With a population of more than 8 million in the city center and nearly 15 million in the metropolitan area, Bangkok is Thailand’s largest and most populous city. It occupies 600 square miles in the Chao Phraya delta and is the country’s official capital, as well as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.
Bangkok traces its roots to a small trading post during the 15th-century Ayutthaya Kingdom. This trading post grew in size and, by the 18th century, was the site of two capital cities: Thonburi and Rattanakosin. Within the next century Bangkok subsumed these two cities and became an important capital of what was then Siam. Toward the end of the 20th century many multinational corporations located their Asian headquarters in Bangkok; now the city is a major international business hub with all the modern accoutrements plus an exotic appeal and world-class shopping. Accelerated growth led to haphazard city planning which in turn led to traffic problems, so the city is now in the process of implementing rapid transit lines. Additionally, there are buses, taxis and water transport, including ferries and the famous longtail boats.
The name Bangkok may mean “island on a stream” or it may refer to the makok, a plant bearing olive-like fruit. The city’s full name is Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit, a Pali/Sanskrit phrase meaning “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra’s behest.” This name is quite difficult to learn, even for native Thai speakers; it was used as the lyrics of a popular song of 1989 to help people remember it. The seal of the city shows the Hindu god Indra riding in the clouds on Airavata, a divine elephant who may have given the Irrawaddy River its name.
The city is quite modern, with an impressive cityscape of skyscrapers, but it retains its traditional low-rise districts as well. Historic areas include the Grand Palace and important Buddhist wats (temples) like Wat Arun and Wat Pho. The Grand Palace is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which meanders through the city and serves as a mode of transport for certain citizens and businesses. Flooding can be a problem and the city has a complicated water management system in place to manage water levels. The density of the city is broken up by several parks and green zones. There are art museums and galleries, performing arts including traditional dance, stadiums for soccer and Muay Thai (Thai boxing).
The majority of Bangkok’s residents are Thai but there are significant populations from China, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia. There are sizeable Indian and Muslim neighborhoods, as well as small Japanese, North African and Korean communities.