(c) December 2007 Oliver Bonten
Bangkok. City of Angels. Probably everybody who hasn't been here and many who have have some preconceptions about this city - I guess it is one of the most imagination-evoking places in the world. The city of pollution and traffic congestion, the sin city of beer bars, gogo bars and all-night massage parlours, the zig-zag of military rule and vibrant democracy, the unreal, fantasy world of backpackers, shopping paradises, food heavens, Thai jazz night clubs, the spiritual centre of the most peaceful of the big religions of this world. Something for everybody.
Like so many places in Asia (India, China, Korea, Borneo, ...), Bangkok's name is not it's real name, nor a westernised form of it. When the old Siamese capital of Ayutthaya was sacked (it was capital city for a much longer time than Bangkok is), it was decided to build a new capital further downriver, near a small village or trading post named Bang Kok. That place was known to the Westerners already, and so it came that the new Siamese capital was referred to as "Bangkok" among Westerners. But the newly founded city got a new name as well, probably the longest name of any settlement in the world (it is longer than the name of that weird place in Wales). It starts with "Krung Thep", which means something like "city of angels".
"City of angels", of course, doesn't refer to the pretty young customer relationship staff of the many beer bars - they are a rather recent addition to the cityscape.
I always enjoy spending some time in Bangkok (though not too much since I've seen most of the interesting sights already) and seem to discover something new everytime I'm in the city. Also it is an easy place to get organised at the beginning of a trip. Just don't panic.
The infamous centre of backpacker tourism in Thailand is Khao San Road in Banglamphu, an old quarter of Bangkok. It is just north of the Grand Palace, close to what was the city centre when Bangkok was founded. The backpacker area actually now occupies the surrounding streets and alleys as well, but Khao San Road itself is still the busiest part. Though a lot of the more reasonable guest houses can now be found in the quieter side streets. Khao San Road is very typical Thai in one way: it shows the Thais' sense of business. It's a bit like a sub-culture, though not a bad one.
The Chao Phraya River is the main waterway of Bangkok and in fact of Thailand. Originally, Bangkok was on the left bank on the river opposite the slightly older Thonburi (which was the capital of Siam for a decade or so, before that function was moved to Bangkok), but now Thonburi is just a part of Bangkok which stretches along both banks.
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