The chaotic traffic, throngs of tuk-tuks , taxis and motor-cycles crowding from landmark to point of interest beneath the smoothly rolling skytrain while the long-tail boats pursue their courses up the Chao Phraya river, is offset by the quiet tranquility found within temple walls.
Fragrant scents abound, from incense offerings placed at the abundant spirit houses – or shrines – to the sharp spiciness of chili purveyed by the street food vendors. The bright Asian sun highlights clearly the contrast between the Grand Palace, all a-gleam with gold-leaf and magnificence, and its dowdy relatives, the klong villages with their dilapidated wooden homes .
For the visitor there is much on offer; spas and health retreats, pubs and clubs offer wonderful night-time entertainment, internationally acclaimed golf-courses, cuisine for all tastes and a shopping experience for all budgets – the makings of a truly memorable trip.
Regional Overview (Thailand General)
Geographically, Thailand consists of 76 provinces divided over four distinct regions: North, Northeast, Central & Southern Thailand. North is mountainous & contains Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon which rises 2565 metres above sea-level. North-east, we have the province of Isan, while the Mekong river is in the South East; a plateau in the shape of a large saucer. The central plains; as Central Thailand is also known; is a wide expanse through which the Chao Phraya river flows. This entire basin area is prone to inundation during the monsoon times as it is so very low-lying. Included in this central area is the present capital Bangkok and it extends all the way along the river’s path to the sea. Southern Thailand consists on the narrow stretch of land that reaches to the Malaysian border and encompasses the Gulf of Thailand and its many islands in the Andaman Sea, such as Samui, Krabi and the famous Phuket.
Regions around Bangkok
UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Historic City of Ayutthaya, provincial capital of the province also named Ayutthaya is only 76 km north of Bangkok. Until 1767 the capital of the whole country, the city was destroyed by invading Burmese soldiers. From the ruins of this magnificent city can be gleaned an idea of the wonders of this city in its glory. It also showcases links to the historical Royal Dynasties of the past.
Third biggest province Kanchanburi is home to many splendid tourist attractions. Forming the Western border with Myanmar it is only 129km west of Bangkok.
The attractions include war museums and temples, and 200km further, it is possible to visit the Three Pagoda’s Pass; a staunch last defence in the frequent skirmishes between an invading Burmese army and the Thai defence force. Thai tourists are able to obtain a one day visa at the border to experience this area to the full.
Historical and man-made attractions are not all that is on offer; nearby is Erawan National Park, which includes what is said to be the best waterfall in all of Asia – Erawan Falls. The water flows down seven different levels as it descends through the jungle foliage.
This province, in the mountainous north, includes part of the Sankhamphaeng mountain range and the Khao Yai National Park. The highest peak is the 1292m Yod Khao Kiew.
While only the second biggest national park in Thailand, Khao Yai is possibly the most visited due to the fantastic variety of the flora and fauna in the area – an estimated 3000 species. With its stunning scenery which includes the 80 meter high Heo Narok waterfall, the wonderful and varied animal and bird life, a visit to this park is sure to enhance any visit to the Nakhon Nayok province.
The Bridge over the River Kwai –the feature from the film based on the book by Pierre Boulle – is arguably the most famous attraction in the area. Built by prisoners of war during the Second World War it is a moving testament to those dreadful days. In order to visit the bridge one must navigate Hell Fire Pass, the access point to the river. Each year, in November and December, a stunning memorial to those who lost their lives is played out in the form of a fantastic lightshow on the bridge.
Bangkok – Chao Phraya River
Offering amazing views, some of the best hotels in Asia (amongst them the Shangri La, The Oriental, The Peninsula to name but a few ) rise luxuriously on the Chao Phraya River Frontage.
A major transportation link between the Gulf of Thailand and Nonthaburi, Ayutthaya and still further, the Chao Phraya River is a thriving, bustling centre offering such contrasting sights as elegant dinner guests gracing hotel ferries and cruise ships, and elderly tugs pulling well-laden barges towards the Gulf, an amazing atmosphere prevailing over all.
The Skytrain (BTS elevated railway) allows easy access to the river frontage, stopping as it does at Saphan Taksin along it’s westwardly route from Central Bangkok. From this BTS station it is an easy stroll to the hotels – any on the other side of the river general offer complimentary ferries which depart from River City.
For a relatively small sum (approximately THB20 at present) a river taxi will take you between Nonthaburi in the north and Rat Burana to the south, a wide swathe encompassing such wonders as Wat Arum and the Grand Palace – you may visit the palace, but please do be aware of the strict dress code – and many other top attractions.
A visit to the Klongs or canals is also recommended, to see how the Thai people can live with and alongside the river to enhance and enrich your unforgettable impressions of Bangkok.
Bangkok – Khao San Road
Almost required travelling for back-packers and youthful travelers, the Khao San Road area has many paved areas and fewer cars than other areas, the quiet leafy avenues belying the fact that one is in one of the busiest, mostly densely populated cities in Asia.
All palates are catered for and most purses too; a wide range of hostels, budget hotels, restaurants and other eateries are available: the friendly service, reasonable prices and cold beer are bound to satisfy. Most of these establishments contain a tourist shop or will have links to one very nearby – these shops will help the visitor to get to many of the main tourist attractions; from a visit to the floating market to a tour of the magnificent Royal Palace.
Transportation is easily obtained, to and from the airport and to other venues too; services abound – the visitor is warned, however, to agree the price before you travel.
In summary, the Khao San Road offers easy walking access to the old city where can be found the Grand Palace (as mentioned above, there is a dress code for entry). The Chao Phraya River Frontage can also be accessed; which opens up the possibility of a Klong tour, an excursion to Wat Arum and, to round off a wonderful day, perhaps, a dinner cruise up the Chao Phraya River.
Bangkok – Silom & Sathorn Area
A multitude of high-rise office buildings loom over world-class hotels and restaurants in the Silom and Sathorn area of Bangkok. Much of the nightlife tends to be found in the Patpong area which swarms with bars, karaoke establishments and eateries of all sorts. Activities continue through the night into the early hours, and sometimes even until the sun rises! The Patpong streets are dominated by the hawkers of the night market which becomes active in the early evening – you can buy almost anything there; but many goods purchased here will be fakes. Patpong is also where the girlie bars can be found, offering exotic temptations to those looking for something different.
Bangkok Metropolitan Area
The province of Bangkok and the six smaller provinces that border it make up the Bangkok Metropolitan Area. Thailand’s capital Bangkok is an enormous city, population 12 million – reputed to increase to as much as 16 million during regular weekdays. Inner-city Bangkok is immensely busy; densely abounding with high-rise hotels, condominiums and apartment blocks. This combined with the thick, heavy traffic and incessant heat can make Bangkok an almost overwhelming experience.
Always awake, with a widely diverse expatriate community it is possible to find something that pleases everyone. From historic and beautiful temples and palaces; lively thronged markets – where nearly everything has a price; to road-side stalls, where delicious treats can be purchased and eaten on the spot: Bangkok will not soon be forgotten.
The original capital of Thailand, Ayutthaya, was razed by the Burmese army, during the reign of King Rama I – the first king of the present Chakri dynasty – in 1782, which is when Bangkok became the capital. From that time Bangkok has grown and is now the political, economic and cultural center of the country.
Nakhon Pathom; whilst included in the Bangkok Metropolitan Area, is actually its own province, situate about 60 km from Bangkok. Home to the world’s tallest stupa (Buddhist monuments, the word literally means mound) the Phra Pathom Chedi, this area is associated with the start of Buddhism in Thailand.
Bangkok – Thonglor & Ekkamai Area
For the upwardly mobile Thai, the Thonglor and Ekkamai area is the place to go and be seen. Recent improvements have seen this residential area become the upmarket home to many excellent restaurants; many of which have an international menu and are seen as being chic and the place to be. Wine bars have also opened offering top-class wines at reasonable prices.
The elevated BTS Skytrain runs to the Thonglor and Ekkamai stations on the Sukhumvit Road; so easy access to the area makes it a must-see stop.