Welcome to Bangkok, where you can leave your expectations at the door and feel free to get swept up in the contradictions - bustling street markets and air-conditioned malls and chic jazz lounges, towering skyscrapers and inspiring temples, antiquities and the latest trends, history and modernity all vying for your attention in this concrete jungle.
Thailand's capital boasts a population of ten million, over 30,000 taxis and a yearly influx of tourists eager to experience the racing pulse of this vibrant city. Bangkok's revamped public transportation system includes the rapid Skytrain, and you can also still travel by klorng boat to popular destinations such as the Central World mall. Visitors are often drawn to the chic cosmopolitan glow of rooftop bars and the gleaming chrome of shopping malls, but if you're feeling a little overwhelmed already, don't worry - Bangkok has plenty more to offer than notorious nightlife and marathon shopping.
While Bangkok has undergone some major renovations to keep up with the other progressing capitals of the world, the Grand Palace remains a golden testament to the architectural ingenuity and spiritual awareness of Thailand's history, drawing people to its numerous gardens, halls, and pavilions for a glimpse of Thailand in the days of its storied monarchy. The largest building in the palace is the Chakri Mahaprasat, or Grand Palace Hall, designed in 1882 by British architects in the style of traditional Thai architecture blended with styles of the Italian Renaissance. The buildings are now used only during particular holidays and ceremonial occasions rather than regularly as the seat of government.
In addition to the palace, the magnificent temples of Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun are two of Bangkok's most famous and celebrated religious sites, sacred for their significance to Thai Buddhism and renowned for their beautiful construction. Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is so named for its 26-inch tall statue of the Buddha, carved from a single jade stone and revered as the protector of the country. Wat Arun, or the Temple of Dawn, is constructed of multiple towers (phra prang) covered in pieces of Chinese ceramics and sits on the Chao Praya River, a major waterway for those looking to cruise through Bangkok and take in the many sights.