What You Need To Know
Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakho. Bangkok traces its roots to a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century, which eventually grew in size and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of Siam’s (as Thailand used to be known) modernization, during the later 19th century, as the country faced pressures from the West. The city was the centre of Thailand’s political struggles, throughout the 20th century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy, adopted constitutional rule and underwent numerous coups and several uprisings. The city grew rapidly during the 1960s through the 1980s and now exerts a significant impact among Thailand’s politics, economy, education, media and modern society. The Asian investment boom in the 1980s and 1990s led many multinational corporations to locate their regional headquarters in Bangkok. The city is now a major regional force in finance and business. It is an international hub for transport and health care, and has emerged as a regional centre for the arts, fashion and entertainment. The city is well known for its vibrant street life and cultural landmarks, as well as its notorious red-light districts. The historic Grand Palace and Buddhist temples including Wat Arun and Wat Pho stand in contrast with other tourist attractions such as the nightlife scenes of Khaosan Road and Patpong. Bangkok is among the world’s top tourist destinations. It is named the most visited city in MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index, and was named “World’s Best City” for four consecutive years by Travel + Leisure magazine. Bangkok’s rapid growth amidst little urban planning and regulation has resulted in a haphazard city scape and inadequate infrastructure systems. Limited roads, despite an extensive expressway network, together with substantial private car usage, have resulted in chronic and crippling traffic congestion. This in turn caused severe air pollution in the 1990s. The city has since turned to public transport in an attempt to solve this major problem. Four rapid transit lines are now in operation, with more systems under construction or planned by the national government and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
Area: 1,569 km²
Population: About 8,280,925
- The Thai Baht is the currency of Thailand and Bangkok.
The culture of Bangkok reflects its position as Thailand’s centre of wealth and modernization. The city has long been the portal of entry of Western concepts and material goods, which have been adopted and blended with Thai values to various degrees by its residents. This is most evident in the lifestyles of the expanding middle class. Conspicuous consumption serves as a display of economic and social status, and shopping centres are popular weekend hangouts. Ownership of electronics and consumer products such as mobile phones is ubiquitous. This has been accompanied by a degree of secularism, as religion’s role in everyday life has rather diminished. Although such trends have spread to other urban centres, and, to a degree, the countryside, Bangkok remains at the forefront of social change. A distinct feature of Bangkok is the ubiquity of street vendors selling goods ranging from food items to clothing and accessories. It has been estimated that the city may have over 100,000 hawkers. While the BMA has authorized the practice in 287 sites, the majority of activity in another 407 sites takes place illegally. Although they take up pavement space and block pedestrian traffic, many of the city’s residents depend on these vendors for their meals, and the BMA’s efforts to curb their numbers have largely been unsuccessful.
Crime and safety
Bangkok has a relatively moderate crime rate when compared to urban counterparts around the world. Traffic accidents are a major hazard, while natural disasters are rare. Intermittent episodes of political unrest have resulted in losses of life. Although the crime threat in Bangkok is relatively low, non-confrontational crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, and credit card fraud occur with frequency. Bangkok’s growth since the 1960s has been followed by increasing crime rates partly driven by urbanization, migration, unemployment and poverty. By the late 1980s, Bangkok’s crime rates were about four times that of the rest of the country. The police have long been preoccupied with street crimes ranging from housebreaking to assault and murder. The 1990s saw the emergence of vehicle theft and organized crime, particularly by foreign gangs. Drug trafficking, especially that of ya ba methamphetamine pills, is also chronic. According to police statistics, the most common complaint received by the Metropolitan Police Bureau in 2010 was housebreaking, with 12,347 cases. This was followed by 5,504 cases of motorcycle thefts, 3,694 cases of assault, and 2,836 cases of embezzlement. Serious offences included 183 murders, 81 gang robberies, 265 robberies, 1 kidnapping and 9 arson cases. Offences against the state were by far more common, and included 54,068 drug-related cases, 17,239 cases involving prostitution and 8,634 related to gambling. The Thailand Crime Victim Survey conducted by the Office of Justice Affairs of the Ministry of Justice found that 2.7 percent of surveyed households reported a member being victim of a crime in 2007. Of these, 96.1 percent were crimes against property, 2.6 percent were crimes against life and body, and 1.4 percent were information-related crimes. Political demonstrations and protests are common in Bangkok. While most events since 1992 had been peaceful, the series of protests alternately staged by the Yellow Shirts and Red Shirts since 2006 have often turned violent. Red Shirt demonstrations during March–May 2010 ended in a crackdown in which 92 were killed, including armed and unarmed protesters, security forces, civilians and journalists. Terrorist incidents have also occurred in Bangkok, most notably the 2015 Bangkok bombing at the Erawan shrine, and also aseries of bombings on the 2006–07 New Year’s Eve. Traffic accidents are a major hazard in Bangkok. There were 37,985 accidents in the city in 2010, resulting in 16,602 injuries and 456 deaths as well as 426.42 million baht in damages. However, the rate of fatal accidents is much lower than in the rest of Thailand. While accidents in Bangkok amounted to 50.9 percent of the entire country, only 6.2 percent of fatalities occurred in the city. Another serious public health hazard comes from Bangkok’s stray dogs. Up to 300,000 strays are estimated to roam the city’s streets, and dog bites are among the most common injuries treated in the emergency departments of the city’s hospitals. Rabies is prevalent among the dog population, and treatment for bites pose a heavy public burden. Natural disasters, on the other hand, are rare. While the severe floods of 2011 adversely affected Bangkok, no deaths were reported in city itself. Such extreme flooding is uncommon, although limited flooding does occur regularly in some neighbourhoods.
Bangkok is the economic centre of Thailand, and the heart of the country’s investment and development. In 2010, the city had an economic output of 3.142 trillion baht (98.34 billion US dollars), contributing 29.1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). This amounted to a per-capital GDP value of ฿456,911 ($14,301), almost three times the national average of ฿160,556 ($5,025). The Bangkok Metropolitan Region had a combined output of ฿4.773tn ($149.39bn), or 44.2 percent of GDP. Bangkok’s economy ranks as the sixth among Asian cities in terms of per-capital GDP, after Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Osaka–Kobe and Seoul. Wholesale and retail trade is the largest sector in the city’s economy, contributing 24.0 percent of Bangkok’s gross provincial product. It is followed by manufacturing (14.3%); real estate, renting and business activities (12.4%); transport and communications (11.6%); and financial intermediation (11.1%). Bangkok alone accounts for 48.4 percent of Thailand’s service sector, which in turn constitutes 49.0 percent of GDP. When the Bangkok Metropolitan Region is considered, manufacturing is the most significant contributor at 28.2 percent of the gross regional product, reflecting the density of industry in the Bangkok’s neighbouring provinces. The automotive industry based around Greater Bangkok is the largest production hub in Southeast Asia. Tourism is also a significant contributor to Bangkok’s economy, generating ฿427.5bn ($13.38bn) in revenue in 2010. Outside view of MBK Center. The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) is located on Ratchadaphisek Road in inner Bangkok. The SET, together with the Market for Alternative Investment (mai) has 648 listed companies as of the end of 2011, with a combined market capitalization of 8.485 trillion baht ($267.64bn). Due to the large amount of foreign representation, Thailand has for several years been a mainstay of the Southeast Asian economy and a centre of Asian business. The Globalization and World Cities Research Network ranks Bangkok as an “Alpha−” world city, and it is ranked 59th in Z/Yen’s Global Financial Centres Index 11. Bangkok is home to the headquarters of all of Thailand’s major commercial banks and financial institutions, as well as the country’s largest companies. A large number of multinational corporations base their regional headquarters in Bangkok due to the lower cost of the workforce and firm operations relative to other major Asian business centres. Seventeen Thai companies are listed on the Forbes 2000, all of which are based in the capital, including PTT, the only Fortune Global 500 company in Thailand. Income inequality is a major issue in Bangkok, especially between relatively unskilled lower-income immigrants from rural provinces and neighboring countries, and middle-class professionals and business elites. Although absolute poverty rates are low—only 0.64 percent of Bangkok’s registered residents were living under the poverty line in 2010, compared to a national average of 7.75—economic disparity is still substantial. The city has a Gini coefficient of 0.48, indicating a high level of inequality.
Festivals and events
The residents of Bangkok celebrate many of Thailand’s annual festivals. During Songkran on 13–15 April, traditional rituals as well as water fights take place throughout the city. Loi Krathong, usually in November, is accompanied by the Golden Mount Fair. New Year celebrations take place at many venues, the most prominent being the plaza in front of CentralWorld. Observances related to the royal family are held primarily in Bangkok. Wreaths are laid at King Chulalongkorn’s equestrian statue in the Royal Plaza on 23 October, which is King Chulalongkorn Memorial Day. The present king’s and queen’s birthdays, respectively on 5 December and 12 August, are marked as Thailand’s national Father’s Day and national Mother’s Day. These national holidays are celebrated by royal audiences on the day’s eve, in which the king or queen gives a speech, and public gatherings on the day of the observance. The king’s birthday is also marked by the Royal Guards’ parade. Sanam Luang is the site of the Thai Kite, Sport and Music Festival, usually held in March, and the Royal Ploughing Ceremony which takes place in May. The Red Cross Fair at the beginning of April is held at Suan Amporn and the Royal Plaza, and features numerous booths offering goods, games and exhibits. The Chinese New Year (January–February) and Vegetarian Festival (September–October) are celebrated widely by the Chinese community, especially in Yaowarat.
Standard Thai, also known as Central Thai or Siamese, is the official language of Thailand, spoken by over 20 million people (2000), including speakers of BangkokThai (although the latter is sometimes considered a separate dialect).
Health and security
- Healthcare Much of Thailand’s medical resources are disproportionately concentrated in the capital. In 2000, Bangkok had 39.6 percent of the country’s doctors and a physician-to-population ratio of 1:794, compared to a median of 1:5,667 among all provinces. The city is home to 42 public hospitals, five of which are university hospitals, as well as 98 private hospitals and 4,063 registered clinics. The BMA operates nine public hospitals through its Medical Service Department, and its Health Department provides primary care through sixty-eight community health centres. Thailand’s universal healthcare system is implemented through public hospitals and health centres as well as participating private providers. Research-oriented medical school affiliates such as Siriraj, King Chulalongkorn Memorial and Ramathibodi Hospitals are among the largest in the country, and act as tertiary care centres, receiving referrals from distant parts of the country. Lately, especially in the private sector, there has been much growth in medical tourism, with hospitals such as Bumrungrad and Bangkok Hospital, among others, providing services specifically catering to foreigners. An estimated 200,000 medical tourists visited Thailand in 2011, making Bangkok the most popular global destination for medical tourism.
Bangkok is one of the world’s top tourist destination cities. MasterCard ranked Bangkok as the global top destination city by international visitor arrivals in its Global Destination Cities Index, with 15.98 million projected visitors in 2013. The city is ranked fourth in cross-border spending, with 14.3 billion dollars projected for 2013, after New York, London and Paris. Euromonitor International ranked Bangkok sixth in its Top City Destinations Ranking for 2011. Bangkok was also named “World’s Best City” by Travel + Leisure magazine’s survey of its readers for four consecutive years, from 2010 to 2013. As the main gateway through which visitors arrive in Thailand, Bangkok is visited by the majority of international tourists to the country. Domestic tourism is also prominent. The Department of Tourism recorded 26,861,095 Thai and 11,361,808 foreign visitors to Bangkok in 2010. Lodgings were made by 15,031,244 guests, who occupied 49.9 percent of the city’s 86,687 hotel rooms.
Bangkok’s multi-faceted sights, attractions and city life appeal to diverse groups of tourists. Royal palaces and temples as well as several museums constitute its major historical and cultural tourist attractions. Shopping and dining experiences offer a wide range of choices and prices. The city is also famous for its dynamic nightlife. Although Bangkok’s sex tourism scene is well known to foreigners, it is usually not openly acknowledged by locals or the government.
The Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) rail systems connect the main shopping, entertainment and business areas of the city, while river taxis and express boats can be used to explore many historic sites and attractions at the riverside. Taxis are cheap and appear on virtually every corner at almost any time. Tuk-tuks, once a big Bangkok attraction, are slowly disappearing in favour of more comfortable transport, but are still worth a ride at least once.
Like most of Thailand, Bangkok has a tropical savanna climate under the Köppen climate classification and is under the influence of the South Asian monsoon system. It experiences three seasons, hot, rainy and cool, although temperatures are fairly hot year-round, ranging from an average low of 22.0 °C (71.6 °F) in December to an average high of 35.4 °C (95.7 °F) in April. The rainy season begins with the arrival of the southwest monsoon around mid-May. September is the wettest month, with an average rainfall of 334.3 millimetres (13.16 in). The rainy season lasts until October, when the dry and cool northeast monsoon takes over until February. The hot season is generally dry, but also sees occasional summer storms. The surface magnitude of Bangkok’s urban heat island has been measured at 2.5 °C (4.5 °F) during the day and 8.0 °C (14 °F) at night. The highest recorded temperature of Bangkok metropolis was 40.0 °C (104.0 °F) in April 1979, and the lowest recorded temperature was 9.9 °C (49.8 °F) in January 1955.