Bangkok has been the capital of Thailand since the late 18th century. The city has many surprises for new residents and is a cosmopolitan hub for commerce, politics, religion, and culture. There are many things you can learn from this comprehensive Bangkok guide. It’s also a center for ex-pat life. With a wide choice of accommodation from condos through to villas, every style of restaurant and astounding, often naughty, nightlife. Bangkok pretty much has it all, and here is our guide to this world-famous metropolis.
Central Bangkok is split into 50 districts. Siam Square and Sukhumvit Road are at its sophisticated heart and holding quality restaurants, glitzy malls, and the infamous Soi Cowboy red-light area. Silom boasts the city’s financial centre and morphs into party central every night, especially in its Patpong sub-district. Historic Rattanakosin is Old Bangkok, with its sumptuous Royal palace, magnificent Wat Pho and other remnants of the city’s past.
For a glimpse of backpacker life, Khao San Road is worth a wander for its laid-back vibes. Bangkok’s famous canals and floating markets lie in Thonburi district on the Chao Phraya river’s west bank. The city is a tropical assault on all five senses, crammed with hidden gems and unique experiences.
Bangkok’s humble 15th-century beginnings as a small village strategically set close to the estuary of the Chao Phraya River. They are closely connected with the rise of Siam to its present-day world position. Initially, a customs outpost for its ruler Ayutthaya, its first entry into the history books came with a battle in 1688. This resulted in the expulsion of French would-be colonizers from the region. After Ayutthaya’s invasion by the Burmese kingdom in 1767, Siam’s newly-appointed King Taksin made the town his first capital. And the base for the Thonburi kingdom.
Some 20-years after Taksin’s death, the first Rattanakosin monarch, Rama-I, expanded the town and established the City Pillar in 1782. This is a date that is now regarded as Bangkok’s foundation as Thailand’s major city. By the mid-19th century, trade with China was well-established and, as the country’s center of modernization. Bangkok came under increasing pressure from Western trading interests. Two innovative kings, Rama IV (King Mongkut, 1851-68) and Rama V (King Chulalongkorn, 1868-1901) recognized the value of Western input. They introduced the steam engine, rail transportation, the printing press, formal education, healthcare, and utilities.
However, foreign innovations and Western influences sparked power struggles between the powerful, traditionally-minded elite and the modernist military leaders. This created a pattern of conflict that continues to this day and has resulted in numerous military coups over the years. In 1932, the northern Lanna Kingdom was finally incorporated into Siam. Absolute monarchy was ended. The country’s name was changed to Thailand, with Bangkok its flourishing capital. During WWII, Japanese occupation and subsequent Allied bombings halted the city’s progress. This resulted in developmental aid from the USA after the war.
Bangkok Food Guide
No Bangkok guide would be complete without talking about food and drink. Bangkok is a gourmet’s paradise. With over 50,000 eateries offering everything from traditional Thai and Asian dishes to world-class Michelin-starred international gastronomy. Sukhumvit Road is foodie heaven. Almost every world cuisine is represented in an endless selection of street stalls, local eateries, upscale dining haunts, food courts and restaurants specializing in regional cuisine. Near Siam Square is Soi Ton Son with its choice of Italian restaurants, and Chinatown is the place for a huge selection of regional Chinese food.
For lovers of spicy dishes, Tom-Yam-Kung, a delicious but very hot soup of prawns, lemongrass and galangal is a must. Pad Thai is the national dish. It’s a favorite for those who can’t take fiery flavors. If you’re an adventurous eater, Khao San Road is famed for its street stalls selling fried insects. Ethnic Thai cuisine from all four regions is easily found in Bangkok. Such as the Isaan-inspired Som Tam salad. The salad is made of grated green papayas, bean sprouts, chilies, and other available vegetables and is unique but extremely spicy. Seafood lovers should head for Soi Phadung Dao, and Little India along Phahurat is known for its curries.
Bangkok Transport (airport, trains etc)
Bangkok’s two international airports, Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang, are located at opposite ends of the city. Each some 30km from the central district. Suvarnabhumi is the newest and busiest. The Airport Rail Link runs directly to downtown, avoiding Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams. The slower City Rail line links with Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain. Taxi travel, although slow, is well-priced by international standards. From Don Muang, licensed taxi is the best way to the center, as the train service is somewhat third-world.
Getting around the city’s downtown districts is best by Skytrain, again avoiding the horrendous traffic. There are three lines, with fares charges by the number of zones traveled. The Bangkok Metro, although less comprehensive than the Skytrain, can be useful and is equally inexpensive. The Chao Phraya Express Boat service serves mostly the Rattanakosin district.
Metered taxis are easily found, but drivers may well refuse a ride if traffic is heavy along the route. The much-loved (or loathed) tuk-tuks are good for short journeys and poor for the city’s pollution levels. They are fun if you’re not overcharged. Local buses are slow and challenging for foreigners. When the roads are gridlocked, motosias (motorcycle taxis) are an adrenaline-rich way to get around.
Weather and climate
Bangkok’s climate is classified as tropical wet and dry, but, for residents, ‘hot, hotter and hottest’ might be considered a more apt description.
The dry season runs from November through the end of January. Daytime highs are around 32°C with very little rain. The wet season highs peak around April and May at 40°C and more. From June through September, the monsoon rains do their worst. The averages in the wettest month of September at around 350mm. Storms are most frequent during the monsoon rains. Bangkok’s urban heat island effect combined with humidity and pollution can make trips away from aircon very uncomfortable.
Bangkok Family Attractions
There’s much to see and do in Bangkok for families with children. There are many traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year, the Thai New Year Songkran water festival and the Loi Krathong festival. Children will love long-tailed boat trips along the Chao Phraya and the city’s canals and water markets. The Dream World theme park has great rides and the Siam Ocean World aquarium is an all-time favorite. Dusit Zoo is a must-see for its long list of species including Bengal tigers, and Safari World with its marine park is home to elephants, polar bears, a jungle cruise and much more, is lots of fun.
Bangkok Sports and Leisure Facilities
When it comes to sporting activities, this Bangkok guide will point you towards the best options. Bangkok is packed with leisure facilities including no less than 40 golf courses set around the city. For a roof-top swim, the Fantasia Lagoon is found close by Siam Park on the roof of the Bangkae Mall. This is also perfect for a romantic evening, or a dinner cruise along the river.
The city has many sports clubs and fitness centers popular with ex-pats as a way of meeting new friends as well as getting or staying fit. For the truly energetic, classes in Muay Thai boxing are just the thing, and watching an evening tournament is almost as much fun. The Bangkok Saddle Club gives rides and riding lessons, and freshwater or sea fishing can be organized.
As you can see from this Bangkok guide, there is so much to see and do in the city. It doesn’t matter if you are here on holiday or live and work in this awesome metropolis.