Bangkok preview

Thailand

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and the most important commercial and economic hub in the country. It is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River in Central Thailand and has a history dating back hundreds of years.

It is a melting-pot of cultures which include a very large Chinese and Thai-Indian community as well as smaller communities such as the Mons, from the Irrawaddy delta in Burma; Thai-Muslims and Thai-Vietnamese. Expatriates from Europe, America, Australia and other Western countries account for 25 percent of Bangkok's population and it is these numbers which have helped the city become so economically successful in the international business world.

In just over 200 years, the city has grown from a small village on the banks of the river to the vibrant Asian centre it is known as today. The city's fate was sealed when Burmese armies ransacked the ancient capital Ayutthaya in 1569, destroying all administration centres and capturing the royal family and all of the citizens. A Thai general, Phraya Thaksin, took advantage of the chaos of the time and set up a new capital in Thonburi, on the western bank of the Chao Phraya River. He proclaimed himself to be the new king of Thailand and immediately began trying to reclaim the surrounding land.

However, his greed did not go unnoticed and he was finally ousted in a coup which transferred power to Chao Phraya Chakri, another general. Chakri moved the capital across the river in 1782 and so began the development of modern day Bangkok.

New communities such as Chinese and Indian traders started to make their way to the city and this saw Bangkok thrive in a way no other capital of Thailand ever had. But it was not until the third king of the Chakri dynasty took to the throne that development really flourished. He not only gave himself the new title, Rama III (which has continued today with the current king being Rama IX) but he also negotiated treaties with foreign countries which ensured that while all other Southeast Asian countries were being colonised, Thailand remained independent.

Rama V is regarded as being one of the country's great kings, building Bangkok's first railway system and promoting his father's reforms. By the turn of the 20th century, the number of residents had grown considerably, rural areas were being turned into housing developments and roadways were being built throughout the city.

Thailand's current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej, took to the throne in 1946 and is the world's longest-reigning monarch. He is truly revered by all Thais and has taken Bangkok into the 21st century. The city is now home to ultra modern shopping centres, world-class business centres, expensive condominium blocks and an abundance of entertainment districts; all of which are interspersed between riverside slums, traditional local markets, ethnic community districts (such as Chinatown and little India) and many ancient temples.

Today, the political situation in Thailand is still fairly unsettled. They have a relatively new democratic society, when compared with the political history of the UK and other European institutions, and as such there are regular demonstrations and coups; the most recent coup being in 2006. Bangkok is at the centre of the coups and while these demonstrations can often spill onto the streets, it is rare for foreigners to get caught up in the troubles. The recent takeover of Bangkok airport saw many people stranded in Thailand, but there was never any threat of foreigners being hurt; simply inconvenienced.

Bangkok is a very friendly city for expatriates, owing much of it to the friendly and tolerant local population.