In the midst of dynamic growth as a modern commercial center, Bangkok is both an ancient and a modern city. Its network of canals offset a steady stream of automobile traffic, and giant outdoor markets compete with glittering shopping malls. The city grew around the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to cover 612 square miles of southern Thailand in the world’s most fertile rice producing delta. A network of canals crisscross the city, feeding the broad Chao Phraya River, which winds through the city providing transport for passengers and cargo. The new skytrain brings easy access to the river, where ferries carry commuters, students, and saffron-robed monks. Rice barges pull mountains of commodities. The Royal Barges, long, graceful, gilded crafts, appear on parade once or twice monthly.
Bangkok is the financial capital of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It continues to prosper despite 1997’s major economic setback and current high levels of air and water pollution. Bangkok offers shopping for Southeast Asian handicrafts, antiques, silk, and jewels. It also provides a vibrant nightlife with Thai classical dance, jazz, discos, cabarets, pubs, and dinner cruises.