Bangkok, Thailand's capital, represents for many the quintessential Asian city, humming with life, beauty, chaos and energy. One of the world's most cosmopolitan capitals, it's a mesmerising blend of new and old, a clash between modernity and tradition, with soaring skyscrapers and golden temples, gridlocked traffic and buzzing tuk-tuks, futuristic shopping malls and historic markets, all existing side by side. Bangkok holidays promise a rich cornucopia of sights, sounds, tastes and smells, a treasure-house of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Located less than 14 degrees from the equator, Bangkok is a tropical city enjoying warm temperatures and high humidity, which favour the growth of exotic plants. All over the city you will find frangipani, bougainvillea and orchids blossoming, mingled with abundant fruit trees. The traffic jams and saffron-robed Buddhist monks mingle among the colourful markets and graceful Thai architecture to create the defining Far East experience.
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River of Kings
The city of Bangkok is divided into two by the mighty Chao Phraya River, the River of Kings, which for centuries was the lifeblood of the city and intertwined with its history. Holidays to Bangkok would certainly not be complete without a trip on the river, which is the best way to see the city and gives it a special perspective. The most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which all the locals take to get to work, or the tourist boats, more expensive but more comfortable -- or you can book a trip on a long-tail boat, which will take you down the city's canals as well.
The river is also home to one of Bangkok's most unique attractions, the floating markets, which date back to the time when most of the city's life was centred on its waterways. The most famous is Damnoen Saduak, located in Ratchaburi, about an hour and a half outside the city. You can take one of the Floating Markets Cruise Day trips, or arrange your own visit to Damnoen Saduak early in the morning before it gets busy, so you can interact with the locals, and enjoy authentic Thai dishes like the famous Boat Noodles.
The Old City
Bangkok's most historic area is Rattanakosin, or the Old City, on the eastern bank of the river, and bounded by canals on its other side, forming an island. This is where you will find the city's most renowned and spectacular attractions, with a glittering array of palaces, temples and ancient architecture. Along its wide tree-lined avenues lie museums, galleries and centuries-old market places, which themselves afford fascinating glimpses into the past.
No Bangkok holidays would be complete without a visit to the Old City's most dazzling attraction, the awe-inspiring Grand Palace. Still at the spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom, it will take your breath away with its magnificent architecture and intricate detail. The complex encompasses many impressive buildings, including Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand's most sacred Buddhist temple, a collection of over 100 gorgeously decorated holy monuments and structures, one of which houses the tiny and greatly revered Emerald Buddha, dating back to the 14th century.
Immediately south of the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest temple and university. It's known for its Temple of the Reclining Buddha, a colossal statue covered in gold leaf and with feet inlaid with a myriad of precious stones. A ferry ride across the river will take you to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, Thailand's most picturesque temple, stunningly decorated with Chinese porcelain pieces in different colours.
A lot of people take holidays to Bangkok just for the shopping. A series of massive malls includes Siam Paragon, one of the largest shopping centres in Asia, but the most unique is Terminal 21, designed around the concept of an international airport, with each floor representing a different country. But the ultimate shopping destination is Chatuchak weekend market, renowned as the biggest outdoor market in the world.
A Heady Mix
Holidays to Bangkok can be taken at any time, through you should only go during April, May or June if you can stand the heat. The city has a highly efficient transport system, including the Skytrain and the underground MTS, but Bangkok holidays should definitely include at least one ride in a tuk-tuk, by far the most fun way to travel, if distinctly hair-raising. It's all part of the heady mix of thrills, exhilaration and splendour that is Bangkok.