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When Siam's King Rama I established his new capital on a bend in the Chao Phraya River in 1782, he chose an easily defensible site where an old fort, called Bang Makok, or Bangkok for short, already existed. This name, although of venerable age, means 'place of olive plums', and was deemed insufficiently noble for a royal city. Accordingly, when the capital was first consecrated, it was given a new title which is still the longest place name in the world: Krungthepmahanakhonbowonrattanakos-inmahintaraayutthayamahadilokpopnopparatratch-athaniburiromudomratchaniwetmahasathanamonpima-navatansathirsakkathatityavisnukamprasit.In English, this may be rendered: 'Great City of Angels, City of Immortals, Magnificent Jewelled City of the God Indra, Seat of the King of Ayuthaya, City of Gleaming Temples, City of the King's Most Excellent Palace and Dominions, Home of Vishnu and All the Gods'.
It is a tongue-twister, even for Thais, who shorten it to 'Krungthep' or the 'City of Angels' in everyday speech. The international community, following the preference of foreign ambassadors to the Chakri court, uses 'Bangkok'.
With a population of around 10 million, Bangkok is about 40 times larger than Nakhon Ratchasima or Chiang Mai, Thailand's next largest towns. It has a reputation for traffic jams, although the situation is improving yearly. It is also a city of culture, haute cuisine and a throbbing, thrilling nightlife while being surprisingly safe and welcoming.
One of the stranger features of Bangkok is the absence of any single centre. The old royal city, built within three concentric canals on Ratanakosin Island, is the cultural and historical heart. Downtown Silom Road and the surrounding area are the equivalent of Bangkok's Wall Street - here are the major banking and trading institutions, as well as, near Silom's eastern end, the world-famous entertainment area Patpong Road, now known as much for its night market as for its neon lights and go-go bars. Sukhumvit Road, stretching away east towards Pattaya and the Gulf Coast, is a shopper's paradise, as well as a preferred location for many expatriate residents and mid-budget visitors.
Bangkok has become a city of gleaming shopping malls, best exemplified by the Mahboonkrong Centre, World Trade Centre and the region around Siam Square. Yet it is also still a city of canals, dominated by the great Chao Phraya River, which neatly bisects the Thai capital on its way to the nearby Gulf of Siam.