Bangkok isthe capital of Thailand as well as one of the most important citiesinSoutheast Asia. It is the epitome of the country's kaleidoscopicblendof old and new. More than anywhere else, it is an expression oftheThais' respect for tradition coupled with a vibrant involvementinmodern progress. As a cruise desination, it serves as an excellentintroduction to the region.
Located 26 miles upstream from theGulf ofThailand on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, Bangkokstarted outas a small agricultural community. It became the capital ofSiam in1782 when Chao Phraya Chakkri (Rama I), founder of the ChakkriDynasty,moved his government from Thon Buri to Bangkok. He builtthemagnificent walled-in Grand Palace, which contains the Temple oftheEmerald Buddha.
During the reign of Rama IV (1851-1868), thefirstmajor secular construction projects were started. Because of itsmanycanals that served as streets and commercial thoroughfares,Bangkokbecame known as the 'Venice of the East'.
However, inthe pastcentury, the city has undergone extensive development and manyof thecanals have been paved over. Houses perched on stilts can stillbe seenlining the banks of the remaining canals, which are also thesite ofcolorful floating markets.
Bangkok is Thailand'seconomic center.The city's industries are based primarily on theproducts of thesurrounding region. Processed rice and lumber are mostimportant.Others include sugar, paper, textiles, cigarettes, soap,matches, metaland processed foods. In addition, tourism makes for avery importantfactor in the country's economy.
AlthoughBangkok's city skylineis punctuated by many modern buildings thatreflect Western influence,its most distinctive features are still theapproximately 400 Buddhisttemples, known as wats.They range fromopulent, colorful structures tobasic temple-monasteries. Bangkokprovides its visitors with a mindboggling experience.