Little can prepare you for the frenetic pace and sensory overload of Thailand’s largest city. Markets are crowded, the traffic erratic and the hawkers relentless in their offers of cut-price clothes and watches. All this activity mixes with the pungent aroma from the hundreds of food carts frying pad thai and other tasty dishes.
Spend a little time in Bangkok, however, and you’ll find spots of serenity among the bustle. This is a city where religion is deeply rooted in daily life. The smell of incense often signifies a nearby shrine where you’ll see people from all walks of life stop to make an offering before they go about their business.
Known to locals as Krung Thep (City of Angels), Bangkok is home to almost 10 million people. It covers more than 570 square miles (1,500 square kilometres) and encompasses two former capitals: Thonburi and Rattanakosin. The latter is Bangkok’s historic centre and where you’ll find most of the main attractions. These include the National Museum and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, on the grounds of the showy Grand Palace. Nearby, see the huge reclining Buddha at the Wat Pho temple. Remember to dress modestly when visiting any temple.
In the Banglamphu district, prepare for an onslaught of sights and sounds at the notoriously busy Khao San Road. Haggle for counterfeit clothes and accessories, or simply perch on a stool in one of the many bars and watch the colourful characters pass by.
For some relaxation, join a free, outdoor yoga or tai chi class at Lumphini Park, or indulge with a spa treatment, available at most hotels. A short boat ride north of Bangkok you’ll discover the community of the Mon people. They have made the tiny, artificial river island of Ko Kret a haven for their culture.
While tuk-tuk rides are all part of the Bangkok experience, the city is well connected for those times you feel like travelling in comfort. The excellent Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) rail systems run between all the major shopping and entertainment districts of the city. For a different view of Bangkok, take a trip on the Express boats that constantly churn the waters of the Chao Phraya River.