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Bangkok and surrounds

Witness an incredible Asian metropolis firsthand.

At a glance

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The Thai capital, Bangkok and the nearby provinces surround the base of the Chao Phraya river delta as it empties out into the Gulf of Thailand. In a snapshot this region illustrates the stark differences between modern-day consumer-culture Thailand and the traditional societies of yesteryear.

For many, Bangkok, or Krungthep to most Thais (or 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) represents all that is good and bad about an Asian metropolis. Loved or loathed, it's a city with everything for some and nothing for others, and also a city that almost every visitor to Thailand finds themselves in at some stage.

The city is anything but charming on first impressions, but spend some time there and peel back the skin a little, and you may well grow to enjoy the taste of this fascinating city. Dirty and heavily polluted, the traffic, despite two mass transit systems opening over the last few years remains appalling. Glistening skyscrapers perpetually darken wooden slums and squats, whose occupants continue to fight against the development behemoth, while sparkling new Mercedes dodge food carts being pushed along the slow lane. Bangkok is a city of have and have-nots on a scale like no other in Thailand.

The vast majority of independent travellers and backpackers dive straight into Khao San Road for their lodging and entertainment needs. A backpacker ghetto of disneyesque proportions, Khao San remains one of the least Thai-like places in the kingdom -- yet ironically one visited by probable 95% of western tourists. It's also very convenient to the old city of Ko Rattanakosin, which holds many of the city's historic attractions.

Though the city is a sprawling metropolis, there's a number of distict districts that make it a little easier to navigate. The CBD is centred around the Silom Road and Sathorn Road areas of town. The heart of the city's shopping is around Siam Square, and many upmarket hotels line Bangkok's expat district of Sukhumvit Road. At the other end of the spectrum Chinatown and Pahurat play host to Bangkok's vibrant Chinese and Indian communities.

The surrounding provinces of Nonthaburi and Ayutthaya to the north, Nakhon Pathom to the west, and Ratchaburi to the south display a far more sedate pace of life, where concrete skyscrapers are yet to replace traditional wooden houses, temples and shopfronts. While many a traveller would skip these nearby provinces in the rush to distance themselves from Bangkok, those with the time should try to allow for at least a short stop-over.

Ayutthaya in particular is worth at least an overnight stay. One of Thailand's most glorious former capital's, Ayutthaya was oft-referred to as The Venice of the East and its beauty and wealth being of legendary proportions. Sacked by the Burmese in 1767, they left little standing -- even melting the gold off the temples to cart home as booty -- but what remains is a well-maintained, atmospheric historical park, that is well worth a look-in. It's an intriguing smorgasbord of east meets west amid a fusion of cosmopolitan and traditional lifestyles.

Between Ayutthaya and Bangkok lies Nonthaburi, probably best known as the home to Bangkok's most notorious prison, the Bangkok Hilton, but it is possible to stay in Nonthaburi without doing a five to ten year stretch, and its low-key riverside homestays are becoming increasingly popular.

Directly west of Bangkok, enroute to Kanchanaburi, lies the bustling town of Nakhon Pathom. Home to the tallest Buddhist chedi in the world, most just spy it from the train window -- but if you're looking for untouristed Thailand, this is where it is at.

To the south, enroute to the beach resorts and island hideaways, lies Ratchaburi. Little more than a transportation hub, Ratchaburi finds itself on many a tourist's itinerary due to the Damnoen Saduak floating market which lies a few hours drive out of Bangkok.

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Bangkok and surrounds

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