Dirty, dynamic, wild and sweaty, Bangkok is a heaving scrum of humanity blended with ancient beauty, booming youth culture and the rituals of a bygone age. The Thais call it the City of Angels but there's nothing angelic about Bangkok. Don't arrive expecting an exotic, languid, dreamy place trapped in some imagined, traditional past. What will hit you is the size, pace, endless olfactory cacophony, friendliness of the locals and interminable gridlocked traffic. The whole place resembles a giant, out-of-control car-boot sale whose pavements are humming with open-air kitchens, clothes stalls, hawkers and touts.

Some of the old
The King and I
romanticism does persist. There are the
, palaces and temples but ultimately, what marks Bangkok out from the imaginings of its visitors, is its thrusting modernity in open struggle with the ancient, rural traditions of Thai culture. Neon, steel and glass futuristic transport rubs shoulders with lumbering elephants, alms-collecting monks and crumbling teak villas. It's all here: poverty and wealth, smog-filled thoroughfares and backstreets smothered in alluring exotic aromas, cybercaf├ęs and barrows laden with fried bugs.

With your senses fully overloaded don't forget the sheer luxury that's on offer. Bangkok is home to some of the best, and most affordable, hotels in the world. Add the numerous spas, the futuristic super-hip nightlife and the incredibly diverse range of markets and shops selling everything from amulets and sarongs to Prada and hi-tech gadgets - your head will be spinning. And when the urban theatre of Bangkok finally overwhelms take a day trip to the ancient summer residence of the Thai kings at Bang Pa In or drift upriver to Nonthaburi for its provincial charm. Crocodile farms, wax works and other oddities will also provide Thai-style kitsch.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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