In the midst of dynamic growth as a fast paced modern commercial center, Bangkok manages to preserve its cultural heritage to a marked degree. The soaring roofs and gleaming spires of the Grand Palace and the city's many historic temples: Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Temple of Dawn and other shrines present the visitor with a picture of medieval Oriental wonder; as in an Eastern fairytale.
Metropolitan Bangkok covers 612 sq mi of southern Thailand, and is located in the center of the most fertile rice producing delta in the world. A network of natural and artificial canals crisscross the city. They feed to and from Thailand's hydrological lifeline, the broad Chao Phraya River, which winds through the city providing transport for passengers and cargo.
With an easy access to the river provided by the new skytrain, travelers who stay in the city now have easy access to the highlight of any visit to Bangkok, a boat cruise along the Chao Praya River.
Bangkok is divided in two by the main north-south train line. Old Bangkok, where a large number of the city's temples and palaces and its Chinese and Indian districts are found, lies between the river and the railway. East of the railway, comprising the main business, tourist and sprawling residential districts, is 'new' Bangkok. Outside of these general classifications, Bangkok sprawls in all directions with a mixture of commercial, industrial and residential areas.
Outside the city center are new high-rise neighborhoods where most of the city's approximately ten million inhabitants reside. Bangkok is the region's most exotic and, at the same time, most noisy and most chaotic capital city.
Bangkok is both an ancient and a modern city, where the network of klongs (canals) offset a steady stream of automobile traffic, where giant outdoor markets compete with glittering shopping malls, and where modern buildings rise in the city that grew around the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is the financial capital of one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Bangkok continues to prosper in spite of a major economic setback in 1997, and the ongoing problem of some of the worst air and water pollution in the world.
Boats of all sizes and shapes cruise the Chao Phraya River day and night. Ferries run up, down, and across the river, carrying commuters to work, children to school, and saffron-robed monks to temple. Rice barges pull mountains of rice, gravel, sand, lumber, vegetables, and the countless families who make them their homes. The Royal Barges, long, graceful, gilded crafts, usually seen on display only in museums, make appearances on parade once or twice each month to celebrate the arrival of visiting dignitaries or to herald other special events.
The strangest, most frequently seen boat on the river is the hang yao, or long-tailed water taxi, a long, thin, graceful vessel, powered by an automobile engine connected by a long, exposed shaft (tail) to the propeller.. These water taxis carry passengers throughout the maze of klongs and are vital in transporting fresh food from upriver farms and fresh fish from coastal villages to Bangkok.
Shopping is a popular activity in Bangkok. The best known market is the one held on Saturdays and Sundays at Chatuchak from 7 in the morning to 5 or 6 in the afternoon. Even if you have nothing on your shopping list, it is still worth the trip to see what is offered. An amazing array of items can be found, such as: military surplus, clothing, crafts, jewelry, art work, live animals, antiques, old books, the list is endless! And it is only a short trip by Sky Train from the city. If you have time, take a day to visit the authentic floating market at Damnoen Saduak, about 48 miles southwest of Bangkok in Ratchaburi Province.
Bangkok offers unrivaled shopping for Southeast Asian handicrafts, antiques, silk, and jewels. It also provides a vibrant, exciting nightlife with Thai classical dance, jazz, discos, caberets, pubs, and dinner cruises.
Bangkok has one of the greatest concentration of luxury hotels of any city in the world, and, as the capital of Thai cuisine, offers some of the best dining options. Visitors find that in the midst of the masses of people, cars, and constant activity, there is a tradition of a gracious welcoming of them; of special kindness and friendliness to children; of caring and taking time to help them feel at home.
The intertwining of Thailand's many cultural influences manifests itself in everything from the architectural splendor of the ornate palaces and temples to the delicate lines of the ancient arts. Indian, Khmer, Chinese, European, and Thai histories collide in the design of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaeo, and Wat Po, as well as in the superb collection of priceless items on display at the National Museum. There are gardens and other outdoor attractions to explore that will delight even the youngest members of the family. The zoo, Marine Park and Safari World are just a few examples.
Everywhere one travels in this city of contrasts, the senses and the imagination are heightened by the great beauty and vivid color of the landscape, by the grace and gentle spirit of the culture, by the strength and resilience of the silken threads that run through the fabric of the masterpiece that is Bangkok.