Bangkok (English pronunciation: /ˈbæŋkɒk/) is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (กรุงเทพมหานคร, pronounced [krūŋ tʰêːp mahǎː nákʰɔ̄ːn] or simply Krung Thep. The city occupies 1,568.7 square kilometres (605.7 sq mi) in the Chao Phraya River delta in Central Thailand, and has a population of over 8 million, or 12.6 percent of the country’s population. Over 14 million people (22.2 percent) live within the surrounding Bangkok Metropolitan Region, making Bangkok an extreme primate city, significantly dwarfing Thailand’s other urban centres in terms of importance.
Bangkok traces its roots to a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century, which eventually grew and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of the modernization of Siam – later renamed Thailand – during the late 19th century, as the country faced pressures from the West. The city was at 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 on 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 cityscape and inadequate infrastructure systems. Limited roads, despite an extensive expressway network, together with substantial private car usage, have led to chronic and crippling traffic congestion, which caused severe air pollution in the 1990s. The city has since turned to public transport in an attempt to solve this major problem. Five rapid transit lines are now in operation, with more systems under construction or planned by the national government and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
The history of Bangkok dates at least back to the early 15th century, when it was a village on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, under the rule of Ayutthaya. Because of its strategic location near the mouth of the river, the town gradually increased in importance. Bangkok initially served as a customs outpost with forts on both sides of the river, and became the site of a siege in 1688 in which the French were expelled from Siam. After the fall of Ayutthaya to the Burmese Empire in 1767, the newly declared King Taksin established his capital at the town, which became the base of the Thonburi Kingdom. In 1782, King Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I) succeeded Taksin, moved the capital to the eastern bank’s Rattanakosin Island, thus founding the Rattanakosin Kingdom. The City Pillar was erected on 21 April, which is regarded as the date of foundation of the present city.
Bangkok’s economy gradually expanded through busy international trade, first with China, then with Western merchants returning in the early-to-mid 19th century. As the capital, Bangkok was the centre of Siam’s modernization as it faced pressure from Western powers in the late 19th century. The reigns of Kings Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851–68) and Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868–1910) saw the introduction of the steam engine, printing press, rail transport and utilities infrastructure in the city, as well as formal education and healthcare. Bangkok became the centre stage for power struggles between the military and political elite as the country abolished absolute monarchy in 1932. It was subject to Japanese occupation and Allied bombing during World War II, but rapidly grew in the post-war period as a result of United States developmental aid and government-sponsored investment. Bangkok’s role as an American military R&R destination boosted its tourism industry as well as firmly establishing it as a sex tourism destination. Disproportionate urban development led to increasing income inequalities and unprecedented migration from rural areas into Bangkok; its population surged from 1.8 to 3 million in the 1960s. Following the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973, Japanese businesses took over as leaders in investment, and the expansion of export-oriented manufacturing led to growth of the financial market in Bangkok. Rapid growth of the city continued through the 1980s and early 1990s, until it was stalled by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. By then, many public and social issues had emerged, among them the strain on infrastructure reflected in the city’s notorious traffic jams. Bangkok’s role as the nation’s political stage continues to be seen in strings of popular protests, from the student uprisings in 1973 and 1976, anti-military demonstrations in 1992, and successive anti-government demonstrations by the "Yellow Shirt", "Red Shirt" and "Light blue Shirt" movements from 2008 onwards.
Administration of the city was first formalized by King Chulalongkorn in 1906, with the establishment of Monthon Krung Thep Phra Maha Nakhon (มณฑลกรุงเทพพระมหานคร) as a national subdivision. In 1915 the monthon was split into several provinces, the administrative boundaries of which have since further changed. The city in its current form was created in 1972 with the formation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA), following the merger of Phra Nakhon Province on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and Thonburi Province on the west during the previous year.
The etymology of the name Bangkok (บางกอก, pronounced in Thai as [bāːŋ kɔ̀ːk] is not absolutely clear. Bang is a Thai word meaning "a village situated on a stream", and the name might have been derived from Bang Ko (บางเกาะ), ko meaning "island", a reference to the area’s landscape which was carved by rivers and canals. Another theory suggests that it is shortened from Bang Makok (บางมะกอก), makok being the name of Elaeocarpus hygrophilus, a plant bearing olive-like fruit.[a] This is supported by the fact that Wat Arun, a historic temple in the area, used to be named Wat Makok. Officially, however, the town was known as Thonburi Si Mahasamut (ธนบุรีศรีมหาสมุทร, from Pali and Sanskrit, literally "city of treasures gracing the ocean") or Thonburi, according to Ayutthaya chronicles. Bangkok was likely a colloquial name, albeit one widely adopted by foreign visitors, whose continued use of the name finally resulted in it being officially adopted with the creation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.
When King Rama I established his new capital on the river’s eastern bank, the city inherited Ayutthaya’s ceremonial name, of which there were many variants, including Krung Thep Thawarawadi Si Ayutthaya (กรุงเทพทวารวดีศรีอยุธยา) and Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (กรุงเทพมหานครศรีอยุธยา). Edmund Roberts, visiting the city as envoy of the United States in 1833, noted that the city, since becoming capital, was known as Sia-Yut’hia, and this is the name used in international treaties of the period. Today, the city is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon (กรุงเทพมหานคร) or simply as Krung Thep (กรุงเทพฯ). Its full ceremonial name, which came into use during the reign of King Mongkut, reads as follows:
Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit
กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบูรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์
The name, composed of Pali and Sanskrit root words, translates as:
City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.
The name is listed in Guinness World Records as the world’s longest place name, at 168 letters. Thai school children are taught the full name, although few can explain its meaning as many of the words are archaic, and known to few. Most Thais who recall the full name do so because of its use in a popular song, "Krung Thep Maha Nakhon" (1989) by Asanee–Wasan and will often recount it by singing it, much as an English speaker might sing the alphabet song to recite the alphabet. The entirety of the lyrics is just the name of the city repeated over and over.
The city of Bangkok is locally governed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). Although its boundaries are at the provincial (changwat) level, unlike the other 76 provinces Bangkok is a special administrative area whose governor is directly elected to serve a four-year term. The governor, together with four appointed deputies, form the executive body, who implement policies through the BMA civil service headed by the Permanent Secretary for the BMA. In separate elections, each district elects one or more city councillors, who form the Bangkok Metropolitan Council. The council is the BMA’s legislative body, and has power over municipal ordinances and the city’s budget. However, after the coup of 2014 all local elections have been cancelled and the council has been appointed by government on September 15 2014. The current Bangkok Governor is Police General Aswin Kwanmuang, who was appointed by the military government on October 26 following the suspension of the last elected governor M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra.
Bangkok is subdivided into fifty districts (khet, equivalent to amphoe in the other provinces), which are further subdivided into 169 subdistricts (khwaeng, equivalent to tambon). Each district is managed by a district director appointed by the governor. District councils, elected to four-year terms, serve as advisory bodies to their respective district directors.
The BMA is divided into sixteen departments, each overseeing different aspects of the administration’s responsibilities. Most of these responsibilities concern the city’s infrastructure, and include city planning, building control, transportation, drainage, waste management and city beautification, as well as education, medical and rescue services. Many of these services are provided jointly with other agencies. The BMA has the authority to implement local ordinances, although civil law enforcement falls under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Bureau.
The seal of the city shows Hindu god Indra riding in the clouds on Airavata, a divine white elephant known in Thai as Erawan. In his hand Indra holds his weapon, the vajra. The seal is based on a painting done by Prince Naris. The tree symbol of Bangkok is Ficus benjamina. The official city slogan, adopted in 2012, reads:
As built by deities, the administrative center, dazzling palaces and temples, the capital of Thailand
กรุงเทพฯ ดุจเทพสร้าง เมืองศูนย์กลางการปกครอง วัดวังงามเรืองรอง เมืองหลวงของประเทศไทย
As the capital of Thailand, Bangkok is the seat of all branches of the national government. The Government House, Parliament House and Supreme, Administrative and Constitutional Courts are all located within the city. Bangkok is the site of the Grand Palace and Chitralada Villa, respectively the official and de facto residence of the king. Most government ministries also have headquarters and offices in the capital.
The Bangkok city proper covers an area of 1,568.737 square kilometres, ranking 69th among the other 76 provinces of Thailand. Of this, about 700 square kilometres form the built-up urban area. It is ranked 73rd in the world in terms of land area by City Mayors. The city’s urban sprawl reaches into parts of the six other provinces it borders, namely, in clockwise order from northwest: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Chachoengsao, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom. With the exception of Chachoengsao, these provinces, together with Bangkok, form the greater Bangkok Metropolitan Region.
PARKS AND GREEN ZONES
Bangkok has several parks, although these amount to a per-capita total park area of only 1.82 square metres in the city proper. Total green space for the entire city is moderate, at 11.8 square metres per person; however, in the more densely built-up areas of the city these numbers are as low as 1.73 and 0.72 square metres per person. More recent numbers claim that there is only 3.3 m2 of green space per person, compared to an average of 39 m2 in other cities across Asia. Bangkokians thus have 10 times less green space than is standard in the region’s urban areas. Green belt areas include about 700 square kilometres of rice paddies and orchards in the eastern and western edges of the city proper, although their primary purpose is to serve as flood detention basins rather than to limit urban expansion. Bang Kachao, a 20-square-kilometre conservation area in an oxbow of the Chao Phraya, lies just across the southern riverbank districts, in Samut Prakan Province. A master development plan has been proposed to increase total park area to 4 square metres per person.
Bangkok’s largest parks include the centrally located Lumphini Park near the Si Lom – Sathon business district with an area of 57.6 hectares, the 80-hectare Suanluang Rama IX in the east of the city, and the Chatuchak–Queen Sirikit–Wachirabenchathat park complex in northern Bangkok, which has a combined area of 92 hectares.
The city of Bangkok has a population of 8,280,925 according to the 2010 census, or 12.6 percent of the national population. However, there are only 5,692,284 registered residents, belonging to 2,672,423 households. A large number of Bangkok’s daytime population commutes from surrounding provinces in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region, the total population of which is 14,565,547. Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city; the census showed that it is home to 81,570 Japanese and 55,893 Chinese nationals, as well as 117,071 expatriates from other Asian countries, 48,341 from Europe, 23,418 from the Americas, 5,289 from Australia and 3,022 from Africa. Immigrants from neighbouring countries include 303,595 Burmese, 63,438 Cambodians and 18,126 Lao.
Although it has been Thailand’s largest population centre since its establishment as capital city in 1782, Bangkok grew only slightly throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. British diplomat John Crawfurd, visiting in 1822, estimated its population at no more than 50,000. As a result of Western medicine brought by missionaries as well as increased immigration from both within Siam and overseas, Bangkok’s population gradually increased as the city modernized in the late 19th century. This growth became even more pronounced in the 1930s, following the discovery of antibiotics. Although family planning and birth control was introduced in the 1960s, the lowered birth rate was more than offset by increased migration from the provinces as economic expansion accelerated. Only in the 1990s have Bangkok’s population growth rates decreased, following the national rate. Thailand had long since become highly centralized around the capital. In 1980, Bangkok’s population was fifty-one times that of Hat Yai and Songkhla, the second-largest urban centre, making it the world’s most prominent primate city.
The majority of Bangkok’s population are of Thai ethnicity,[d] although details on the city’s ethnic make-up are unavailable, as the national census does not document race.[e] Bangkok’s cultural pluralism dates back to the early days of its foundation; several ethnic communities were formed by immigrants and forced settlers including the Khmer, Northern Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, Tavoyan, Mon and Malay. Most prominent were the Chinese, who played major roles in the city’s trade and became the majority of Bangkok’s population – estimates include up to three-fourths in 1828 and almost half in the 1950s. However, Chinese immigration was restricted from the 1930s and effectively ceased after the Chinese Revolution in 1949. Their prominence subsequently declined as most of younger generations of Thai Chinese have integrated and adopted a Thai identity. Bangkok is still nevertheless home to a large Chinese community, with the greatest concentration in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown. The majority (91 percent) of the city’s population is Buddhist. Other religions include Islam (4.7%), Christianity (2.0%), Hinduism (0.5%), Sikhism (0.1%) and Confucianism (0.1%).
Apart from Yaowarat, Bangkok also has several other distinct ethnic neighbourhoods. The Indian community is centred in Phahurat, where the Gurdwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha, founded in 1933, is located. Ban Khrua on Saen Saep Canal is home to descendants of the Cham who settled in the late 18th century. Although the Portuguese who settled during the Thonburi period have ceased to exist as a distinct community, their past is reflected in Santa Kruz Church, on the west bank of the river. Likewise, the Assumption Cathedral on Charoen Krung Road is among many European-style buildings in the Old Farang Quarter, where European diplomats and merchants lived during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Nearby, the Haroon Mosque is the centre of a Muslim community. Newer expatriate communities exist along Sukhumvit Road, including the Japanese community near Soi Phrom Phong and Soi Thong Lo, and the Arab and North African neighbourhood along Soi Nana. Sukhumvit Plaza, a mall on Soi Sukhumvit 12, is popularly known as Korea Town.
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-capita 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-capita 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.
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 neighbouring 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.
The culture of Bangkok reflects its position as Thailand’s centre of wealth and modernisation. 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 authorised 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.
In 2015, however, the BMA, with support from the National Council for Peace and Order (Thailand’s ruling military junta), began cracking down on street vendors in a bid to reclaim public space. Many famous market neighbourhoods were affected, including Khlong Thom, Saphan Lek, and the flower market at Pak Khlong Talat. Nearly 15,000 vendors were evicted from 39 public areas in 2016. While some applauded the efforts to focus on pedestrian rights, others have expressed concern that gentrification would lead to the loss of the city’s character and adverse changes to people’s way of life.
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.
Although Bangkok’s canals historically served as a major mode of transport, they have long since been surpassed in importance by land traffic. Charoen Krung Road, the first to be built by Western techniques, was completed in 1864. Since then, the road network has vastly expanded to accommodate the sprawling city. A complex elevated expressway network helps bring traffic into and out of the city centre, but Bangkok’s rapid growth has put a large strain on infrastructure, and traffic jams have plagued the city since the 1990s. Although rail transport was introduced in 1893 and electric trams served the city from 1894 to 1968, it was only in 1999 that Bangkok’s first rapid transit system began operation. Older public transport systems include an extensive bus network and boat services which still operate on the Chao Phraya and two canals. Taxis appear in the form of cars, motorcycles, and "tuk-tuk" auto rickshaws.
Bangkok is connected to the rest of the country through the national highway and rail networks, as well as by domestic flights to and from the city’s two international airports. Its centuries-old maritime transport of goods is still conducted through Khlong Toei Port.
The BMA is largely responsible for overseeing the construction and maintenance of the road network and transport systems through its Public Works Department and Traffic and Transportation Department. However, many separate government agencies are also in charge of the individual systems, and much of transport-related policy planning and funding is contributed to by the national government.
Road-based transport is the primary mode of travel in Bangkok. Due to the city’s organic development, its streets do not follow an organized grid structure. Forty-eight major roads link the different areas of the city, branching into smaller streets and lanes (soi) which serve local neighbourhoods. Eleven bridges over the Chao Phraya link the two sides of the city, while several expressway and motorway routes bring traffic into and out of the city centre and link with nearby provinces.
Bangkok’s rapid growth in the 1980s resulted in sharp increases in vehicle ownership and traffic demand, which have since continued – in 2006 there were 3,943,211 in-use vehicles in Bangkok, of which 37.6 percent were private cars and 32.9 percent were motorcycles. These increases, in the face of limited carrying capacity, caused severe traffic congestion evident by the early 1990s. The extent of the problem is such that the Thai Traffic Police has a unit of officers trained in basic midwifery in order to assist deliveries which do not reach hospital in time. While Bangkok’s limited road surface area (8 percent, compared to 20–30 percent in most Western cities) is often cited as a major cause of its traffic jams, other factors, including high vehicle ownership rate relative to income level, inadequate public transport systems, and lack of transportation demand management, also play a role. Efforts to alleviate the problem have included the construction of intersection bypasses and an extensive system of elevated highways, as well as the creation of several new rapid transit systems. The city’s overall traffic conditions, however, remain bad.
Traffic has been the main source of air pollution in Bangkok, which reached serious levels in the 1990s. However, efforts to improve air quality by improving fuel quality and enforcing emission standards, among others, have been largely successful. Atmospheric particulate matter levels dropped from 81 micrograms per cubic metre in 1997 to 43 in 2007.
Although the BMA has created thirty signed bicycle routes along several roads totalling 230 kilometres, cycling is still largely impractical, especially in the city centre. Most of these bicycle lanes share the pavement with pedestrians. Poor surface maintenance, encroachment by hawkers and street vendors, and a hostile environment for cyclists and pedestrians, make cycling and walking unpopular methods of getting around in Bangkok.
BUSES AND TAXIS
Bangkok has an extensive bus network providing local transit services within the Greater Bangkok area. The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) operates a monopoly on bus services, with substantial concessions granted to private operators. Buses, minibus vans, and song thaeo operate on a total of 470 routes throughout the region. A separate bus rapid transit system owned by the BMA has been in operation since 2010. Known simply as the BRT, the system currently consists of a single line running from the business district at Sathon to Ratchaphruek on the western side of the city. The Transport Co., Ltd. is the BMTA’s long-distance counterpart, with services to all provinces operating out of Bangkok.
Taxis are ubiquitous in Bangkok, and are a popular form of transport. As of August 2012, there are 106,050 cars, 58,276 motorcycles and 8,996 tuk-tuk motorized tricycles cumulatively registered for use as taxis. Meters have been required for car taxis since 1992, while tuk-tuk fares are usually negotiated. Motorcycle taxis operate from regulated ranks, with either fixed or negotiable fares, and are usually employed for relatively short journeys.
Despite their popularity, taxis have gained a bad reputation for often refusing passengers when the requested route is not to the driver’s convenience. Motorcycle taxis were previously unregulated, and subject to extortion by organized crime gangs. Since 2003, registration has been required for motorcycle taxi ranks, and drivers now wear distinctive numbered vests designating their district of registration and where they are allowed to accept passengers.
Bangkok is the location of Hua Lamphong Railway Station, the main terminus of the national rail network operated by the State Railway of Thailand (SRT). In addition to long-distance services, the SRT also operates a few daily commuter trains running from and to the outskirts of the city during the rush hour.
Bangkok is currently served by three rapid transit systems: the BTS Skytrain, the underground MRT and the elevated Airport Rail Link. Although proposals for the development of rapid transit in Bangkok had been made since 1975, it was only in 1999 that the BTS finally began operation.
The BTS consists of two lines, Sukhumvit and Silom, with thirty stations along 30.95 kilometres. The MRT opened for use in July 2004, and currently consists of two line, the Blue Line and Purple Line. The Airport Rail Link, opened in August 2010, connects the city centre to Suvarnabhumi Airport to the east. Its eight stations span a distance of 28 kilometres.
Although initial passenger numbers were low and their service area remains limited to the inner city, these systems have become indispensable to many commuters. The BTS reported an average of 600,000 daily trips in 2012, while the MRT had 240,000 passenger trips per day.
As of 2016, construction work is ongoing to extend BTS and MRT, as well as several additional transit lines, including the Light Red grade-separated commuter rail line. The entire Mass Rapid Transit Master Plan in Bangkok Metropolitan Region consists of eight main lines and four feeder lines totalling 508 kilometres to be completed by 2029. In addition to rapid transit and heavy rail lines, there have been proposals for several monorail systems.
Although much diminished from its past prominence, water-based transport still plays an important role in Bangkok and the immediate upstream and downstream provinces. Several water buses serve commuters daily. The Chao Phraya Express Boat serves thirty-four stops along the river, carrying an average of 35,586 passengers per day in 2010, while the smaller Khlong Saen Saep boat service serves twenty-seven stops on Saen Saep Canal with 57,557 daily passengers. Long-tail boats operate on fifteen regular routes on the Chao Phraya, and passenger ferries at thirty-two river crossings served an average of 136,927 daily passengers in 2010.
Bangkok Port, popularly known by its location as Khlong Toei Port, was Thailand’s main international port from its opening in 1947 until it was superseded by the deep-sea Laem Chabang Port in 1991. It is primarily a cargo port, though its inland location limits access to ships of 12,000 deadweight tonnes or less. The port handled 11,936,855 tonnes of cargo in the first eight months of the 2010 fiscal year, about 22 percent the total of the country’s international ports.
Bangkok is one of Asia’s busiest air transport hubs. Two commercial airports serve the city, the older Don Mueang International Airport and the new Bangkok International Airport, commonly known as Suvarnabhumi. Suvarnabhumi, which replaced Don Mueang as Bangkok’s main airport at its opening in 2006, served 52,808,013 passengers in 2015, making it the world’s 20th busiest airport by passenger volume. This amount of traffic is already over its designed capacity of 45 million passengers. Don Mueang reopened for domestic flights in 2007, and resumed international services focusing on low-cost carriers in October 2012. Suvarnabhumi is undergoing expansion to increase its capacity to 60 million, which is expected to be completed by 2016.
HEALTH AND EDUCATION
Bangkok has long been the centre of modern education in Thailand. The first schools in the country were established here in the later 19th century, and there are now 1,351 schools in the city. The city is home to the country’s five oldest universities, Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Kasetsart, Mahidol and Silpakorn, founded between 1917 and 1943. The city has since continued its dominance, especially in higher education; the majority of the country’s universities, both public and private, are located in Bangkok or the Metropolitan Region. Chulalongkorn and Mahidol are the only Thai universities to appear in the top 500 of the QS World University Rankings. King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi, also located in Bangkok, is the only Thai university in the top 400 of the 2012–13 Times Higher Education World University Rankings.
Over the past few decades the general trend of pursuing a university degree has prompted the founding of new universities to meet the needs of Thai students. Bangkok became not only a place where immigrants and provincial Thais go for job opportunities, but also for a chance to receive a university degree. Ramkhamhaeng University emerged in 1971 as Thailand’s first open university; it now has the highest enrolment in the country. The demand for higher education has led to the founding of many other universities and colleges, both public and private. While many universities have been established in major provinces, the Greater Bangkok region remains home to the greater majority of institutions, and the city’s tertiary education scene remains over-populated with non-Bangkokians. The situation is not limited to higher education, either. In the 1960s, 60 to 70 percent of 10- to 19-year-olds who were in school had migrated to Bangkok for secondary education. This was due to both a lack of secondary schools in the provinces and perceived higher standards of education in the capital. Although this discrepancy has since largely abated, tens of thousands of students still compete for places in Bangkok’s leading schools. Education has long been a prime factor in the centralization of Bangkok and will play a vital role in the government’s efforts to decentralize the country.
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.
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 and occasional terrorist attacks 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 urbanisation, 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 a series of bombings on the 2006–07 New Year’s Eve.
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