Bangkok has dominated Thailand’s urban hierarchy as well as its political, commercial and cultural life since the late 18th century. Although you can shop in air-conditioned comfort in its Western-style malls, the city is a long way from being tamed by commercial homogeneity.
It’s worth putting up with the coronary-inducing traffic jams, pollution, annual floods and sticky weather to experience the contrasts of the city: glass and steel buildings shaped like cartoon robots standing next to glittering temple spires; wreaths of jasmine flowers dangling from the rear-view mirrors of buses and taxis; shaven-headed, orange-robed monks walking barefoot along the street beneath a bank of giant Sony screens blasting MTV Asia. Just like any good Buddhist you may have to struggle a bit to reach enlightenment in Bangkok but when it hits you’ll understand that famous Thai smile.
Area: 1,569 sq km
Population: 8 million
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +7 (Bangkok Standard Time)
Telephone Area Code: 02
Bangkok was once called the ‘Venice of the East’, but much of the original canal system has been filled in for road construction. Many smaller canals are hopelessly polluted and would probably have been filled in by now if it weren’t for their important drainage function. Fortunately, in recent years several canal-boat services have been revived on the medium-sized canals.
The BTS Skytrain is Bangkok’s elevated rail system, providing clean, user-friendly rail travel with great views in the bargain. The city’s first-ever 18 station subway opened in 2004, linking Hualamphong Railway Staion with Bang Seu in the north via the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre. The line intersects Skytrain routes near the Asoke Skytrain station and also at the Mo Chit Skytrain station.
Bus services are frequent but frantic, and a little confusing with all the different types of buses, so a bus map is an absolute necessity.
A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict.
Population: 64,865,523 (July 2004 est.)
Age: 0-14 years 24.1%, 15-64 years 68.7%, 65+ 7.3%
Populations growth: 0.91%, Birth rate is 16.04/1,000 pop., Death rate is 6.94/ 1,000 pop.
Life expectancy: male is 69.23 years, female is 73.71 years
Religions: Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity 0.5%, Hinduism 0.1%, other 0.6% (1991 est.)
Language: Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
Literacy: 15 years and older 92.6%
Area: 514,000 square kilometers (slightly more than twice the size of Wyoming)
Natural Resources: tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite and arable land
Land Use: arable land 29.36%
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Currency: baht (12/21/04: US$1.00 = 33 Baht) See the exchange rate now!