One night in Bangkok and the world’s… your… oyster…
Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit is the longest city name in the world. It translates to “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.”
That pretty much describes Bangkok: Big, messy, complicated, and lots going on. Incidentally, Visvakarman and Indra are principle deities in Hinduism and Buddhism respectively. The 9 gems refers to the auspicious combination of diamond, ruby, emerald, yellow sapphire, garnet, blue sapphire, pearl, topaz and cat’s eye - essentially Thailand’s crown jewels.
Bangkok is like Thailand’s beating heart.
It is the central node around and through which the economy, politics, and society ebbs and flows. And its Thailand’s portal to the rest of the world, which is why the Kings that held the mouth of the Chao Phraya became the Kings of Siam.
Bangkok is kind of a big deal even by international standards. It regularly exceeds even Paris and New York for the number of international visitors. There are more high-rises in Bangkok than any US city except New York. Were Thailand a wealthier country, Bangkok would be listed amongst the world’s most powerful and influential cities.
Bangkok is truly one of those cities - like Paris, New York, or Tokyo - that can take a weekend to see, but needs a lifetime to truly know and fully appreciate.
Bangkok is also Thailand’s black hole.
22% of Thais live here - over 14 million people - which, for an agrarian country, is kinda insane. Its a classic example of a “primate city” - a city that is disproportionately larger and more important than any other in its country. And as Thailand continues to grow - at around 4 to 5% per year on average - so does Bangkok grow even more disproportionately. It engulfs the surrounding countryside slowly, but is sucking in the whole country’s energy, including Thailand’s young people. There’s now just so much “stuff” in Bangkok that the city is sinking into its floodplain - around and inch every year on average. A tropical floodplain is a terrible place to put a Bangkok.
Bangkok is truly one of those cities like Paris, New York, or Tokyo, that it can take a weekend to see, but would take a lifetime to truly know and appreciate. I can’t really do it justice in this humble format, but I’ll leave it at this: If you’re leaving Bangkok and are happy about it, you probably didn’t do it right. If you’re arriving into Bangkok, my advice is to scrutinise where you’re getting your information about where to go and what to see – following the tourist crowd will probably lead to disappointment. There are so many authentic, fascinating, and energetic parts of the city to explore if you go against the flow.