Bangkok (Thai: Krung Thep, means: The city of Angels) is the capital of Thailand and, with a population of over eleven million inhabitants, by far its largest city. Its high-rise buildings, heavy traffic and intense heat may not immediately give you the best impression — but don't let that mislead you. It is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities with magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, busy markets and a vibrant nightlife that has something for everyone. Bangkok is also the spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic centre.
Bangkok is served by two airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Muang Airport. Suvarnabhumi Airport is used by all airlines in Thailand except for Nok Air, Orient Thai and Air Asia, which use the old Don Muang Airport. Both these airports are about 30 km from the city centre, so be prepared for a long ride to get into the city. Also allow at least three hours to connect between the airports, as they are far away from each other and there is heavy traffic on the roads.
Located 30 km the east of Bangkok, (pronounced "soo-wanna-poom") is now Bangkok's main airport and the busiest airport in Southeast Asia. It is used for almost all international and domestic flights to Bangkok. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it is huge, so allow time for getting around. There are two immigration sections, but processing time can be lengthy - 30 minutes and more.
Most people opt for the Airport Rail Link, by far the fastest way to get into downtown, although taxis are also reasonably priced by world standards.
Located on the basement level of the passenger terminal, the Airport Rail Link offers a high-speed train service to downtown Bangkok. Trains run 06:00-23:59 every day and travel at an amazing 160 km/h (100 mi/h).
Ordinary metered taxis are available on the first floor (one floor below arrivals). Follow the "public taxi" signs that lead to the outside of the airport premises, queue up and state your destination at the desk (English is understood). Transfer to the city will cost about 600 THB depending on time. The ride takes about 45-60 minutes depending on traffic and location.
There are many buses coming to and leaving from Suvarnabhumi Airport to all parts of Thailand and neighbouring countries. For instance, a bus ticket to Siem Reap in Cambodia costs about USD 25 and it takes around 9 hours.
The BTS Skytrain (pronounced bee-tee-et) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok's insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit Line travels along Sukhumvit Road, Siam Square and then follows Phahonyothin Road up north and the dark green Silom Line starts in Thonburi, passes the Express Boat pier at Saphan Taksin, goes through the Silom area and ends at National Stadium. Both lines come together at Siam, where you can interchange between them.
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from vending machines, so hold on to them.
The MRT (pronounced em-ar-tee) finally opened in July 2004. For now there is only one line, the Blue Line that connects the central Hualamphong Train Station to the northern Bang Sue Train Station.
Rides start from 16 baht and are based on distance.
Airport Rail Link
Finally opened in August 2010, Bangkok's newest public transportation system is the Airport Rail Link. The Express Line is only useful for getting into the city, as it starts at the airport, skips all stations and brings you directly to either Makkasan or Phaya Thai. This ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 250 baht.
A ride on the Chao Phraya River should be high on any tourist's agenda. The cheapest and most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat, basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. The closest pier to Khao San Road is Phra Arthit.
Metered taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way, but be warned that Bangkok taxi drivers are notorious for finding ways to run up the fare for foreigners; insist that the meter is used. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within downtown cost less than 200 baht.
Bangkok without tuk-tuks? Always agree on a price before entering the tuk-tuk. Also be crystal clear about your intended destination. Negotiate before you get in.
Drivers typically wear colourful fluorescent yellow-orange or red vests and wait for passengers at busy places. Prices are negotiable before you ride.
Most of Bangkok's sights are concentrated on the island of Rattanakosin, often referred to as the "Old City". Out of Bangkok's hundreds of temples, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun usually make up the top 3. The Grand Palace has an immense size, so expect to spend at least a full morning or afternoon there. Within the palace grounds is Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple of Thailand. Unlike other temples, it is not one building, nor are there living spaces for monks. Instead, it is a collection of highly decorated holy buildings and monuments. One of its buildings houses the Emerald Buddha, and while you might not expect it from its size, it is the most sacred Buddha image of Thailand.
Nearby is Wat Pho, home to the world's largest reclining Buddha image and a famed massage school. Take the ferry across the Chao Phraya River to Thonburi for the outstanding Wat Arun. The main structure is about 60 to 88 m high and it is surrounded by four smaller prangs. It is one of Thailand's most picturesque temples, and is engraved on the inner part of all ten baht coins. There are many other major temples you could visit, including the Golden Mount, Wat Suthat and Wat Ratchanaddaram.
Don't throw away the entry ticket of the Grand Palace, as it gives free entry to the Dusit Palace in Dusit. It was built by King Rama V to escape the heat of the Grand Palace.
Lumphini Park in Silom is the largest park in central Bangkok, and a good way to escape the fumes. Backpackers around Khao San Road can head for Santichaiprakarn Park, a small but fun park along the Chao Phraya River with a breezy atmosphere, usually with locals juggling or practicing tricks.
OTHER PLACES OF INTEREST
Bangkok's backpacker mecca with its atmospheric personality and night life, Khao San Road and the surrounding district of Banglamphu have everything a budget traveller could possibly be looking for.
Another great way to see the Chao Phraya River and the original canals of the city is by canal tour. Most of these special boat trips start at the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and head through the backwaters of Thonburi, taking in Wat Arun, the Royal Barges National Museum and a floating market.
There are many cultural performances in Bangkok that shows traditional Thai culture and dance. Siam Niramit in Ratchadaphisek is a truly spectacular performance where more than 150 performers depict the history of each region of Thailand.
All of Thailand's major festivals are celebrated in Bangkok.
- Chinese New Year Festival. January or February. The obvious place to visit is Yaowarat, the Chinese district of Bangkok. Yaowarat Road is closed to cars and many stores and food stands crowd the road, with grandiose and colourful Chinese lion and dragon processions.
- Songkran Festival. April 14-16. The traditional Thai New Year is an occasion for merriment all over the city, but most notably at Sanam Luang, near the Grand Palace, where the revered Phra Phuttha Sihing image is displayed and bathed by devotees. Don't think it is particularly peaceful festival though; Khao San Road degenerates into a war zone as farangs and locals duke it out with super soakers.
- Royal Ploughing Ceremony. May. Farmers believe that an ancient Brahman ritual, conducted at Sanam Luang, is able to forecast whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The event dates back to the Sukhothai Kingdom. This ceremony was re-introduced in 1960 by H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej and is considered the official commencement of the rice-growing season (and the rainy season). Nowadays, the ceremony is conducted by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
- Loi Krathong. November. Loi Krathong is the Festival of Lights, and takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar
- Trooping of the Colours. December. Their majesties the King and Queen preside over this impressive annual event, held in the Royal Plaza near the equestrian statue of King Rama V in Dusit. Dressed in colourful uniforms, amid much pomp and ceremony, members of the elite Royal Guards swear allegiance to the King and march past members of the Royal Family.
- HM The King's Birthday Celebrations. December 5. At this day, Ratchadamri Road and the Grand Palace are elaborately decorated and illuminated. In the evening, hundred thousands of locals line the route from Sanam Luang to the Chitralada Palace to get a glimpse of the King when he is slowly chauffeur-driven past.
Bangkok boasts a stunning 50,000 places to eat; not only thousands of Thai restaurants, but a wide selection of world-class international cuisine too. Prices are generally high by Thai standards, but cheap by international standards; a good meal is unlikely to cost more than 400 baht.
Sukhumvit has the best restaurants of Bangkok, though prices tend to be high. Practically every cuisine in the world is represented here, be it French, Lebanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, or fusion combining many of these together. Of course, for those on a budget, street stalls offer simple Thai dishes at around 60 baht. There are especially plenty of budget restaurants in Khao San Road.
There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in the more tourist-friendly parts of town (especially in district Khao San Road). Ask for "jay" food to leave the meat out of the dish. For example, "khao pad" is fried rice and "khao pad jay" is vegetarian fried rice.
Street food is among the most delicious food and can be found all over Bangkok.
One of Thailand's national dishes you can try is pad thai, stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice and red chilli pepper. You can order it with chicken or shrimps. Another one of Thailand's national dishes you should try is tom yam, a sour soup with chicken or prawns, lemongrass and galangal — beware, as it is very spicy!
Khao San Road is known for its carts selling bugs — yes, insects. They are deep fried, nutritious and quite tasty with the soy sauce that is sprayed on them. Break off the legs from grasshoppers and crickets or they will get stuck in your throat.
The place to go to for Chinese food is Yaowarat. It has a range of cheap restaurants selling expensive delicacies at affordable prices. Soi Phadung Dao is the best street for huge seafood restaurants. Try 1 kg of huge barbecued prawns for about 500 baht!
Dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya River are a touristy (but fun) way of spotting floodlit temples while chowing down on seafood and watching Thai cultural performances. Most operate buffet-style and the quality of the food is so-so, but there's lots of it and it's not too spicy.
Always make a reservation before heading out to the pier. There are many competing operators, most of them depart from the River City pier next to the Si Phraya Express Boat pier.
Bangkok has a vast range of accommodation, including some of the best hotels in the world — and some of the cheapest, too. Broadly speaking, Khao San Road is backpacker city; the riverside of Silom and Thonburi is home to the most luxury hotels, often ranked among the best in the world (and priced to match). Most of the city's moderate hotels can be found in Siam Square, Sukhumvit and Silom.
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