Bangkok: Asia’s Hidden Wonder
Thailand’s capital Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world. In fact, during certain years, Bangkok rivals London as the city visited by the most by tourists. Others even consider it as the best city, bar none. This isn’t too surprising for anyone who has seen Thailand’s capital, which is also called in the country as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. Like most Asian capital cities, Bangkok boasts of incredible cultural gems, colorful festivals, and an incredibly unbelievable night life. Unlike other Asian cities, however, Bangkok is attractive not merely because of its third-world charm. Bangkok is exotic and different, but not overly unusual. As Thailand’s gateway to the world, everything about Bangkok—from its deep history to the charming attractions—is world-class.
The new capital
But Bangkok wasn’t always Thailand’s capital. This modern Asian city was first instituted as Thailand’s new capital by King Chakri—more known todat as King Rama I—in 1782, several years after Ayutthaya was burned down. Ayutthaya, or Ayudhya, is Thailand’s former capital, being the kingdom seat. The former capital was destroyed due to constant attacks by the Burmese army.
At the time when the country needed a new capital, King Rama I asked the merchants to vacate the area now known as Bangkok. Bangkok then, specifically during the late 1600s, was full of foreigners and merchants, mostly from China, making trade here a major activity even before it was named a capital. This reputation made the transition from common city to capital of the country, since it was already a major international spot, no different from how it is now.
The name Bangkok, however, is merely a foreign term. In the country, Bangkok actually pertains to just the old area in the city. The capital’s more common name (as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) is a shortened title for the city’s much longer proper name. Not surprisingly, the city is recognized for having the longest place name in the world by the Guiness Book of Records. Not everyone knows the full name though, and even those who know cannot fully understand its meaning due to the use of archaic or now obsolete words. The name, however, does have one recognizable title—City of Angels—which the former capital also has.
The city is noted for its large population, an issue that the government is still trying to face today. This distinction, however, makes the city one of the biggest and busiest in the world, and it also makes for a more colorful and flavorful city life. Major improvements in the city were done around the late 1860s, during the rule of King Chulalongkorn. King Chulalongkorn should be familiar to a number of foreigners, he was the son of King Mongkut, whose term as king was adapted into film several times (The King and I and Anna and the King, for instance). By early to mid 1900s, the government had already implemented a number of improvements, such as the development of the Thonburi Memorial Bridge and improvements to their Don Muang airport.
Today, Bangkok is widely considered as one of the more developed and modern cities in Asia, a distinction given to only a few cities in the continent.
Cultural melting pot
Bangkok—or Thailand, in general—was open to foreigners early on (as the The King and I movies would suggest). Because of this, the city and the country are evidently influenced by different cultures and heritage, although maintaining its natural character.
One of the more prominent marks of the city would be the religious sites and attractions. Thailand is mainly a Buddhist country (more than 90 percent of its natives are Buddhist), and they practice the world’s oldest surviving Buddhist school, the Theravada Buddhism. Obviously, since the country is mainly Buddhist, it is only expected the capital city houses a number of temples. After all, Thailand has more than 500 temples. Most of these temples can be found in Bangkok, such as the Wat Arun and the Wat Pho. Also called the “Temple of the Dawn,” Wat Arun was developed by King Taksin after the destruction of Ayutthaya. According to stories, King Taksin stumbled upon this temple at the break dawn, when he and his company were escaping the besieged Ayutthaya. The Wat Pho, on the other hand, is among the oldest and largest temples in the country. It is famous for its reclining Buddha, a major attraction that measures 46 meters long. The temple, which served as a location for medical studies before it was turned into a temple, also has 1000 Buddha images. But perhaps the most famed temple in Bangkok is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew. The Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s most scared temple. Constructed when Bangkok was just being established as the country’s capital, it is a highly decorated sacred ground with its pagodas, statues, and buildings. The temple’s main building houses the famed Emerald Buddha, which is 45 cm tall and be found within the temple’s Grand Palace. The Buddha here was said to be created in 43 BC in India, by the Buddhist sage Nagasena.
Beyond the historic and sacred wat, Bangkok offers what most modern countries have—state of the art entertainment and establishments and other spectacular features. For instance, since Thailand is a monarchy, one can expect the palaces. The Bangkok Metropolitan Area houses most of these palaces, most of them still used by the royal family, although a number are open to visitors. From museums (such as the National Gallery Museum and the Suan Pakkad Palace) to parks (such as the Lumpini Park), from shopping centers to festivals, Bangkok has everything. Shopping malls, in particular, are very popular destinations for locals and tourists alike. The CentralWorld and the Siam Paragon mall are among the country’s biggest malls. In fact, at more than eight million square feet, CentralWorld is among Asia’s biggest malls. The MBK Center and the Siam Square are among the famed shopping destinations in the city, and not just because of the bargains that can be found here. Siam Square, for one, is considered by tourist’s as Thailand’s Shinjuku (Shinjuku being Japan’s more popular commercial districts).