History & Cityscape
Bangkok was originally a small village called Bang Makok, which means "village of wild plums", on the east bank of the Chao Phraya. Since then it has evolved into a major trading port and the name has been contracted to Bangkok. On the opposite side of the river there was the small town of Thonburi, which became the new capital of the Siam Empire after the fall of Ayutthaya in 1772. The official name is 139 characters long (without spaces) and it is the longest name of any capital city around the world. The shortened version is Krung Thep, "City of the Devas", which can be roughly understood as City of Angels. Over time, the two cities grew together and spread. As travelers and traders continued to call both cities ‘Bangkok’ this became the international designation for the city. Under King Rama I numerous channels were created for use as roads (Thail. Khlongs). Most have been filled and built over as the city has expanded by some are still passable. By the mid-20th century there were over a million people in Bangkok, and in 2015 the population has risen to just under 9.3 million.
The Most Attractive Sights
The Wat Pho (Wat = Temple) is located in the center of the historic old town, east of the Chao Phraya. It consists of several buildings and many chedis (Thai stupas), which are adorned with ornate and detailed decoration. There are also hundreds of gilded Buddha statues in standing and seated positions to be admired here. The most famous attraction in the Wat Pho is the huge reclining Buddha which is 15 meters high, 46 meters long and has feet inlaid with mother of pearl. It is housed in a separate building and you are able to walk all the way around this enormous statue. Thousands of pilgrims and tourists visit the temple every day so it is always busy and sometimes you will have to make your way through crowds.
At 580.000m² Lumpini Park is the largest park in the city and it is located right in the heart of Bangkok. The impressive park was created in the 1920s at the behest of King Rama VI. The extensive gardens include a coconut grove. Every morning and evening you can watch people practicing Tai Chi and aerobics exercises here. There is a lake where you can go pedal boating as well as a jogging path. As you explore the park you may even encounter one of the indigenous lizards. There are many food stalls throughout the park and a weekend market.
The Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, is located opposite the Wat Pho on the west bank of the Chao Phraya. Originally it was part of the palace grounds which were reduced in the late 18th century. You can climb the temple from all four sides and there are four levels, each of which offers a uniquely beautiful view of Bangkok. The Wat Arun is between 66 and 86 meters tall and decorated with ornate mosaics of Chinese porcelain.
The Grand Palace is one of Bangkok’s main attractions and it is adjacent to the Wat Pho. Until the mid-20th century this served as the residence for the kings of Siam. Since then, the royal family has lived in the Chitralada Palace, which is located northeast of the Grand Palace. The Wat Phra Kaeo, located in the complex of the Grand Palace, is where the Emerald Buddha is housed. This spectacular statue is originally from Laos. In the Throne Hall of the Chakri Maha Prasat group (built by Rama V) there are hanging screens depicting a variety of state receptions, e.g. diplomatic envoys at the court of Louis XIV.
Chinatown is perhaps the most famous area in Bangkok and it is located in the center of the city. This pedestrian area is full of small shops where you can find almost anything your heart desires alongside treasures you never imagined! In between the many vendors you will find numerous Chinese temples and shrines. Leave yourself a few hours to half a day to explore this area.
You might recognize The Rooftop Sky Bar on the Lebua State Tower from the movie ‘Hangover 2’. This large outdoor bar has a famously beautiful view. Pictures are not permitted and there is a dress code but it is well worth stopping here for a cocktail.