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Bangkok - Capital of Thailand

Bangkok is truly a city of ying and yang.

The sprawling concrete modern metropolis lives side by side with ancient temples and grand palaces. It's unapologetic hunger for consumerism and infamous attractions versus it's deeply religious culture and worship.

You can make your journey a lively one by skirting round the city centre, huge shopping malls and hedonistic night life or you can relax and mellow in the wonders of a old meditative society, driven by the writings of Buddha.

Depending on your reasons for visiting Bangkok, it's likely you'll find what you're looking for here.

Top 10 things to do in Bangkok

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace complex, located on Na Phra Lan Road in the old city, has served as the official residence of the Kings of Thailand from the 18th century onwards.

Since it's initial construction in 1782, the Palace had been constantly expanded with the addition of many other structures.

It no longer serves as the official royal residence with the present King of Thailand now residing at the Chitralada Palace. However, the Palace is still in present day use as many royal rituals are performed here by the King every year.

The complex grounds also contain working offices and buildings for the Bureau of the Royal Household, the Office of the Private Secretary to the King and Royal Institute of Thailand.

All the buildings here are spectacularly and finely decorated in bright gold's, reds and emerald greens.

One of the highlights of the complex is the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains a small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century.

Open daily from 08:30 to 15:30.

Vimanmek Palace (Mansion House)

The Vimanmek Palace is a former royal palace located in the Dusit Palace complex in the Dusit district.

It's also known locally and on some maps as the Vimanmek Teak Mansion or Vimanmek Mansion and is claimed to be the world's largest golden teakwood mansion.

Built in 1900 by His Majesty King Rama V, the building was originally the Munthatu Rattanaroj Residence located in Chuthathuj Rachathan which the king ordered to be dismantled and reassembled in Dusit Garden.

It was only used as the royal residence for five years then used as a storage place for the Bureau of the Royal Household.

The building has two 60m wings and a four-storied octagonal kings residence area. Various collections and other items of art are displayed throughout the 31 exhibit rooms, bedrooms and throne room.

The complex has various other buildings such as an old clock museum and the king's photographic museum.

A great day out and a fascinating insight into the Thailand royalty.

Open daily (except for public holidays) between 9.30am and 4.30pm. There are some dress restrictions, so make sure you read through the website before the visit.

Wat Arun

The Wat Arun Buddhist temple (also known as the Temple of the Dawn), can be found in the Bangkok Yai district, on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River.

The temple's formal name is Wat Arunratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan, so it's not surprising that was shortened by locals.

The most striking feature of the temple is it's 104m tall central tower (prang) topped with a seven-pronged trident, referred to by many sources as the "trident of Shiva".

The main prang is surrounded by another 4 smaller ones and all are decorated by seashells and bits of porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China.

It is possible to walk a limited way up the (very steep) stairs of the main prang, which gives a reasonable view of the Chao Phraya river.

Wat Pho

Another Buddhist temple worth a visit while in Thailand is Wat Po also known as The Temple of the Reclining Buddha which it houses. It can be found in the Rattanakosin district.

If you're game for a go at the local lingo, you could always try asking for directions using it's formal name of Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan. Maybe not!

Inside, the gold plated reclining Buddha is 46m long and 15m high, and is designed to illustrate the passing of the Buddha into nirvana.

The surrounding 20 acres of grounds contain more than 1000 Buddha images in total and there are a number of gardens and other smaller buildings scattered around.

Wat Pho is also famous as Thailand's first university, and is the centre for traditional Thai massage and is popular with celebs. Inscribed on stone in the walls of Wat Pho are all that was known about Thai massage dating from the reign of King Rama III (most previous texts were lost when the Burmese destroyed Ayuthaya).

Of course you can try out a traditional or herbal massage for a small fee or partake in a course if you have the time and funds.

Wat Phra Kaew

Located in the historical central Phra Nakhon district, Wat Prah Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand.

The main building houses the statue of Emerald Buddha, enshrined here at the temple in 1782. The Emerald Buddha, a dark green statue, is in a standing meditating posture, about 66cm tall, carved from a single jade stone.

Except for the Thai King, no other person is allowed to touch the statue. A seasonal cloak, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season covers the statue. A very important ritual, the changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country during each season.

The building itself is beautifully decorated in vibrant colours and a heavy use of gold plating, however, the overall experience is of peace and tranquility.

Other attractions in Wat Phra Kaew include a model of Angkor Wat, which was built under the order of King Rama IV when Cambodia was under Siamese control .

You have a choice of walking around yourself, a guided tour or picking up a personal audio guide which is highly recommended to get the most information from the place.

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Lumphini Park

There aren't many open public spaces in the Thai capital so this 142 acre park is heavily used.

Lumphini Park was originally created in the 1920's by the king and a statue of the king stands at the southwestern entrance to the park.

The park contains an artificial lake where you can hire a variety of boats to make your own way around on the water.

The park has a smoking ban and dogs are not allowed in either, making it a natural peaceful area to relax in.

The grounds also house Thailand's first public library, a dance hall, basketball court and plenty of children's areas. Outdoor events and concerts are held throughout the year including those by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra.

There are a few stalls within the park selling fresh Thai food and fruit, however, the majority of eating vendors can be found outside and around the main entrance gates.

National Museum

The Bangkok National Museum features exhibits of Thai history and art.

The museum was established and opened in 1874 by King Rama V to exhibit relics from the rule of King Rama IV's rule. Today the galleries contain exhibits covering Thai History back to Neolithic times.

This is a great place to learn about the full range of Thai culture, history, and of the traditional significance of Buddhism to the Thai way of life.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, the museum offers free tours in English, lasting for about 2.5 hours and offer a great insight into the various collections.

There are six buildings making up the museum as a whole, each exhibiting different themed collections.

Other highlights of the museum include recovered jewelery and gems, giant shadow puppets, weapons, ivory, royal possessions, musical instruments, and Asian art and antiques through the centuries.

Open Wed - Sun from approximately 9am to 4pm.

Wat Suthat

A little bit off the popular tourist track, Wat Suthat is an important Thai temple and worth a visit.

Constructed around 1807 by Thailand's King Rama I, it has been extended and upgraded by successive reigning kings to it's present form today.

This is one of the oldest temples in Thailand and is notable for it's very distinctive huge red frame of the giant swing. The swing was the centre of an annual ceremony where teams of young men would try to swing high enough to retrieve a sack of gold tied to a pole about 25m above the ground.

Due to the unfortunate high death rate of the young men attempting the ceremony, it was banned in the 1930's.

The temple houses the large 8m tall Phra Sri Sakyamuni Buddha, with the outer walls of it's cloister enclosure being lined with more than 150 Buddha statues.

The walls are painted with murals depicting the last 24 lives of Buddha.

Chinatown (Yaowarat Rd)

Running along Yaowarat Road from Odeon Circle to the Ong Ang Canal, Bangkok's Chinatown district is a lively vibrant place to visit while you're in the capital.

Entering Chinatown from the Odeon Circle side, you'll pass through the huge ceremonial Chinese gate which in itself is a great sight.

If you're a gold hunter, this is the place to pick up the best bargains as Yaowarat Road is lined with gold shops all down it's length.

Walking round Chinatown during the day or a night, you'll find anything and everything on sale here. The people are polite and generally eager to help you find what you're after.

The Chinese community here pre-dates the establishing of the Thai capital here with the original main street being the narrow Sampaeng Lane before it was moved, under petition to the king, to Yaowarat Road.

Walking around the area you'll find many small temples, some museums and plenty of open-stall markets.

For the more daring of you wandering the market at night, try a shot of snake wide. Best tried, only once.

Siam Paragon

The Siam Paragon shopping mall is one of the biggest in Asia and includes a wide variety of stores, high-end fashion labels and restaurants as well as a movie complex housing 16 screens.

The mall is relatively new being opened in December 2005 and is located centrally on Rama I Road.

The complex is truly massive and also includes the Siam Ocean World aquarium, an exhibition hall, the Thai Art Gallery, an opera concert hall, bowling alley, fitness centre and an old Asian favourite - a karaoke centre.

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