Bangkok offers travellers the opportunity to experience fascinating glimpses of Thailand's gentle culture amidst the bustle of a great and dynamic metropolis, with a symphony of sights, smells and sounds. Street-side vendors compete with trendy boutiques, and sidewalk stalls dish out Thai fast food. Screaming Tuk-Tuks take you to peaceful temples or vibrant nightlife, while a pleasant river cruise delivers you to some of Central Thailand's most historic sites. For travellers, Bangkok has a feast of attractions to offer. The city is dotted with 400 glittering Buddhist temples of great beauty and fascination, magnificent palaces, classical dance extravaganzas, numerous shopping centres and traditional ways of life, especially along the "Venice of the East" timeless canals and the Chao Phraya River or the "River of Kings" winding through the city. It is worth taking a trip along its waters before exploring further into different canals to take a glimpse of old Bangkok.
Bangkok Metropolis lies on both banks of the Chao Phya, the main river of Thailand, 20 kms upstream from the Gulf of Thailand. King Rama 1, the founder of the present Chakri Dynasty built the present capital in Bangkok in 1782. The Royal Founder took great care to build palaces and temples of the new capital in the same style of Ayuthaya, the previous capital, which in turn had its origin from Sukhothai, the first Thai capital built in the 13th century. Both former capitals, now national historical parks, have been placed in the UN's list of world cultural heritages. The name Bangkok appeared on international navigation charts as far back as the 15th century as an outpost port of Ayuthaya, the former capital where western merchant ships made frequent calls. However, Bangkok has got an official name, so auspicious and long that it goes into the Guinness Book as the longest in the world for a city. In short, the official name is "Krung Thep" meaning "The City of Angels", the same name as Los Angeles, which incidentally has a sizable Thai community numbering over 300,000 ethnic Thais, the largest outside Thailand.
More than anywhere else in the country, Bangkok expresses Thailand's uncanny ability to blend the old with the new. This lends a thrilling sense of discovery to one's sightseeing and adds an element of surprise when exploring what is the Orient's most fabled city. Joyfully exuberant, Bangkok embraces modern development and presents an initial picture of thrusting office towers; of world-class hotels offering deluxe comforts; of glittering shopping plazas packed with treasures of the East such as silks and gemstones; of restaurants serving Thailand's acclaimed spicy specialities and virtually every other national cuisine worthy of the name; of neon-lit entertainment spots where the fare ranges from classical dance to laser disco.
Incredibly amidst this sybaritic world Bangkok manages to preserve its cultural heritage to an amazing degree. In the rich splendour of the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Temple of the Dawn and other historic shrines, you see images of medieval Oriental wonder, the very stuff of Eastern fairy tales.
The influence of the past is not limited to major monuments and it continues to colour daily life. Files of saffron-robed monks making their early morning alms round, for example, present a scene unaltered in essentials by the passing of time. Today's backdrop of highrise buildings only adds wonder to this and other enduring sights from which the city continues to draw definition.
Ultimately it is from the people that Bangkok derives its unique flavour. Fun-loving and easy going, they possess a rare tolerance which imbues the city with a real sense of freedom. It may appear at times hectic, yet what finally comes across is Bangkok's good natured acceptance of life with all its idiosyncrasies.
Thailand's "City of Angels" is, indeed, a magic place where possibilities are limited only by the imagination. You'll marvel at past glories, delight in present opportunities and love every minute of it.
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