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Bangkok is Thailand's capital in every sense. It is where the Royal Family resides, it is the seat of government and administration, and it is the focal point for virtually all major industrial, commercial and financial activity. It is the country's main port and home to one tenth of the Kingdom's population. Bangkok is also the country's principal gateway and prime tourist attraction.

Playing such an important role, Bangkok bears the full brunt of Thailand's present rapid economic growth. As such it can appear a chaotic and confusing city. The skyline is dominated by high-rise offices, buildings, condominiums, luxury hotels, departmental stores and shopping malls, while the streets bustle with activity.

Yet, here too, are exotic temples and other wondrous monuments, and the true character of what s a legendary Orient city is manifest in the capital's proper name - "Krung Thep". This translates as 'City of Angels' and is the first in a whole string of illustrious titles that properly define the place. To the Thais Bangkok is always Krung Thep, the spiritual and symbolic, as well as physical heart of the nation.

Divided by the Chao Phraya, the River of Kings, Bangkok spreads across a flat alluvial plain. Originally a small riverine trading post, it was founded as the capital in 1782 by King Rama I. Over the next two centuries, it developed in such a way as to reflect both ancient glories and modern dynamism. Successfully blending old and new, it is an expression of the Thais' enduring respect for tradition and their exuberant involvement with progress.

In the midst of dynamic modern growth, Bangkok miraculously manages to preserve its cultural heritage to a marked degree. The soaring roofs and gleaming spires of the Grand Palace and the city's many historic temples present the visitor with a picture of medieval oriental wonder, the very stuff of Eastern fairytales. Further, contained within Bangkok's monument and sights are treasures of the nation's artistic and cultural endeavor that typify the land and the people.

The influence of the past and the enduring threads of the social fabric are not limited to the static. They continue to pervade daily life. Files of saffron-robed monks making their early morning alms round, for example, present an image unaltered in essentials by the passing of time. Today's backdrop of high-rise building serve only to emphasize the exotic and timeless scene, while the city draws definition from it.

Eating in Bangkok

As much as the Thais respect the past, they are also fun loving people who enjoy life's pleasures to the full. And most important in the pursuit of "sanuk" - having a good time - is good food.

Thai cuisine, rich and spicy, is a true gourmet's delight affording a huge variety of dishes to discover and relish. Seafood is also a national specialty and fish, crab, lobsters, shrimps and more are to be enjoyed in either spicy Thai style or in Continental recipes. Alternatively, exclusive roses and crystal dining can be enjoyed at restaurants specializing in European fare served in classic settings. Whatever the preference, Bangkok spoils the palate with a choice of just about every national cuisine worthy of the name.

Matching the variety of menus is the choice of dining venues. From simple but good curbside food stalls and right up through the whole dining gamut to elegant, expensive restaurants and dinner cruises on the river, there is something to suit all tastes.

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