Bangkok, population 8,538,610 (1990), is the capital and largest city of Thailand. The city is located on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, near the Gulf of Thailand. Bangkok is located at 13°45' N 100°31' E. 
Bangkok is one of the fastest-growing, most economically dynamic cities in Southeast Asia. Local people like to think that it is emerging as a regional centre to rival Singapore and Hong Kong, but it suffers from major infrastructure and social problems as a result of its rapid growth. It is also one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.
Bangkok began as a small trading center and port community, called Bang Makok ("place of olive plums"), serving Ayutthaya, which was the capital of Siam until it fell to Burma in 1767. A capital was established at Thonburi (now part of Bangkok) on the west side of the river, before in 1782 King Rama I built a palace on the east bank and made Bangkok his capital, renaming it Krung Thep, meaning "City of Angels". The village of Bangkok ceased to exist, but its name continues to be used by foreigners.
Bangkok is the economic center of Thailand. The Chao Phraya River allows Bangkok to function as a port. The Stock Exchange of Thailand is located in Bangkok. Tourism is a major source of revenue. The city contains many Buddhist temples (known in Thai as Wat), among the best known being Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Khaosan Road, near the Grand Palace complex, is a popular destination for young backpackers. The Loy Krathong festival of light is a popular time for tourists to visit with impressive fireworks displays along the river accompanied by many lit up boats parading up and down the river.
Bangkok's educational and cultural facilities include several universities, a fine arts academy, a national theater and a national museum.
Processed food, timber, and textiles are leading exports. Industrial plants include rice mills, cement factories, sawmills, oil refineries, and shipyards. The city is a famous jewelry center, buying and selling silver and bronzeware. Although technically illegal, prostitution is a major activity in Bangkok, making the city a popular destination for sex tourism.
An elaborate network of canals (khlong) gave the city the nickname "Venice of the East", at a time when all transportation was done by boat. Today almost all are filled in and converted into traffic-filled streets. However, many do still exist, with people living along them, and markets being conducted there as well.
Several elevated highways, and a partially-finished ring road around Greater Bangkok, have been built to overcome the jams.
In 1999 an elevated two-line 'Skytrain' (officially called BTS) metro system was opened. The first line of the underground Bangkok Metro opened to the public in July 2004. The remains of a failed elevated railroad project (the Hopewell project) can still be seen all the way from the main railroad station out towards the Don Muang airport - due to the Asian financial crisis the construction was halted and the concrete pillars were left unused. Locals call them Stonehenge.
In July 2004, a new MRT subway system was launched connecting the northern train station of Bang Sue to the Hua Lamphong railway station near the city center, while going through the eastern part of the city. It connects to the BTS system at BTS Stations Mo Chit, Asok, and Sala Daeng.
For travel by train, most passengers begin their trips at Hua Lamphong, at the southern end of the Metro. Here, trains connect Bangkok to Malaysia to the south, Chiang Mai and beyond to the north, and Khon Kaen and beyond to the northeast.
Virtually all cities and provinces are easily reachable by bus from Bangkok. For destinations in the southwest and the west, buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal, west of the city. For destinations in the southeast, such as Pattaya and Ko Samet, buses leave from the Eastern Bus Terminal, at Ekkamai, the third-eastern-most stop on the Skytrain. And for all destinations north and northeast, the Northern Bus Terminal at Mo Chit, which is reachable by both Skytrain and Metro, is the place to start.
Bangkok International Airport, commonly called "Don Muang", the busiest in South-East Asia, is located north of the city, now already enclosed by urban areas. Construction for the new Suvarnabhumi Airport (pronounce Suwannaphum), in the Bang Phli district of Samut Prakan Province to the south-east of the city started in 2002, it is scheduled to be opened in early 2006. Once the new airport is completed, all international traffic is expected to go there and Don Muang will become domestic only. There is also a train station at Don Muang for destinations to the north and northeast.
Air pollution is a major problem in Bangkok, blamed on the city's massive traffic jams. The recent construction of elevated second-level expressways has eased the problem a little.
The sale of illegally copied copyright material (mostly software and DVD movies) is widespread in Bangkok. One of the most popular locations in Bangkok for purchasing pirated software is Pantip Plaza. Although many attempts have been made at cracking down on illegal copying by raiding Pantip and other venues over the years, these have been ineffective and illegal copying of copyrighted material is still a booming business. The BSA, an American software copying prevention group believes that it could extract 80 million USD from Thailand if all of illegally copied software there was stopped . Due to heavy, long term pressure from groups such as the BSA and the Recording Industry Association of America, which threatened difficulties for trade agreements for Thailand , the Thai government has now started to crack down heavily on the unauthorised copying by its citizens including the introduction of "one of the most aggressive legislative schemes for the protection of intellectual property rights in any developing nation". However, these measures have not yet halted the appetite of Thai citizens for unauthorised copies, the sale of unauthorised discs continues and the raids have been called "half hearted". The BSA states, however, that reduction of illegal copying is a long term goal  and that the aim now is more to re-educate the Thais towards the BSA's own views.
Bangkok is a large, sprawling city, but its districts are not very clearly defined.
Sukhumvit — The long road known variously as Sukhumvit Rd, Ploenchit Rd and Rama I Road is Bangkok's modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a center.
Silom — To the south of Sukhumvit, the area around Silom Rd and Sathorn Rd is Thailand's sober financial center by day, but Bangkok's primary party district by night when quarters like the infamous Patpong come alive.
Rattanakosin — Between the river and Sukhumvit lies the densely packed "Old Bangkok", home to Bangkok's best-known wats. Yaowarat (Chinatown) and sights around the Chao Phraya River are also included here.
Khao San Road — Bangkok's backpacker mecca and the surrounding district of Banglamphu is located on the northern part of Rattanakosin.
Thonburi — The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with many small canals and some offbeat attractions.
North — The area around Phahonyothin Road is best known for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Don Muang Airport.
Just under 14 degrees North of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, the first things that impress many visitors are the heat, the congestion both on streets and sidewalks, the pollution inherent to rapid development, the squalor that accompanies a gaping chasm between rich and poor, and the irrepressible smiles of the Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe, more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Thai cuisine is singular, justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok, for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
Bangkok (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais -- the City of Angels (and much more: the full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon bovorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) 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 Vishnukarn"). The original village has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.
Addresses & Navigation
Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (???), often abbreviated Th or glossed "Road/Avenue", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (???). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd ones on the other. Thus, an address like "25 Soi Sukhumvit 3" means the 25th building on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides - for example, Soi 55 could be across from soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Soi 3 is also known as "Soi Nana", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (????) instead of soi.
To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 9) have their own sois. In these cases an address like "Soi Ari 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, 63 Sukhumvit Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit".
To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the English renderings of Thai street names are not consistent. The road running towards the airport from the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course -- only the English varies.
And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Ploenchit when you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon Rama I (usually said as just Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?
But wait, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatujak are much more than just markets; they're burroughs, each with its own distinct character.
Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful: the city's darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of "is that west from here?" will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. "How do I get to Thonglor?" will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.
One exception: the Chao Phyra River is THE landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as "toward the river" or "away from the river". If you aren't TOO close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Banglamphoo or Sanan Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.
Most of Bangkok's sights are concentrated in the "Old City" on Rattanakosin Island. Out of Bangkok's many temples, the following usually make the top 3:
Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn)
The Grand Palace, featuring Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Wat Pho, home of the world's largest reclining Buddha and a famed massage school
Bangkok's many markets are an experience in themselves, see Buy for some suggestions.
One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city
Bangkok is an extremely popular place for all sorts of pampering. The options available range from massages and spa treatments to haircuts and manicures and even cosmetic surgery, all at prices far lower than in the West.
All self-respecting hotels in Bangkok will have a spa operating on premises offering at least (fully legitimate) massage services. These tend to charge a premium but also offer some the best treatments in town. Particularly well-regarded spas include Deverana  (http://www.devarana.com/) at the Dusit Thani and the eponymous operations at Banyan Tree  (http://www.banyantreespa.com/bangkok/index.htm) and the legendary Oriental  (http://www.mandarinoriental.com/hotel/510000004.asp) — the last of these being probably the most expensive in town, offering (among other things) a 6-hour Oriental Romance package for two costing a whopping US$535.
Independent spas offer much the same experience but are a little more competitive due to the lack of a captive customer base. Figure on 1000B and up per hour for most treatments.
The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town offer the best value for money but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places: the real deal will charge 200-300B/hour for massage and will often have a row of beefy farmers' daughters in white coats working on customers' feet in public view, while the other kind has wispy things in evening dresses and too much makeup yelling "hello handsome" at every passing male.
BODY Tune. Sukhumvit Soi 24 (10 mins walk from BTS Phrom Pong) and 56 Yada Bldg, Silom Rd (next to BTS Sala Daeng);  (http://www.bodytune.co.th/). A well-respected small chain offering an excellent traditional Thai massage for 350B/hour.
Bangkok's hospitals offer generally high quality services at a fraction of the cost of a Western hospital. Probably the best-regarded (and most expensive) is Bumrungrad  (http://www.bumrungrad.com/en/clinics/plastic.asp), which (for example) charges 60,000B (~US$1500) for an all-inclusive breast implant package. Bangkok is also well known as a center for sexual reassignment surgery for people wishing to change their physical gender, although needless to say this falls out of the scope of a casual vacation.
Related to the last point (although not exactly to pampering), Bangkok's pharmacies (drugstores) tend to offer a very wide range of (wholly legal and legitimate) medicines and herbal remedies at a fraction of Western prices, including many drugs that would require a doctor's prescription in other countries. Thai pharmacists tend to be exceptionally helpful, and most speak excellent English. There are small, independent pharmacists on almost every corner, and you'll find bigger (and more expensive) chains on the major streets and in shopping centers. Boots is probably the most ubiquitous chain; they're also a reliable source for traveler's toiletries.
Given its size and poverty level Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery highly unusual. However, Bangkok does have more than its fair share of touting and scams. Some common scam and guidelines for avoiding them:
If an English-speaking Thai approaches you out of the blue and strikes up a conversation, be wary: they are almost certainly selling something.
Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering all-day tours for prices as low as 20 baht. You may indeed be taken on a full-day tour, but you will only end up visiting one gem and souvenir shop after another; the driver will get a commission if you buy something and gas coupons even if you don't.
Likewise, be skeptical if a tuk-tuk driver tells you that your chosen destination is "closed" and offers to take you to a "special Buddha temple" (etc) instead.
Be particularly wary of any offers to sell you gems at a "discount", especially large quantities for resale back home at vast profits. These operations can be surprisingly convincing, with some even hiring down-and-out foreigners to act as happy customers. See the Thai gem scam page (http://www.2bangkok.com/2bangkok/Scams/Sapphire.shtml).
Make a photocopy of your passport and keep it with you at all times, especially at night. It is the law and police may check it at night if they setup a checkpoint to look for drunk drivers. Many night clubs will also insist on a passport (and ONLY a passport) as proof of age.
Also note that cameras are not welcome in go-go bars. Attempting to take pictures of the girls, even with your camera phone, is likely to result in your camera being taken and/or you getting beat up for good measure.
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