Thailand ('Land of the Free') as a whole has a fascinating history. The country (Siam until 1939) was never colonized by a foreign power, unlike all of its neighbors in southeastern Asia. Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932 in a bloodless revolution. Since 1946, the king of Thailand has been Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. While the King may have little direct power, he is overwhelmingly revered by the Thai people.
Thailand's capital was moved to Bangkok in 1782 and at that time was called Bang Makok or 'Place of Olives'. Bangkok's other nickname is 'City of Angels', which was the shortened form of the 164 letter name the city had in 1785 - quite a mouthful by anyone's standards!
Today Bangkok is a thriving metropolis of over eight million people. It has always been a more cosmopolitan place than much of Thailand due to its port and the diverse people that came to the city through it. Bangkok today serves as a transportation and financial hub for mainland Southeast Asia. The majority of Thailand's exports and imports go through Bangkok, particularly the port, which makes it a vital center for business and the country's economy. Interestingly, government is the largest single employer in the city, but there are also significant opportunities available in a variety of other industries such as commerce, construction and manufacturing. Tourism is a significant source of income for the city, and English is used and taught extensively in the city in addition to the official language, Thai.
Students studying in Bangkok will experience the fascinating dichotomy between the modern and the past. The city used to be known as the 'Venice of the East' due to its extensive network of canals. Although today some of the Klongs (as they are known) have been replaced by roads, they still provide a chance to see a part of Bangkok where life continues at a quieter pace with floating shops and wooden houses and pots of flowers lining the canals.
Thailand's population is 95% Buddhist, explaining why there are so many temples, particularly in Bangkok, which is crowded with their enchanting architecture. Among the most stunning are Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) Wat Pho, (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). These temples are not only part of the history of Thailand and Bangkok, but they are also part of the heart and soul of the country, which extends into the present. Wat Phra Kaeo, for example, contains a huge emerald Buddha. No one is allowed to go near the statue except the King. Three times a year the king will change the statue's robe, which is thought to bring good fortune to the country during each of the three seasons.
Wat Phra Kaeo is actually located within Bangkok's biggest attraction, the Royal Palace, a tribute to the city's best traditions. The Royal Palace shimmers in gold and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the country's past. Other important attractions include the National Museum, Jim Thompson House, Kamthieng House, Royal Barges Museum and Ayuthaya Historical Park. The National Museum is housed in an eighteenth century palace and features the largest collection of Thai art and artifacts in the world. Similarly, most of the other attractions preserve the stunning art, architecture and culture of Thailand's varied and rich past.
For those studying abroad in Bangkok, you may also be interested to learn that it is Thailand's educational center. There are a number of prestigious Thai universities in the city including Mahidol, Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, Silpakorn, Kasetsart and the Asian Institute of Technology. Bangkok is also home to a variety of other private universities, technical institutes and teacher colleges.
While much more could be said about the sights and sounds or the excitement and atmosphere of Bangkok, it is much better experienced than described. Bangkok offers you the best of Asia in a city that is both new and old, proud yet fun loving and busy but peaceful.