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In a nutshell

Savour the hectic, cosmopolitan, chaotic streetlife. Take a boatride along the Chao Phraya and crisscrossing canals. Wander through glittering, busy temples. Marvel at bustling markets and enjoy the glitzy malls. Indulge in spicy cuisine and sumptuous spas.

Set astride the majestic, churning Chao Phraya River, the Thai capital Bangkok represents all that is good and bad about an Asian megalopolis. Loved or loathed, it's a city with everything for some and nothing for others, and a place that almost every visitor to Thailand will find themselves in at some stage.

For many travellers, Bangkok, or Krungthep to most Thais (Krungthep mahanakhon amonratanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok, popnopharat ratchathani burirom ubonratchaniwet mahasathan amonpiman avatansathit sakkathattiya witsanukamprasit to those who like to refer to places by their full name), is anything but charming on first impressions. But peel back its multitude of layers, and you may well grow to enjoy this fascinating city.

Yes, it's dirty and heavily polluted, and the traffic remains appalling despite two mass transit systems opening over the last few years. Glistening skyscrapers perpetually darken wooden slums and squats, while sparkling new Mercedes dodge food carts being pushed along the slow lane. Bangkok is a city of have and have-nots and the contrast can be alarming.

But the City of Angels harbours enough sights and experiences to keep travellers occupied for months -- some end up staying indefinitely -- with one of the best ways to grasp its splendour to simply wander through its colourful streets, where the pedestrian takes second place to the thousands of taxis, buses, motorbikes, tuk tuks, bicycles and private cars clogging the streets.

Many find it exhilarating, for rare are the quiet moments and rarer still are the moments when you fail to feel utterly alive. Prepare to dive into marvellous aromas drifting from food stalls interspersed with wafts of stinking canals and belching car exhausts.

Political unrest and violence in Bangkok in early 2010 left dozens dead and the city reeling. Peace was quickly restored by the military-backed government, but the fundamental issues that triggered the violence, involving a complex stand-off among Thailand's elites, have yet to be resolved and are likely to one day flare again. All is calm for now, however, and you should book your holiday with some confidence, while always keeping an eye on the news.

Bangkok has an excellent range of hotels and guesthouses. The Chao Phraya's banks are home to two of the best hotels in the world, the Oriental Hotel and the Peninsula Hotel, as well as many other five-star luxury spots, while the backpacker quarter of Khao San Road is overflowing with budget guesthouses and hostels.

Bangkok's shopping is renowned. While the malls here become ever more salubrious and high-end (you will feel downright grotty in some no matter how you dress up), markets remain places to snag bargains, either various knock-off items or original local designer goods that can be incredibly creative.

And when you're totally exhausted, in Bangkok you're in good hands: quite possibly, the world's best. Whether you drop into a shopfront foot massage place for an hour-long session of bliss or you go upmarket and book yourself into a spa for the works -- think manicure, pedicure, body scrub, facial, four-hand massage -- you'll get value for money and service that has a global reputation.

So do give Bangkok a decent chance. Don't let the smog and crowds distract you from what can be an invigorating and and intriguing city.

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Text and/or map last updated on 8th December, 2014.

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