additional fee when paying with them. Cash will be needed for transportation, street vendors and smaller stores.
Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) and Tetanus-diphtheria are should be kept up-to-date. Hepatitis A and B are recommended. Japanese encephalitis is recommended for those who are planning on spending a month or more in rural areas or who are going to spend a lot of time outdoors in rural areas after dusk. There is more information on vaccinations here.
Bangkok is a relatively safe city despite its size. Beware of pick-pockets in crowded areas. Do not leave valuables in your hotel room (there are safe deposits at the reception). Please read through are safety tips for Asia from here.