Thais are known to be very warm hearted and friendly, and always have a ready smile on their faces, that is why Thailand is called the “Land of Smiles.” It’s a smile that beckons, friendly yet shy. Just like the city, a Thai smile keeps you intrigued and makes you want to discover.
Despite the recent political turmoil in Bangkok, it remains as one of the top travel destinations in Southeast Asia, simply because it is the gateway to a holiday in Thailand, and it offers plenty of things to do and places to see. There’s the WatArun or the Temple of Dawn, the WatPhraKaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the Grand Palace and the famous Thai massage. In almost every street are traditional tailors where you can have a suit made to order. If you are after glamor and glitz, there’s the Sky Bar and Hotel, which is the tallest building in Bangkok. While the city is overcrowded and is literally a concrete jungle, there is still a space that is the green lung of the city, the Bang Krachao Gardens along the Chao Phraya River.
History of Bangkok
Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand is one of Asia’s major financial and commercial districts. Bangkok began as a small trading post in the 15th century’s Ayutthaya Kingdom which later grew and became the site for two capital cities: Thonburi and Rattanakosin.
Bangkok’s economy expanded gradually by trading with China and then with Western merchants during the early-to mid-19th century. During the 20th century, Bangkok was the center of political conflicts. Numerous uprisings were staged as the country abolished monarchy and adopted constitutional rule.
Today, Bangkok is the seat of finance and business power, where many multinational corporations have established their headquarters in the heart of the city. The cosmopolitan city is home to thousands of expats, from Japanese to Chinese, to Europeans, North Americans, Africans and Australians. There are also thousands of Lao, Cambodians and Burmese who have made Bangkok their new home.
Favorite travel destination
Bangkok is home to many ancient Wats and temples, including the famous Temple of the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Other notable places of worship can be found within the city. In contrast to Bangkok’s archaic structures are its modern skyscrapers, busy streets and lively night scenes that complement the city’s allure. The price of modernization is evident however, as severe air pollution and chronic traffic congestion cause daily suffering for most of Bangkok’s citizens.
What most “farangs” (or foreigners, in the local tongue) anticipate is the annual Songkran Festival which begins on the 13th and ends on the 15thof April. Songkran marks the Thai New Year, where many people, especially the young adults, gather and celebrate on the streets by pouring water on everyone else as a gesture of “washing away” bad luck and sins. Songkran has grown popular among back-packers and tourists and most foreign visitors eagerly participate in the events.
Aside from the spectacular temples and festal events, Bangkok offers a myriad of other activities, such as thrift-shopping in Chatuchak (or Jatujak) Weekend Market, with a staggering 8,000 stalls, sprawled over 27 hectares and is considered as one of the biggest markets in the world. The Chatuchak offers everything from food, clothes and jewelry to pets, antiques, home decorations and so much more. Chatuchak however, is only open on Fridays from 6 PM to 12 MN and on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 AM to 6 PM.
If you are into a more rustic environment and have had enough of the bustling city, you can take a tour along the floating markets of DamnoenSaduak. Here you can hire a long-tailed speedboat and a guide to take you on a cruise around the ancient 19th century canals. The floating markets were created by King Rama IV to promote trade and development in the area. Today, DamnoenSaduak is considered as one of Bangkok’s prime attractions which also in turn, provides a glimpse into traditional Thai culture.
Backpackers and budget travelers will find sanctuary in Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. Khaosan is a short street in the Banglamphu area of the PhraNakhon district. Khao San was once a major rice market in Bangkok but over the years quickly turned into a bustling “farang haven” and eventually earned the “backpacker ghetto” moniker. Many establishments offer cheap accommodation and fast food. The market here offers backpacker essentials although some of the stalls offer stuff like pirated DVDs, fake IDs and possibly stolen items from other unwary travelers. As night falls, the street turns into a festive ground, with music and dancing, while the pubs fill with people from all over the world to share a drink and stories of their travels.
The official and national language in Thailand is Thai, which is linguistically similar to Lao. In 2000, there were about 20 million people who spoke Thai as their first language. Thai is a language that is difficult for most foreigners to grasp because it has five tones: low, mid, high, falling and rising and each one can change the meaning of a word, although if you make the effort, Thais would be glad to help you with pronunciation. For example, “maa” could be a verb meaning “to come” or it could be a noun that means a “dog.” The Thai language is all about respect, culture and emotion. There are polite particles and the manner of speaking changes depending on the person you are talking with. This is similar in some respect to Korean, Japanese and Chinese, where honorifics are observed.
If you think that spoken Thai is difficult, the written Thai is more difficult to learn, because it is more complicated as it does not follow a clear and definite pattern of letters. There are no spaces between words as well. In Bangkok, central Thai is spoken, but there are also several regional dialects that make it difficult to understand most people in the city, particularly the merchants.
But since Bangkok is a haven for foreign nationals, most of the signs are written in Thai and in English, and most people can speak and understand English as well.
Did you know?
- Bangkok is also known as Krung Thep. But it’s only a shortened version of the actual name. Bangkok’s full name is actually:’KrungthepmahanakhonAmonrattanakosinMahintharaYutthayaMahadilokPhopNoppharatRatchathaniBuriromUdomRatchaniwetMahasathanAmonphimanAwatansathitSakkathattiyaWitsanukamprasit’ that translates to:”City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.” Bangkok holds the Guinness World Record for the longest name for a place.
- The world’s largest Chinatown, Yaowarat, which is located in Bangkok, had been in existence for over 200 years.
- You can find a Buddhist Temple almost in every street corner of Bangkok.
- The World Meteorological Organization considers Bangkok as the World’s Hottest City. The average mean temperature ranges from 28°C to 34 °C (82.4 °F to 93.2 °F).
- Bangkok is the world’s most visited city, with annual international arrivals of close to 16 million.
- Buddhism is Bangkok’s main religion.
- In the past, Bangkok had dozens of canals (khlongs) and buildings once stood on stilts, thus it was once called the “Venice of the East.”
- The city of Bangkok is sinking at a rate of 2cm to 5cm annually. With rising sea levels, the city may become Venice-like in the future.
- Aside from being known as the “Venice of the East,” Bangkok is also known as the “City of Angels.”
- The Golden Buddha at WatTraimit, located at the end of Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, weighs 5.5 tons. It is the largest solid gold Buddha and also the most valuable religious object in the world.
Fun facts about Bangkok
- It is illegal for anyone to harm animals in Bangkok. The people revere them and even feed the strays on the streets. That’s why most of the stray dogs are fat and lazy. Along the road you can occasionally see monitor lizards, giant centipedes, monkeys, etc.
- You can get fined for feeding an elephant on the streets of Bangkok.
- You may find stalls in some alleyways in Bangkok selling Ya Dong. It’s a potent mix of herbs and Lao Khao (white spirit) and believed to have medicinal properties, among other things. Ya Dong is Bangkok’s answer to a tequila shooter, served with salt, chili, sugar dip and some unripe mangoes.
- Bangkok respects all types of gender. In some establishments, there’s a dedicated restroom for ladyboys.
- There’s a nightly liquor and cigarette ban in Bangkok. Convenience stores have lockable refrigerators and cigarette display cases.
- All the temples stamped on Thai Baht coins are located in Bangkok. Corollary to this, it is illegal to step on any monetary unit of Thailand because it has the image of the king.
- You can get jail time if you attack someone with a durian fruit in Bangkok.
- Bangkok holds the record for the world’s largest Christmas Log cake, created on December 25, 1997. It was 27 feet and 6 inches long and weighed 5,071 pounds.
Come and experience Bangkok and have a taste of its world-famous cuisine. The laid-back atmosphere allows you to discover the city at your own pace, in your own time. You might not be able to learn the Thai language, but you can still say, “sawasdee.”
Do you find our article on Bangkok attractive enough to lure you to come to Bangkok? If you have been to Bangkok, we invite you to share with us your experience.