by Bob Brooke
It's exotic. It's chaotic. It's Bangkok, one of the world's most exciting cities. Known to the Thais as the "City of Angels," Bangkok seethes with life. It's summer daytime temperatures can only be described as Bangkok hot, with humidity so high you're clothes will become soaking wet almost without trying.
Bangkok lies on a dogleg in the Chao Phya River just 22 miles from the Gulf of Siam and has been the capital of Thailand since 1872. The city is big, unbelievably big. It sprawls for mile after mile, a brash, congested, and prosperous metropolis which sits astride the doorway to upcountry Thailand.
Historians don't know exactly who settled in the area which is now Bangkok and when. Most likely the city originated as a small farming and trading community. The recorded history of Bangkok dates from at least the early 15th century, when it was under the rule of Ayutthaya. Due to its strategic location near the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, the town gradually increased in importance, and after the fall of Ayutthaya, King Taksin established his new capital of Thonburi there on the river's western bank. In 1782, King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, who succeeded Taksin, moved the capital to the eastern bank.
Bangkok has since undergone tremendous change, growing rapidly, especially in the second half of the 20th century, to become the main city of Thailand. It was the center of Siam's modernization in the late 19th century, subjected to Allied bombing during World War II, and its streets have long been the scene of numerous uprisings and coups d'état throughout the years.
Because the city is so spread out, you may have trouble getting around. To hit all the primary attractions, it's a good idea to take an organized tour. While you may want to try negotiating a ride on a samlors, you may find that by the time you get to your destination, you'll be too hot and tired to continue. The city also has air-conditioned taxis, but they are expensive due to the long distances. Plan your sightseeing trips so that you don't have to make more than one trip to any of the more distant attractions.
While the city has many attractions, there are several must-sees. The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha should be at the top of your list. The Palace is an ornate and eye-popping building which skillfully blends the fairytale Oriental extravagance of Thai temple art with the grandiose excesses of the Italian Renaissance. You'll find the Chapel of the Emerald Buddha inside the palace grounds. You should combine your visit to the palace with one to the Monastery of the Reclining Buddha. This enormous 160-foot-long statue commemorates the death of the Buddha and his attainment of Nirvana. The main shrine hall lies in a courtyard surrounded by double rows of galleries sheltering 394 sitting Buddhas. It's a sight you won't soon forget.
Another must-see place is the National Museum, the largest in Southeast Asia, which houses a collection of early Thai art and cultural treasures. You may want to combine a weekend visit here with a stroll through the giant Weekend Market in the adjoining park. Every Friday night, vendors, selling everything from pet squirrels to exotic spices to thongs, erect hundreds of canvas-covered stalls around its perimeter. And no one visits Bangkok without stopping by Jim Thompson's Thai House where you'll find the best in Thai silk.
Another unforgettable Bangkok sight is its famous klongs, or canals. Take a two-hour tour of the Floating Market to see vendors selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables and even prepared food from their boats.
If you plan it right, your trip to Bangkok will be exhilarating. If not, it will downright frustrating.
Time Lapse BangkokExtraordinary time-lapse offering of Bangkok from the lens of Jeff Peron.
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*rates above are daily double room rates based on dates: 03-07-2013 to 06-07-2013.
Lonely Planet Bangkok iPhone App
Lonely Planet's Bangkok city guide app is the perfect on-the-go guide to get you to the heart of Bangkok. Featuring all the top sights plus where to eat, sleep, shop and go out, researched and road-tested by their team of expert authors. And with their location-aware maps, you'll know exactly where you are, what's nearby, and how to get there - all without requiring an internet connection or incurring any data fees.
Download the Bangkok Lonely Planet iPhone App from iTunes.
Bangkok ResourcesBangkok Festivals - from Songkran to the Bangkok Jazz Festival, 2camels has Bangkok festivals covered
Bangkok's Best Bars - as adjudicated by the team at WorldsBestBars.com
Lonely Planet Bangkok - the guidebook leader's take on the Thai capital
Restaurants of Bangkok - is Bangkok's first restaurant directory where diners can find information on their favorite eateries, read articles and restaurant reviews
Time Out Bangkok - your critical guide to hotels, restaurants and going out in Bangkok