Bangkok In Brief

Many first-time visitors to Bangkok have little idea of what they will actually encounter. Bangkok metropolis, home to around eight million residents, is a sophisti­cated, fast-growing and, on occasions, traffic-dogged city. Referred to today as the City of Angels (Krung Thep in Thai), Bangkok was once called the Venice of the East because of its many canals. Although many canals have been filled-in, taking away some of the city's old-world charm, it is still one of the most intriguing places worth visiting in Southeast Asia. Many visitors keep coming back to the city, some for business, some for vacations and some even to settle down here. Without doubt, modern-day Bangkok is a tourist mecca of the East offering a greater variety of things to see and do than any other city in Southeast Asia. Established in 1782 as Thailand's capital, the official, full name of the city is probably the longest in the world: Krung hep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin lahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon PimanAwatan Sathit Sakkathatthiya Vitsanukam Prasit. Bangkok, City of Angels, offers an abundance of sights and attractions for tourists and is famous for its Buddhist Temples (Wats) including the famous Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo), adjacent to the Grand Palace. This temple, and other beautiful examples of carefully preserved Thai architecture, are referred to in more details in our section on day tours.

GEOGRAPHYLocated in the centre of the country, quite close to the Gulf of Thailand, the greater Bangkok Metropolis (including the former capital of Thonburi on the other side of the Chao Phraya River) covers an area of 1,600 square kilometres. The city is situated right in the middle of the rice bowl of Asia, also known as Chao Phraya River Delta.

CLIMATE AND SEASONSIf you like it hot, Bangkok is the place for you. Average temperatures rarely dip below 25 degrees Celsius during the city's three seasons. Between November and February the weather is warm and dry with temperatures from 19 to 33 degrees Celsius; March-May is hot with temperatures rising to as high as 42 degrees, and from June to October (rainy season) it is warm and sometimes wet, but never cold. Even the rain is warm!

POPULATIONBangkok's resident population is said to total some eight million people, representing approximately thirteen percent of Thailand's total population. Most residents are ethnic Thais with around twenty-five percent of the city's inhabitants being Chinese or of Chinese descent. Chinese influence is strong, particularly in the business sector. The second largest group is of Indian descent, whose heritage can be traced to northern India. The city is also home to illegal immigrants from Burma, Cambodia, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

RELIGIONBuddhism is the prevailing religion in Thailand and around 95% of the popula tion are Buddhists. Muslims constitute around four percent of the population and live mostly in the southern provinces bordering Malaysia. There are also small Hindu and Christian communities Since Buddha statues and images represent the Buddha, visitors are asked to behave respectfully to all statues and images so as not to cause offence to local people. It is illegal to take any Buddhist statues out of Thailand without the express permission of the Fine Arts Department.

MONEYThe Thai currency is made up of baht and satangs. Commonly used coins are 25-satang, 50-satang, 1 baht, 5 baht and 10 baht denominations. There are different sizes of 1 and 5 baht coins in circulation so be careful when you count your money. Banknotes, which are printed in both Thai and ask for some small notes when changing money.

GETTING AROUNDGetting around in Bangkok can prove perplexing for newly-arrived visitors, but once you become acquainted with the bus system, you can go to just about any place in the city. If you have appointments to keep, allow extra time to cope with the traffic congestion, which occurs during peak hours in several parts of town. Visitors are recommended to try the Chao Phraya Express Boat System and, if you take to the roads, you will find the metered taxis quite reasonably price. The Open-Air Motor-tricycles (called Tuk-Tuk or Samlor) are good for short distances if you want to avoid being exposed to automobile exhaust fumes.

LANGUAGEThe Thai language is tonal with each syllable having five different tones (high, rising, falling, middle and low). The meanings relate to the level of the tones used. Verbs have no tenses and most words are monosyllabic. There are also a number of regional dialects which can be confusing even to the locals. Although English is not generally spoken, many Thai students understand and speak English to a certain degree and they could prove helpful during your stay in Bangkok.

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