Bangkok

BANGKOK is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon, meaning "city of angels" for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom. It came to the forefront of Siam when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya. However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river by Rama I after the death of King Taksin. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called "Phra Nakhon", pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis' core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.

Since its inception as the capital of Siam, it was at the center of European Colonial plans, but due to its strategic location in Indochina, it acted as a buffer-zone and brokered power between the European forces. Through this, it gained notoriety in the world as an independent, dynamic and influential city. And in the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has grown to become the political, social and economic center of Thailand, Indochina and one of Southeast Asia.

As a direct result of the 1980s and 1990s Asian investment boom, numerous multinational corporations base their regional headquarters in Bangkok and the city has become a regional force in finance and business. Its increasing influence on global politics, culture, fashion and entertainment underlines its status as an Alpha global city. In 2009, it was the second most expensive city in South-East Asia behind Singapore.

The city's wealth of cultural landmarks and attractions in addition to its notorious entertainment venues has made it synonymous with exoticism. Its historic wealth coincides with its rapid modernization, reflected in the cityscape and the urban society. The Grand Palace, Vimanmek Palace Complex, its thousands of temples, and the city's notorious red-light districts combine draw in 11 million international visitors each year, trailing just Paris and London.

Bangkok has a population of approximately 6,355,144 residents while the greater Bangkok area has a population of 11,971,000 (January 2008). The capital is part of the heavily urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand which stretches from Nakhon Ratchasima along Bangkok to the heavily Industrialized Eastern Seaboard. Bangkok borders six other provinces: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom, and all five provinces are joined in the conurbation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. It is served by two international airports, Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport, four rapid transit lines operated by the BTS, MRT, and the SRT, with plans to add eight more by 2020.

Tourism

Bangkok, sometimes called "The Big Chilli", is considered to be one of the world's tourist hotspots. Bangkok is Thailand's major tourist gateway, which means that the majority of foreign tourists arrive in Bangkok. The city boasts some of the country's most visited historical venues such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are numerous projects to maintain Bangkok's historic sites in the Rattanakosin area and river districts.

Palaces and Wats

Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall is a 19th century styled building with a traditional Thai stucco roof, located within the Grand Palace compound.

Wat Arun is one of the most visited temples in Bangkok.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Area is home to two capitals of Thailand: the area historically known as Rattanakosin, and the modern Bangkok. There are a large number of palaces in Bangkok. Several are still in use by the Thai royal family, while others are now open to the public and some have become government buildings or universities.

The king's official residence is the Grand Palace, which dates to 1782 and has housed Thailand's monarchs for over 150 years. Up to the early 20th century and before the 1932 Revolution, the complex was key in Thai government: it included royal courts, administrative branches, and was similar in layout to that of previous Thai capitals. Within the complex is the Chakri Mahaprasat Hall and Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the Emerald Buddha and is considered the most important temple in Thailand. Chitralada Palace is the Bangkok residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit.

Of the hundreds of wats located in Bangkok, only a few are notable. When King Taksin led his troops out of Ayutthaya and into Thon Buri, they took refuge in Wat Arun. This pre-Thon Buri era structure rises to 85 metres (279 ft) and has held the status of tallest structure in Bangkok for longer than any other modern skyscraper.

Wat Pho, which houses the Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Phra Chetuphon, is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace. It is the largest temple in Bangkok and named for its huge reclining Buddha measuring 46 metres (151 ft) long and covered in gold leaf. The Buddha's feet alone are 3 metres (10 ft) long.

Wat Suthat is one of the oldest temples and the site of the original Giant Swing. A huge teak arch, all that remains of the original swing, stands on the grounds in front of the temple. The swing was used in a ceremony to give thanks for a good rice harvest.

Within Wat Saket is the Golden Mount, or Phu Khao Thong, an unusual temple that houses Buddha relics within its 58-metre-high chedi surmounted by a golden cupola. Built by King Rama I just outside the new city walls, the late-18th century temple served as the capital's crematorium. During the next hundred years, the temple became a dumping ground for some 60,000 plague victims.

Museums

National Gallery Museum is a former location of the Royal Thai Mint and now exhibits collections of both traditional Thai and contemporary arts by past as well as present famous artists of Thailand. Oil paintings by His Majesty the King are also exhibited here.

National Museum is a former palace of the Wang Na or second king – Kromphraratchawangbowon Mahasurasinghanat – built simultaneously with the Grand Palace, the complex comprises several major throne halls such as Phra Thinang Siwamok Phiman, Phra Thinang Phutthaisawan and Phra Thinang Itsara Winitchai.

Suan Pakkad Palace is a complex of five Thai-style houses was once the residence of one of Thailand’s leading art collectors, Prince Chumbhot of Nagara Svarga. It houses an extensive collection of Asian art and antiques, including items from the prehistoric Ban Chiang civilisation, and also an impressive collection of seashells. Khon (classical Thai masked dance) Museum and Traditional Thai Music Museum are also established here.

Vimanmek Mansion Museum is the world’s largest golden teak building located in the compound of the Dusit Palace on Ratchawithi Road. The three-story royal mansion has 81 rooms, halls and ante-chambers containing fin de siecle royal memorabilia. There is also a royally-sponsored Thai art masterpieces on display at the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall as part of the 'Arts of the Kingdom' exhibition, which is located nearby.

Jim Thompson Museum: This collection of traditional Thai-style houses, fashioned into one dwelling, belongs to the man who helped restore the Thai silk industry after World War II, and today, preserved as a museum, contains a priceless collection of Asian objects d’ art.

Public Parks

Queen Sirikit Park was built to commemorate the 60th birthday anniversary of HM Queen Sirikit. A big pool in the park contains three fountains and a fine collection of both Thai and foreign lotuses.

Lumphini Park is a huge open space once belonging to King Rama VI, who issued a royal command to turn the area into a public park as a gift to Bangkok residents.

Princess Mother Memorial Park was built near the Wat Anongkharam community where Somdej Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani, HRH the Princess Mother had resided during her childhood. The park comprises a full scale model of the Princess Mother’s house and the old buildings renovated as exhibition halls displaying the life story of Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother as well as the history of the Wat Anongkharam community.

Cruises

The Chao Phraya River & Bangkok’s Canals (Khlongs): Nineteenth-century Bangkok was laced with canals, giving the capital the designation ‘Venice of the East’. Surviving canals, and the Chao Phraya River provide memorable vignettes of traditional waterborne way-of-life that has remained essentially unchanged over the centuries. The river and canals may be conveniently explored by chartered boat or cruise.

Dinner Cruise: Riverine Bangkok offers some of the capital’s most arresting sights, particularly at night when the weather is cooler and light reflections bestow the Chao Phraya River with flickering lights.

Cultural Performances and Theatres

Chaloem Krung Royal Theatre is located on Charoen Krung Road (New Road) near the Old Siam Plaza. Thai dramas and plays are usually held while Khon or Thai musical dance drama is a special event that is staged occasionally.

Traditional Thai Puppet Theatre  presents the Hun Lakhon Lek puppet show. The establishment of this theatre was inspired by the intention of Master Sakhon Yangkhieosot or Joe Louis, a National Artist of 1996, who wishes to preserve the art of operating Hun Lakhon Lek puppets. Hun Lakhon Lek usually performs the story of Ramakian, the Thai version of the Ramayana epic. Sakhon Nattasin is currently the only performing troupe of Hun Lakhon Lek in Thailand. The troupe received the Thailand Tourism Award presented by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) in 2000 in the category of Recreational Attraction.

Patravadi Theatre is renowned for its lavish productions, this outdoor theatre has gained popularity through its modern adaptations of classical Asian literature, with each play demonstrating an ingenious blend of various theatrical techniques.

Siam Niramit has state-of-the-art cultural performances which have achieved international standards. It uses special techniques integrated with drama to depict the history of each region of Thailand including depictions about hells, the forest of Himmaphan, heavens and lands beyond imagination from Thai literature. There is also a spectacular performance of Thailand’s arts and cultural heritage. The show is staged by more than 150 performers in a luxurious theatre with a capacity of more than 2,000 seats.

Shopping

Thailand has a variety of shopping experiences from street markets to world class luxury malls. Tourists have historically always preferred markets and bazaars to the other forms of shopping. The Chatuchak weekend market is one of the largest shopping destinations in Bangkok. Water markets are gradually disappearing, but remain strong tourist attractions as many tours are offered through the canals on which the markets are located.

Bangkok includes over 15 world class malls situated around Bangkok, many centered around Sukhumvit Road and Ploenchit-Ratchaprasong. There are approximately 25 shopping malls, 35 lifestyle shopping centers, 40 department stores, 55 superstores, and 1,100 convenience stores around Bangkok.

Festivals and Events

Bangkok Songkran Festival (April)

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. In the Wisutkasat area, a Miss Songkran beauty contest is held and accompanied by merit-making and entertainment. Khao San Road, Bang Lamphu area is also one of the high-spots in the city where locals and tourists play water by the water-throwing activities.

Royal Ploughing Ceremony (May)

An ancient Brahman ritual, conducted at Sanam Luang, in which farmers believe, is able to forecast the abundance of the next rice crop. The event is a result of a series of ceremonies that are conducted by Phraya Raek Na, portrayed by a high-ranking official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives who wears colourful traditional costumes. This ceremony was re-introduced in 1960 by H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej and is considered the official commencement of the rice-growing season.

H.M. The Queen’s Birthday Celebration (12 August)

To display their loyalty and to honour Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on the occasion of her royal birthday, the Thai people decorate their houses and public buildings. Around Bangkok, Ratchadamnoen Avenue, the area around the Grand Palace and other well-known locations are bedecked with coloured lights and magnificent adornments.

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 Chulalongkorn. 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.

H.M. The King’s Birthday Celebrations (5 December)

H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest reigning monarch is well beloved and deeply respected by all Thais old and young. The occasion of his royal birthday provides his loyal subjects the opportunity to express their reverence for him. All over the country, buildings and homes are elaborated and the area around the Grand Palace is spectacularly illuminated.

Bangkok's Full Name

The full ceremonial name of the city given by King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, and later edited by King Mongkut, is:  Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

This ceremonial name is composed in combination of two ancient Indian languages, Pāli and Sanskrit. According to the romanisation of these languages, it can actually be written as Krung-dēvamahānagara amararatanakosindra mahindrayudhyā mahātilakabhava navaratanarājadhānī purīramya uttamarājanivēsana mahāsthāna amaravimāna avatārasthitya shakrasdattiya vishnukarmaprasiddhi.  It translates to "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarma".

Local school children are taught the full name, although few can explain its meaning because many of the words are archaic, and unknown to all but a few. Most Thais who do recall the full name do so as a result of its use in a popular song, Krung Thep Mahanakhon (1989) by Asanee-Wasan Chotikul and will often recount it by recalling the song at the same time, much in the same way that English speakers might sing the alphabet song while reciting the English alphabet.

The full name of the city is listed by Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest place name.

Information based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangkok