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With its golden temples, monks in marigold robes and taxi cabs in candy-colored hues, Bangkok, a teeming city of 11 million, is a visual kaleidoscope. Its high-rise buildings, traffic congestion, intense heat and naughty nightlife do not immediately impart a warm welcome, but don't let first impressions mislead you. Bangkok is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities, with magnificent palaces, navigable canals, busy markets, fabulous food and a vibrant nightlife that has something for everyone.
There's plenty for visitors to see outside of Bangkok, too. Phuket, the country's largest island, on the southwest coast of Thailand, has become an international tourist magnet, with great beaches, diving and golf.
Cruise ships generally call on the port of Laem Chabang two hours south of Bangkok, and travelers reach Bangkok by bus or shuttle. Smaller ships dock at Klong Toey on the Chao Phraya River on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Wat Phra Kaeo, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is Bangkok’s most sacred site. It is guarded by fantastic, enamel-encrusted statues of fearsome creatures, while its interior is a marvel of gold work and murals. Its focal point is a small green Buddha carved of priceless jade and adorned in golden costumes that change according to the season.
Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn, is a landmark on the Chao Phraya River that bisects Bangkok. It is visited on most river tours.
Long-tail boats are piled with produce in the highly photogenic Damnoen Saduak Floating Market outside of Bangkok.
The Jim Thompson House museum belonged to its namesake, an American businessman who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s, raising thousands out of poverty and popularizing the deep jewel tones, color combinations and patterns that are still the signature of textiles that bear the company name. Thompson disappeared in Malaysia in 1967. The house is made up of several historic Thai structures and furnished with art treasures.
The Bangkok National Museum features a top collection of Southeast Asian art and many items pertaining to Thailand’s history and culture.
Chinatown is Bangkok’s oldest residential neighborhood. It features an intriguing maze of alleyways, temples, herb shops and markets such as the Thieves Market and Flower Market.
Bangkok is a shopping wonderland where you can find jewelry, silks, textiles, lacquerware, bronzes, baskets, masks and a host of other handicrafts from villages throughout Thailand. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is the place to be, with its 35 acres of stalls brimming with everything from antiques to live birds. The city’s most popular shopping areas are along Silom and Surawong roads and around Siam Square. If you'd like a custom-made piece of clothing, bring a pattern with you from the U.S.
Bangkok presents myriad ways to enjoy Thai cuisine, which is distinguished by pungent flavors derived from spices, curry pastes, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, chiles and other ingredients. Some of the best eateries are casual and inexpensive. At Lek Seafood, for example, you’ll find dishes like spicy crab salad and catfish with toasted rice. Ban Khun Mae is known for its water-chestnut dumplings in coconut syrup. For regional specialties served in a century-old house with a lovely outdoor terrace, head to The Local.
Dusit Zoo is a small, charming zoo that features such rare creatures as the Komodo dragon and Sumatran rhinoceros. It also has Thai elephants that children can ride.
Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is Bangkok's largest temple. Its focal point is a massive, 150-foot sculpture of a reclining Buddha covered in gold and inlaid with mother of pearl. The temple is part of a compound that includes a school of traditional massage where visitors can book appointments.
Bangkok is nearly always hot, with the highest average temperatures of any city in the world, according to the World Meteorological Association. The coolest and driest period is between November and February, when temperatures average about 85° F. The hottest period is between April and August, and the rainy season is between June and October.
When calling at Bangkok, cruise ships usually dock at Laem Chabang, about two hours south of the city. Most lines offer a round-trip transfer into Bangkok via motorcoach. Smaller ships sometimes dock just outside the city at Klong Tey.
Taxis are plentiful in Bangkok and can be hailed from the street. The motorized, three-wheeled vehicles called tuk-tuks are another option, but the ride can be unpleasant and nerve-wracking in Bangkok’s heavy, pollutant-laden traffic. A good way to visit sites along the river is by taking the Chao Phraya Express Boat, which offers hop-on, hop-off service.
Documents: Foreign visitors will need a valid passport. A visa is not required for stays of 30 days or less.
Language: Thai is the official language, but English is usually understood in the major tourist areas.
Currency: The baht is the official currency. Major credit cards are widely accepted, but local money will come in handy in market stalls.
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