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Bangkok History

Bangkok has been on one heck of an economic and political rollercoaster ride.

It started out as a quiet farming and trading community on the banks of the Chao Praya river, but grew in the 15th and 16th centuries, when a new waterway was created, easing the passage of ships up the river.

When Bangkok became the Thai capital in 1782, the town was mainly inhabited by Chinese merchants and customs inspectors.

The growth of the city started with the construction of Wat Phra Kaew. Defensive moats were dug, canals built and a city wall erected. Bangkok soon became a hub for Chinese trading ships.

King Mongkut (Rama IV) and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) modernised the city in the 1850s, adding roads and railways.

By the end of the 19th century, the population had swelled to around 500,000 and Thailand was successfully fending off interest from colonial powers.

Bangkok expanded east and north in the 20th century. The first bridge over the river (Memorial Bridge) was built in 1932, the same year an absolute monarchy was replaced by a constitutional monarchy.

Following Japanese occupation during WWII, the 1950s saw a period of political turmoil in Thailand, with several coup d’états.

Come the 1960s, Thailand’s fortunes rose. Yet the country wavered between civilian and military rule over the next decades.

Thailand’s economy spectacularly crashed in the 1990s and it was only after tough reforms that Bangkok’s economy started to pick up again.

The 21st century hasn’t been smooth either. In 2006, a bloodless coup overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was accused of corruption and who now lives in self-imposed exile.

Anti-government demonstrations took place in 2008 amid calls for reform. But in 2011, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was elected PM, then ousted three years later.

Since then, the reins of power have been in the hands of the military.

Did you know?
• Red Bull was inspired by a Bangkok creation called Krating Daeng.
• Though many are now filled in, Bangkok’s khlongs (canals) earned it the nickname ‘Venice of the East’.
• In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep.

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The Dusit Thani

This is one of the most opulent hotels in Bangkok and is conveniently located off the Silom Road in the business and entertainment district overlooking Lumphini Park. The 500-plus rooms are all sumptuously decorated in Thai style and all have satellite TVs, VCRs and mini-bars.

The Oriental

One of the most famous hotels in the world, The Oriental is located by the Chao Phraya River and is the hotel of choice for royalty and celebrities past and present, such as Somerset Maugham, the Prince of Wales and Elizabeth Taylor. Although the original Author's Wing was built in 1887 and is very much colonial in style, two more modern wings tend to dominate the appearance of the hotel. However, the 393 rooms (including 35 suites) are all sumptuously decorated.

The Eugenia

A fine boutique hotel, with just 12 suites, in an elegant colonial house. The suites all have antique furniture, part of a collection belonging to the owner. There is a lounge bar and a restaurant, the D B Bradley, which serves a fusion of east and west. Facilities include an open-air swimming pool and high-speed internet access. Airport transfers can be arranged in one of their fleet of vintage cars.

Peninsula

With commanding views of the Chao Phraya River, this hotel in Bangkok has a reputation for excellent service and hospitality. All rooms have a river view, some with balconies, terraces or outdoor Jacuzzis, and are sumptuously decorated. Rooms have marble bathrooms, executive work desk, CD/DVD player, camcorder video playback facilities and Wi-Fi. Diners are well catered for with several restaurants including Mediterranean cuisine at Jesters and Thai home-made style cooking at Thiptara. Leisure facilities include a spa, gym, tennis courts and three-tiered swimming pool.

Dream Hotel

This trendy boutique hotel, where the style is a fusion of East meets West, is now well-established on the Bangkok scene. The 200 rooms have plasma TVs, iPods, Wi-Fi and under-bed lighting. There are even pet-friendly rooms. There is one restaurant, Flava , and a cocktail lounge, spa, health club, swimming pool and business centre.

Conrad Bangkok

Stylish Bangkok hotel, close to Lumphini Park, with contemporary, understated Thai design throughout. Silk and wood are used in all the rooms and suites. Superb facilities including several restaurants (Italian, Chinese and Japanese), nightclub, spa, fitness centre, swimming pool, jogging track and tennis courts.