The full Thai name of Bangkok is ‘Krungthep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit’ and will be recited with pride by any of the friendly residents you encounter on your visit there.
The longest place name in the world with 166 characters, it translates as: 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 Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.
But you’ll be pleased to know that Bangkok works just fine for this City of Angels and the 8 million people who live, work and worship in this vibrant metropolis they call home. A welcoming first point of call for most visitors to Thailand, it not only offers you a sense of the capital, but an introduction to the culture, tradition, way of life and diversity of the Thai people.
Here skyscrapers sit comfortably next to intricate Buddhist temples, food stalls invite delicious decadence, and the endless entertainment and shopping opportunities at the malls and markets are found to be irresistible. Yet among it all, there is peacefulness and contemplation to be found in the gardens of The Grand Palace and the surrounds of the Wat Arun Temple.
At the heart of the city, the Chao Phraya River that has been a lifeline to the Thai people as long as memory serves; used for transport, food, irrigation and more. Long tail boats weave between the offshoot canals to the quieter Klong Bangluang riverside communities, and to drop off visitors at markets, hotels and iconic sites.
Tradition and religion play a large part in Thai society as is demonstrated in Bangkok where small spirit houses are seen outside buildings and in the reception areas of top-end hotels, just as they might be in rustic village homes in rural Thailand. Tuk-Tuk veer between cars, hundreds of scooters carry local families to work and school, while bicycles rush past tourists stopped to capture the magnificence of it all.
Each of the 50 districts or khet in the city has its own unique attributes and offerings, be it rooftop bars to draw sunset appreciators at the end of fulfilled and happy days, or elegant shopping malls and buzzing markets for some power shopping.
Bangkok is not only the capital city, but an introduction to the culture of Thailand and it is important to allow enough time to be truly absorbed by it and its smiling people. These are a selection of recommended highlights:
1. The Grand Palace and Wat Prakeaw in Bangkok
An absolute must see and city landmark in Bangkok is the spectacular Grand Palace that was built in 1782 and for 150 years was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. Today the Grand Palace continues to amaze visitors with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail and is a proud symbol of Thai craftsmanship and remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. It is important that visitors dress modestly when visiting the Grand Palace or entry may be refused.
2. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
There are several floating markets in Thailand but this one is the biggest and most popular, providing a wonderful photo opportunity whilst giving insight in a bygone way of life. An early morning start is recommended to avoid the heat and catch the market at its liveliest. The floating boats are piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked onboard. It is recommended that you enjoy your visit on a guided boat and have cash for easy transactions.
3. China Town
No visit to Thailand’s capital should pass without time in the most lively and multicultural of the city’s districts, Chinatown or as it’s locally known, Yaowarat. Found in the Samphanthawong district, modern Chinatown covers a large area bordering the Chao Phraya River to the south and has been the main center for trading by the Chinese community for some 200 years. By day Yaowarat Road doesn’t look too different from other parts of Bangkok, except for the market feel and sense of being in one of the oldest parts of Bangkok. But by night when the neon lights break into action and the streets fill with food stalls and curious crowds, you will feel the transformation infectious and imagine for just a moment that you are in China.
4. The Klongs of Thonburi
Bangkok is referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ for the thousands of kilometers of tiny waterways that shoot off the main Chao Phraya River, inviting exploration by long tail boat and evoking romance of a bygone era. Pass the stilted homes and somewhat dilapidated lean-tos still occupied today, scoot under decorated bridges and catch a glimpse of communities going about their daily business. Having stayed an independent province until it was merged into Bangkok in 1972, Thonburi is home to Bangluang, one of the most popular canal ways. Here you’ll find the Artists’ House, established in 2010 by a Thai artist and conservationist, it includes a gallery, cafe and daily puppet show and invites creatives to use the space to develop their skills in a traditional setting. A visit to the nearby Wat Kamphaeng, an Ayutthaya-period temple, is also well worth the time.
5. Take a picnic in one of the green parks
Despite Thailand’s capital Bangkok being a huge heaving cosmopolitan city that never seems to rest, it is also home to as many as 32 public parks spread across the city, all well maintained, nurtured and many in the process of being extended. These charming green sanctuaries offer locals and visitors a place to exercise, relax and recreate. The biggest is King Rama IX Park that covers an area of almost 80 hectares that includes a large lake. Located about 400 metres from the famous night market district of Patpong, Lumpini Park is the oldest of Bangkok’s open spaces and was opened in the 1920s. It comprises of almost 60 hectares of parkland, inviting lakes and walkways and is noted for its wildlife and flowers.
6. Eat Street Food
Get used to Bangkok as a home and you will start to appreciate its hidden gems, whether they be your favourite food vendor, cycle route, market or that almost secret place under the bridge, with the Muay Thai boxing matches.
Words by Dawn Bradnick @DawnJorgensen