Dive into Bangkok, cosmopolitan capital of Thailand and a thriving Asian city alive with cultural and sightseeing experiences. With a famously friendly population, rich religious and cultural traditions, vibrant nightlife and some of Asia's best cuisine, it's no wonder Bangkok welcomes around 12 million visitors per year. From the backpacker's mecca of Khao San Road to the heady smells, sounds and sights of Chinatown to the leafy avenues of upscale Dusit, home to the Thai royal family – a feast for all the senses awaits in Krung Thep, City of Angels.
Straddling the Chao Phraya river, Bangkok is best navigated by gleaming Skytrain or by boat. With the Chao Phraya Express Boat (www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com/en/tourist/), you can hop on and off at Bangkok's three biggest Buddhist sights. The towering Wat Arun (watarun.net) represents Mount Meru, while at Wat Pho, Thailand's largest Buddha receives hundreds of visitors a day; get a massage while you're waiting (www.watpomassage.com). The vast Grand Palace, built for the royal family in 1782, contains the sacred Wat Phra Kaew temple and Emerald Buddha. The Jim Thompson House (www.jimthompsonhouse.com) near Siam Square offers an insight into Thai architecture of the non-Buddhist variety. Escape the city bustle in Lumpinee Park, Bangkok's green lung in Silom.
Street stalls sell some curious examples of Thai food, including deep-fried insects, but for a more sophisticated Thai meal in a beautiful setting book Supatra River House (www.supatrariverhouse.net). Trendy restaurants are emerging in Bangkok, like Bed Supperclub in Sukhumvit (www.bedsupperclub.com), a minimalist white lounge-restaurant where you literally lounge on a bed, nibbling surprise set menus while listening to DJs. For a deeper insight into Thai cooking, take a class at Baipai Thai Cooking School (www.baipai.com).
Bangkok may be infamous for its red light district Patpong, but there's plenty of other, more family-friendly nightlife in Bangkok. The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (www.bacc.or.th) offers music, art, drama, film and photography events. Shoot up to the 63rd-floor Sky Bar (www.lebua.com/en/the-dome-dining/sky-bar-bangkok/) for cocktails with a glittering view. The spectacular Siam Niramit (www.siamniramit.com) show depicts the history and culture of Thailand's distinctive regions with traditional music and carefully choreographed dance – the show takes place on, allegedly, the world's largest stage.
At times it feels as if Bangkok is one giant market, with street vendors, tiny stalls and huge markets like Chatuchak Weekend Market (www.jjmarketplace.com). Escape the heat and haggling in a shopping mall like MBK Center (www.mbk-center.co.th) or Siam Paragon (www.siamparagon.co.th). Grocery shopping takes a novel twist at Taling Chan Floating Market in Thonburi, as shoppers paddle on traditional boats through waterside stalls heaped high with fresh produce.
Bangkok’s calendar is packed with festivals: fireworks, parades and free street entertainment for the King's Birthday on 5 December; dragon-dancing in Chinatown for the Chinese New Year; a giant public water fight for Songkran, the Thai New Year...If you don't want to get wet, stay inside! At November's Loi Krathong, Thais take a moment to be peaceful, floating lotus-shaped boats of flowers and candles down the river to wash away anything negative from the previous year.