The ideas of non-conformity and “same same, but different” — derived from Thai (or Tinglish), it’s a study of harmonious contrasts — are two things that underscore what the City of Angels (and Smiles) is all about.
Bangkok, better recognized by its full, long name by locals — shortened to Krung Thep, or City of Angels, for foreigners — occupies 1,568.7km2 of land in central Thailand and is the country’s most populous city with almost 10.6 billion people. Established as capital territory in the late 18th century, Bangkok has lived through world wars and managed to evade total colonialism by the world’s earlier power nations. This resilience and canniness seems to endure in some part today, in the spirit and nationalism of the Thai people — a beloved monarchy rules, just as a young, innovative generation comes to the fore. And this, combined with the modern philosophy of sanuk (to enjoy yourself and have a good time), sums up pretty well the mood and ambiance of the city. Some may think this is evident in the unique yet complex local road system — GPS is a must, while traffic congestion and travel delays need to be factored in — as well as the relaxed attitude toward business operating hours (timings do change from time to time).
Beyond that, the capital is known for its vibrant street food culture, mall and night market retail paradises, burgeoning contemporary and underground art scenes, thriving local cultural and subcultural communities, and the general warmth and good-naturedness of its people. It’s easy to see — from a swanky rooftop bar, tuk-tuk ride in low traffic or a relaxing cruise down the Chao Phraya — glitzy complexes (offering goods from local indie creators, international fashion labels and automotive brands) and architectural marvels (temples and skyscrapers alike) sitting side by side with colorful night market tentage and revitalized heritage warehouse clusters.
At 9m above sea level, Bangkok has a tropical wet climate — that leads to three seasons: dry (February to April), rainy (May to October) and cold (November to February) — with an average year-round temperature of 28°C. Your best bet, no matter when you travel, is to dress in light, breathable layers and bring along foldable rainproof gear.
Highlights for the Traveler
As you lay out your itinerary, consider the public transportation infrastructure — there are the being-expanded BTS Skytrain, Metropolitan Rapid Transit (underground MRT), taxi and rideshare services, motorbike taxi, public buses, songthaew (small passenger pick-up trucks), and river boat and ferry services. The rail– and river-based modes of travel are well-connected enough and can help you stay out of the unpredictable road traffic.
To experience in a day a little bit of everything Bangkok has to offer, you could start with a delicious, IG-worthy meal at one of the city’s old-school coffee shops (where the good stuff is usually localized variations of egg and toast) or popular franchise cafés (where the specialties range from open-faced sandwiches to breakfast porridges). Pace yourself for the schedule ahead — you may end picking up snacks, drinks or dessert, as you hop from location to location. The afternoon may be devoted to museum-hopping, grabbing the best deals at a luxury-label factory outlet or exploring a district, such as the hip and Japan-infused Thong Lo. Then, if you’re feeling like a short interlude, consider a Thai massage — be sure to check reviews before you go. With your body soothed and revitalized, you may feel ready to tackle the intensity of an open-air night market, most of which will have dining options to make sure you’ve got the sustenance you need to keep going until past midnight.