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Bangkok Travel Guide
Chaotic, carnal and congested, Thailand's capital is divided by the Chao Phraya River and is nestled in one of the world's most fertile rice-producing deltas. Bangkok's 579 square miles (1,500 sq km) are criss-crossed by a series of canals carrying passengers and cargo, its roads clotted with endless traffic jams, while the city sprawls in all directions with a hodgepodge of urban, commercial and industrial buildings. A new overland metropolitan railway speeds above the city, providing visitors with a relaxed and efficient way to observe the hustle and bustle below.
Despite its pollution and overcrowding, Bangkok is undoubtedly one of Asia's most exciting cities, and one of the world's largest, promising to reveal to each traveller the wild and untamed mysteries of the east. Khao San Road is one of the city's most vibrant streets, and is probably one of the best examples in the world of a backpacker's 'ghetto'. Day and night the short stretch of road is abuzz with activity. On the banks of the Chao Phraya visitors will find the Grand Palace as well as Wat Phra Kaew, the palace temple housing the Emerald Buddha, constructed entirely from translucent green jade. Slightly upriver are the exquisitely ornamented Royal Barges, still used today for special floating processions.
Of the 30 or so temples in Bangkok, the largest is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which houses an impressive statue of the deity. The famous Floating Market is a delight to visitors and well worth a visit. As the sun lurches towards the horizon in the west and the sweat cools, this city of royalty and religion comes alive with a palpable decadence. Music and dazzling neon advertise a miasma of trendy bars and nightclubs, as well as the notorious 'girlie joints' that have ensured the Patpong district its reputation for hedonism.
Though the city's frenetic pace and infamous congestion can be overwhelming, a holiday in Bangkok is a must for anyone travelling in Thailand.
Bangkok is notorious for the huge volume of traffic and traffic jams, but this has eased slightly over the years with the introduction of the elevated monorail, the Skytrain, which currently has two lines running above Bangkok's central areas and provides a much quicker and easier alternative to the bus. The Bangkok Metro, established in 2004, has one route and covers areas not connected by the Skytrain. The Metro intersects with the Skytrain at three points and has 18 stations, with frequent services running until midnight. The extensive bus system has always been the main form of public transport, and they are the cheapest, most frequent mode of travel around the city (THB 3.50 to most destinations), but they should be used with care due to pickpockets and bag snatchers taking advantage of the squash.
The easiest, fastest and most interesting way to get around is on the waterways of the Chao Phraya River where numerous river taxis, long-tail boats and large waterbuses make most tourist sites easily reachable for about THB 10. Tuk tuks (colourful three-wheelers) are the standard way of making short journeys and are cheaper and quicker than regular taxis, but fares should be negotiated before boarding. Metered and un-metered taxis are air-conditioned, but be aware that drivers don't carry much change. Any taxi or tuk tuk can be hired for a day's tour of the sights (THB 500-800). If in a desperate rush during gridlock, motorcycle taxis can be hired, which are cheaper and faster, but passengers will need nerves of steel, and they should only be used for short distances. They can be recognised by the colourful, numbered vests worn by drivers.
One fun way to see Bangkok is by bicycle. The city loans free bikes to tourists for two set routes along the river; the east side goes past some of the biggest temples, while the west side goes through more residential areas. be sure to ask for a bike lock so you can stop and sightsee at the attractions along your way.