With a population of around 9 million in a country of only 66 million, Thailand's capital teems with humanity. As the cultural heart of the kingdom, the city keeps many traditions still visibly intact -- yet Bangkok is also a rapidly changing city. If you go beyond the city's transport systems (the Bangkok Transit System [BTS] Skytrain and the Mass Rapid Transit [MRT] subway), it can be a challenge. Heavy traffic, excessive heat and humidity, and, at certain times of the year, smog can make Bangkok truly overwhelming. Nevertheless, to find the charm of the city, all you need to do is to be adventurous and explore areas outside the central business district, packed full of skyscrapers and shopping malls.
Founded when King Rama I moved the city across the river from Thonburi in 1782, Bangkok is not a particularly ancient capital, but rather a cool mix of modernity and tradition. Saffron-robed monks mingle in the sois with Starbucks-drinking, cellphone-wielding yuppies or bouffant-wigged socialites known by the abbreviation hi-so. Luxurious, glass-clad condos brazenly penetrate the skyscape, juxtaposed by tin-roofed slums teetering along putrid canals. Among the concrete, glittering wats (temples) and ramshackle colonial edifices pepper this ancient and vibrant city.
What strikes many upon arrival in the Big Mango, as it's lovingly known, is the highly developed infrastructure, high-end shopping, world-class accommodations, and welcoming people; compared to Hong Kong and Singapore, though, the country is way behind in development, and locals aren't as fluent in English as in these wealthy former colonies. The modernity is often merely a beguiling facade -- underneath there's grit and grime.
The culture here is so gloriously rich, though, that exploring Bangkok should be seen as a highlight of any trip to Thailand. And there are rooms to suit any budget. Bangkok's luxury hotels offer unrivaled rates, and visitors can find anything from a basic 300B hostel to a ritzy high-rise suite. The cuisine is itself a worthy adventure; you can choose from fine dining in hip hangouts to simple street food stalls.
Rivaled only by Chiang Mai in the north, Bangkok is above all a great place to shop, for anything from name brand luxury items (and, of course, knockoffs that won't last a week) to fine local handicrafts, antiques, silk, and jewels. And when it comes to nightlife, the endless array of great-value night markets, bars, clubs, and eateries makes for a (potentially) sleepless night.
The Real Bangkok -- Referred to as "Krung Thep" by Thais, meaning "The City of Angels," the official name of Bangkok is a proud description of Bangkok's royal legacy -- and the world's longest: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansthit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit.
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