The capital of Thailand, and the gateway to mainland South-East Asia, Bangkok beat longstanding favourite London into second place as the world's favourite getaway city for 2013. The great appeal of Bangkok? It is exactly what you make it. A vibrant, ultra-modern city with an ancient heritage, set around the Chao Phraya river, Bangkok offers one of the world's great cuisines, year-round warmth, an epic skyline and fantastic diversity. Whether your tastes run to street markets and local eateries, historic temples and ancient palaces, skyline bars and luxury malls, muay thai matches and edible insects, or reenacting The Hangover Part II, Thailand's “City of Angels” is a journey of discovery from the moment you step into that pink taxi at the airport. The best way to enjoy Bangkok? Give it time. Take an apartment in a district of your choice, hop on the SkyTrain or a canal boat and explore.
Fun Facts In Thailand, it is illegal to step on money – well, Thai money, anyway. Putting your foot on the head of the king is not only disrespectful but banned under the law of lèse-majesté.
Songkran, or Thai New Year, sees men, women and children participating in the world's largest water fight.
China's biggest-grossing domestic movie, Lost in Thailand, is set in Bangkok.
Eat out in Bangkok
Like any world city, Bangkok offers the full range of international cuisine – but this is a place to deepen your knowledge of Thai food, from sticky rice sweets to tangy dishes based around hand-pounded spice pastes. Discover ingredients at local markets, brave delicious street food as and where you find it, or opt for luxe Thai cuisine at high-end spots. To minimise risk from street food, opt for a busy stand with a high food turnover, and go easy on raw vegetables). Try Tom yam, the spicy soup infused with galingal, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, Tom Sam, a tangy salad based on crisp green papaya and soured with tamarind and Gang Keow Wan, the famous Thai green curry. For dessert, you can't miss sticky rice desserts like the mango favourite Khao niew ma muang.Also don't miss Bangkok's amazing range of tropical fruit – including mangosteen, the Queen of Fruits, so precious that Queen Victoria offered a prize to anyone who could bring one back for her to try, and durian, the pungent King of Fruits.
Explore BangkokA trip down the Chao Phraya river is a must – opt for a tourist cruise or join commuters on the regular river boats that depart from floating jetties. Iconic sights include the Royal Palace, a whirl of gold and coloured glass, with its extensive gardens, and the house where American silk trader Jim Thompson lived and worked before his mysterious disappearance. The golden spires of wats or temples still nestle among the skyscrapers that dominate Bangkok's skyline. Wat Pho, with its enormous reclining Buddha, is the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok; Wat Arun, on the banks of the river, is dazzling; Wat Phra Kaew, next door to the Royal Palace, houses the famous Emerald Buddha. Most temples require that visitors cover shoulders, upper arms and knees). Bangkok is rich in museums and art galleries. Get to grips with Thai history at the Bangkok National Museum, discover the mysteries of the deep at Siam Ocean World or check out contemporary art at MOCA. Day trips to floating markets such as Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa provide great photography, while Bangkok's Chinatown is a whirl of neon and traditional Chinese temples.
Things to do in BangkokMuay Thai boxing, which uses both fists and feet, is an iconic activity. Catch a match at Lumpini or Ratchadamnoen stadiums, or opt for training at a gym (training camps outside Bangkok offer longer, more intensive courses). Yoga originates in the Hindu and Buddhist spiritual tradition, and Bangkok offers the full range of yoga classes, up to and including Bikram and Ashtanga. Looking for something more spiritual? Head to a meditation centre for a day course, or out into the country for a silent retreat. Thai massage is rightly famous for firm manipulation of muscles and limbs: a foot massage is a gentler introduction to the art, or opt for a training course with certification to bring home. Love Thai food? Take a cooking course.
Chatuchak Market, which claims the status of the world's largest weekend market, offers a warren of stores selling absolutely everything under the sun at rock bottom prices, and makes an excellent spot for a wander. Pantip Plaza, a vast emporium of everything electrical, is great for tech buys at bargain prices. Looking for collectibles? The enormous River City complex boasts everything from art and antiques to old maps and prints. Or make like a Thai, and discover the air-conditioned lure of the city's many malls, from the elegant Siam Paragon to the accessible, good value MBK. Never, ever buy gems, beware of fake antiques, and approach cheap tailoring with caution.
Bangkok NightlifeEven outside Songkran, Bangkok is a fantastic party city, with something to suit pretty much every taste. For some, a visit to one of Bangkok's red light districts, such as the notorious Patpong, with the chance to meet a real life ladyboy or bar girl, and watch the ping pong ball act, is a must. Others enjoy the world-famous Khao San Road, with its late-night bars, scorpion whisky, “bucket” cocktails and backpacker buzz. Sukhumvit offers a more upscale, less touristic party scene, including longstanding favourites like Bed Supperclub, while a sunset cocktail at a high-rise rooftop bar like Moon Bar is an iconic Bangkok experience.