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Thailand's capital is a tropical metropolis with over 10 million inhabitants (at least officially, as the actual population is probably larger). It is a sweltering, noisy and busy city and yet Bangkok still acts as a magnet to many people. This is due to the combination of a tropical climate, soothing Buddhist temples, an incredible amount of shopping and good eating possibilities, and a nightlife that is unprecedented in Southeast Asia.
Shopping is one of the main pastimes of Bangkok's visitors (and inhabitants). There are gigantic shopping malls, especially around Siam Square. Clothing, shoes, jewelry, design items and electronic equipment make up the bulk, but there are also large souvenir shops and bookstores. The Chatuchak weekend market in the north of the city is also well attended. At over 8000 stands, you can buy just anything: From musical instruments, pots, pens and opium pipes to traditional medicines, amulets, antique jewelry, flowers and woodcarvings.
The National Museum is one of the best in Southeast Asia. It addresses the entire 'Thai' history. Thai is placed between quotation marks, because the Thai only arrived around the year 900 in what is called Thailand these days. Before their arrival, the Khmer and before them a civilization that is known as Ban Chiang held absolute sway.
The Phra Kaeo temple's largest attraction is an emerald Buddha statue of only sixty centimeters high. The king himself dresses this statue at the beginning of the dry and the rainy seasons. This is quite easy for the king to do, as his Royal Palace lies next to the temple.
On the other side of the Chao Phraya River lies the Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn. You cannot miss the 82-meter-high construction in Khmer style. You can climb the tower and this will obviously give you a magnificent view of Bangkok, but the stairs are extremely steep!
Bangkok used to have many canals, called khlongs. Only a few of them are left in the eastern part of the city, but in Thonburi – on the other side of the Chao Phraya River – there are still many of them that are also still actively used. It is good fun to visit this 'city on the water' by boat.
For a completely different shopping experience you should visit a floating market outside Bangkok. About eighty kilometers south of the city you can visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market. In all honesty, we have to say that it does appear somewhat touristy. Oddly enough, a market that is closer to the city – Taling Chan – attracts far less tourists.
After walking around in a hot Bangkok for a few days, you will also want to take a refreshing dive into the sea. When driving east from the capital, you reach the road to Pattaya. This seaside resort has en illustrious reputation; it is full of sex clubs. In addition, the beach is really narrow. Much better and really popular among Bangkok's population, is Hua Hin. To get there, you need to leave Bangkok in southwestern direction.
West of Bangkok lies Kanchanaburi. The town is situated in beautiful surroundings, but is mainly known because of the Bridge over the River Kwai that is located here. The bridge that the Japanese had constructed by forced laborers was destroyed in 1945, but rebuilt afterwards. There is an impressive museum about the bridge's history and the deprivations of the forced laborers. Make sure to also see the rest of Kanchanaburi, by many Thais considered the country's most beautiful province. Visit for example the waterfalls in the Erewan National Park.
North of the current capital lies Thailand's former capital Ayutthaya. After expelling the Khmer, King Ramathibodi founded his capital on an island in the Chao Phraya River. Its ruins still clearly show Ayutthaya's former splendor. As this ruined city is located in the Chao Phraya River, you can also get there by boat from Bangkok.
Bangkok has an enormous amount of tourist accommodations. Backpackers opt for cheap rooms around Khao San Road and in Chinatown; mid-range hotels (but also more expensive ones) can be found around Sukhumvit and Siam Square, while the most expensive rooms have a view of the Chao Phraya River.
Everyone who has ever watched the traffic flows from the footbridges above knows: No, driving around Bangkok is not for someone who is in a hurry. On the major arteries, traffic is almost always stuck or moving very slowly. You can park your rental car in one of the parking garages of the many malls, but do not count on getting quickly from A to B. In addition, the signage and the road network through and around Bangkok are difficult to understand for someone who is not familiar with the city.
Bangkok has two airports: The large, international Suvarnabhumi Airport east of the city and the old, smaller Don Muang Airport in the north. Don Muang is only used by some low-cost airlines for domestic flights. You can easily reach Suvarnabhumi by rental car via the Chonburi toll road.