The capital of Thailand is a modern metropolis that keeps expanding. Bangkok is an abbreviation of Bang Makok, which means 'Olive Village'. Originally, the capital of Thailand was located on the west bank of the river Chao Phraya. It's name back then was Thonburi. Because Burma carried out attacks from the west, the capital was moved to the other side of the river, to an area with olive trees. Thonburi still exists, and it is not a part of the municipality of Krung Thep (City of Angels), which is the official name of Bangkok.
Officially, Bangkok has almost seven million inhabitants, but there are probably more, because many people are not registered anywhere. Together with the neighboring towns, the urban area has some 12 million inhabitants.
Bangkok is located in the centre of Thailand. The shape of the country has been compared to an elephant's head, with big ears and a trunk. In that sense, Bangkok is located near the mouth of the elephant. The city is located on the east bank of the Chao Phraya, a river that flows into the Gulf of Thailand some 25 kilometres to the south. On the other side of the river lies Thonburi.
By road the distance to Chiang Mai in North-Thailand is 690 kilometres, it is 275 to Aranya Prathet (Cambodian border) and 1,000 kilometres to Hat Yai in South-Thailand.
The city is the country's economic centre. Almost half the GDP of Thailand is earned in and around Bangkok. All of the country's major companies, banks and financial institutions have their headquarters in the city. In and around the city there are electro-technical and chemical companies. In addition, the construction sector (buildings, houses and roads) make an important contribution. Many international companies have their South-East Asian headquarters in this city. Also, Bangkok is, of course, the country's administrative centre.
Although many Thai have seem their income rise in recent years, the contrasts are enormous. Next to the palaces, temples and classy shopping centres, Bangkok has huge shantytowns, where people have to work hard all day for a bowl of rice.
At the end of 2006, Bangkok's international airport, Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, was opened. It is located 30 kilometres to the east of the city centre, and it has succeeded the old Don Muang Airport, which had become too old and which in addition was hemmed in between the suburbs in the north of the city. When the new airport was opened, there was no train connection yet, but that connection is planned for completion in 2007. There are bus services between the airport and the centre of Bangkok. Also, there are high-speed bus connection to places like Pattaya and Nong Khai (border with Laos).
To combat the city's traffic problems, the first line of the 'Skytrain' was opened in 1997. There are now two lines that service only part of the city, albeit the areas most visitors go to (the shopping centre around Siam Square, the tourist area of Sukhumvit and the entertainment area of Silom). In 2004, a metro line was added to the city's public transport network, between the central Hualamphong train station and Bang Sue station. It is connected to the Skytrain in two locations.
For short trips, the 'moto's' are a great solution. You can recognize them by the brightly colored jackets, usually hanging or half asleep on their moped. They stand at fixed locations in groups, and will bring you to where you want to go for not much money. It may be difficult to get them to understand where it is you want to go.
For destinations outside the city you can take the train or bus. Most interregional trains depart from Hualamphong station in central Bangkok.
The main bus terminals are Northern, Eastern and Southern Bus Station. From Northern Station, buses depart for the north and north-east of Thailand, from Eastern to the east (including places along the coast), and from Southern Station to the south and west.
The people in Thailand drive on the left, which means the steering wheel of your rental car is on the right. You may practice a little before venturing into Bangkok's busy and sometimes chaotic traffic. You may want to ask yourself if you really want to drive a car in a place like Bangkok. The city is renowned for its traffic congestion. Although in recent years many motorways have been added (with breathtakingly complex flyover junctions), Bangkok is still affected by traffic jams every day. Finding a place to park your car is not easy either.
Taking your car for a drive in the countryside is a different matter. For that, the car is eminently suitable. Thailand has excellent roads that are continuously being improved. Once you leave the hectic city traffic behind you, driving becomes easier. Keep in mind that right of way is based on the size of the vehicle. This is not part of the Thai highway code, but it is how things work in practice!
Bangkok has an enormous supply of places to stay the night: cheap (and sometimes less than clean) rooms in the backpacker area around Khao San Road and in Chinatown, reasonable or good hotels in Sukhumvit and around Siam Square, super-luxurious accommodations on the Chao Phraya, around Silom Road and around Siam Square. This is merely a general summary; hotels are located all over Thailand. The city attracts many business people, politicians, diplomats and tourists. This means booking in advance is necessary. The tourist season runs from October to late March.
For more information about Bangkok, we recommend Google, and the following sources: