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Bangkok - Thailand

Bangkok Skyline

Bangkok is most visitors starting point in Thailand.  It's chaotic, noisy and harshly modern and can be a shock to the senses for those visitors expecting a relaxed, exotic destination.  However beneath the brash exterior a traditional way of life still thrives in the quiet sois (lanes) beneath the expressways.

Bangkok straddles the Chao Praya river and still has many miles of canals reaching far flung areas of the city.  These can be the quickest way to travel as Bangkok's legendary traffic jams can appear at any time and bring much of the city to a halt.

The heart and soul of the city is the former royal island of Ko Ratanakosin, home to the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha and the temple university of Wat Po.  This area is calmer than much of the city, although filled with tourists!

Although hotels and guest houses are found all over the city, the main area for budget visitors is the area north of the Grand Palace in the streets and sois around the infamous Khao San Road.  Once the first port of call for backpackers, Khao San Road is no longer the cheapest or quietest place to stay with busy all night bars and many tourists.  However the surrounding streets are much quieter and have a better selection of accommodation, restaurants and nightlife.
 
The modern city of Bangkok is centered around the shopping centres and modern tower blocks of Siam Square and Sukumvit Road and is a thriving hub of commerce.  Upmarket shopping malls vie with street vendors for business, while the sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market has to be seen to be believed.

Under the modern veneer, the true Thailand shines through.  Even the ultramodern skyscrapers have spirit houses to protect them and one of the busiest areas around downtown Bangkok is the ornate Erawan Shrine.  The shrine is dedicated to Brahma and his three headed elephant and was originally built as a spirit house to the neighbouring hotel which was suffering bad luck.  The shrine thrives with visitors praying for good luck and leaving offerings.  If wishes are fulfilled then devotees are expected to return and pay further tribute with classical dances and garlands of flowers.

South of downtown is Lumphini Park, a (relatively) quiet and green oasis amongst the skyscrapers.  The trees and lakes makes the park a pleasant place during the day to hide from the heat and noise of the city.  The lake is full of turtles as well as alarmingly large monitor lizards – and is a great place to escape Bangkok's mania for an afternoon.

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