Most tourists visiting Thailand land in Bangkok. Bangkok is by far the most prosperous city, has the largest airport and is the transportation hub for the whole country(SeeThailand transportation). There are plenty of regional flights, and planes arrive directly from Europe, the US, and Australia. Bangkok has been the capital of Thailand for about 250 years. There is a population of about 12 million people in the urban area, and though the streets are congested, transportation is inexpensive and there is a subway and Skytrain metro system that tourists can use to get around. It is a wealthy world-class city that has a lot of foreigners living and working there and a long history of Western contact, so tourists can find everything they need to enjoy their trip such as English language media, many luxury hotels and budget tourist hotels, and restaurants offering cuisine from around the world. Bangkok's long history as the capital of the Kingdom of Siam has left it with the Royal Palace and nearby temples that are major highlights.
The area of Bangkok was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam since 1768. The capital was at first on the other side of the river from where it is now. A general named Taksin fled south from his Kingdom of Ayutthaya in Northern Thailand in 1768 when the Burmese attacked them, and he established a new capital on the other side of the river. This started the Kingdom of Siam. King Taksin succeeded in driving off the Burmese, and there was peace for 15 years. He may have gotten corrupted by power because he proclaimed himself to be the Buddha, and his supporters killed him in 1782. In that year, a general named Chakri became the new king. In that year, the court moved to the other side of the river.
The Siamese rulers probably moved the capital to take advantage of the Chao Phraya River as a natural defense against attacks from the north and west. The river gave the new capital access to the sea and easy inland transportation and communication. During the 1800s and early 1900s, Siamese kings had to engage in trade and diplomatic relations with powerful countries around the world. The position on the river was strategic to control inland access and the regional trade. Unlike the rulers in other Asian countries, the royal court saw the importance of learning about the powerful European countries and gaining Western education. The Siamese traded with the Europeans. The Qing Empire, France, Great Britain and Holland vied for control in the area, but no country was able to conquer the Kingdom of Siam.
During the 1800s, Siamese royal family members traveled the world and were educated in Western schools and universities. They started to modernize the country, and they established modern educational facilities in Bangkok and built modern transportation systems such as railroads. During the early 1900s, a Siamese king who was educated in Oxford University continued to modernize Bangkok. In 1914, an airport was built about 30 kilometers or about 19 miles away from the center of Bangkok. It is now called the Don Mueang International Airport, and it is one of the world's oldest international airports.
During WWII, the Japanese tried to colonize Asia, but the Thai government made an alliance with the Japanese and agreed to assist them. In this way, they kept themselves from being invaded by the Japanese, but the Japanese did set up a base in the big park area in central Bangkok called the Lumphini Park. When Japan was defeated, the Thais became allies of the US. During the Cold War struggle following this, there were military coups and the Vietnam War. Hosting US bases and troops and supplying the US military in the region helped Bangkok and the rest of Thailand to develop.
During the last thirty or so years, there has been an economic boom in Bangkok. Multinational corporations set up offices in the city, and millions of country people moved in to find jobs. Hundreds of thousands of foreigners moved in. The population of the urban area more than doubled since 1980. Since 2006 when there was a coup, Bangkok's economic growth has stalled. The world economic crisis of 2008 and 2009 damaged Thailand's economy that is heavily export dependent. There were large and violent demonstrations in Bangkok in 2010.
The Royal Palace and Temples
In the center of Bangkok is the location of the Royal Grand Palace and its major temples called Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Po. Seen from the Chao Phraya River, the whole complex is quite beautiful with beautifully tiled layers of roofs in orange and green colors and golden spires. The whole complex is surrounded by a wall, and there is an entrance in the north for tourists to enter. The current Thai king does not live there however. He lives in another palace in the city. The Grand Palace itself is kind of amazing because it survived as the residence of the royal clan until modern times without the destruction and lootings that other such ancient palaces in other countries have gone through. So you can see lots of precious and very old artwork and lots of gold. The Grand Place area covers about 218,400 square meters or about 54 acres and is surrounded by walls built in 1782.
Wat Phra Kaew is considered the most holy temple in the country, and it is in the precinct of the Thai Royal Grand Palace. This is such a holy temple that visitors have to dress specially to enter. It isn't really meant to be a tourist site. It is the Royal Chapel of the Emerald Buddha. The glittering and golden insides are quite impressive. It was built to be the personal temple of the king.
Adjacent to the Grand Palace in Bangkok is Wat Po, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. It has thousands of Buddhas along with one of the biggest that is covered with gold leaf and is reclining. It is known for its Thai message school. It also has an active school for monks. The structures are lavish, and the complex is large. Busloads of tourists come through. It is more of a tourist site than the other temple. It is the oldest temple in the city.
Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport is a hub airport for Southeast Asia. The call letters are BKK. It is a huge airport that was opened in 2006 and replaced the older airport for Bangkok. There are budget carriers operating between surrounding countries and Bangkok and between Chinese tourist cities and Bangkok. Every week, there are flights to Bangkok from Hong Kong,Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, and Chengdu and other cities in China that tourists usually go to. There are direct flights to cities in the US, Europe, and Australia. The airport is about 25 kilometers (16 miles) east of Bangkok, and transportation between the airport and the city is easy. The airport is close to the Pattaya beach and resort area. See Thailand transportation
A secondary airport for Bangkok is called the Don Mueang International Airport. Its call letters are DMK. It is mainly a domestic and military airport. It was the main airport until it was replaced by the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in 2006. At present, two domestic airlines use the airport.
Transportation from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport to the central city area is easy because an Express Line was completed in 2010. The ride only takes about 15 minutes, and it costs about 150 Baht or about 3 USD. It drops people off at the Makkasan station where they can change to the MRT Metro Blue Line.
Along with the MRT Metro Blue Line, travel around the city is made easier by the Skytrain lines. These Skytrains travel above ground, and they are a good way for tourists to see the city and go to tourist destinations.
Metered taxis are common in Bangkok. When you choose a taxi, make sure to pick one with a meter and make sure that the driver turns the meter on. A common scam is overcharging passengers.
A third method for tourists to travel in the city is by boat. The Chao Phraya River has a lot of ferries and boats plying up and down it. It is also a good way to see the city. The view of the Royal Grand Palace from the river is quite beautiful.
I updated this article on July 18, 2012
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