To help you conceptualize the supremely important role Bangkok plays in Thai living, consider the following: 2.2 out of every 10 citizens live either in the city proper or in the surrounding metropolitan area. This should raise some eyebrows. Such an incredibly lopsided dispersion of locals has given rise to an ultra-modern (and ultra-hot) city as impressive for its skyscrapers and super highways as it is for its Grand Palace and myriad traditional temples. But such is the dichotomy of the Thai capital: 5 star hotels and child beggars, 400+ Buddhist shrines and some of the seediest sex-for-sale backstreets in Southeast Asia. Some may love it, others not so much, but if nothing else the experience will undoubtedly leave an impression.
For culture aficionados, the Thai capital holds no punches. After several days checking out Khao San Road and the Bankok Arts and Culture Center, museums and political structures like the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, not to mention the floating markets and temples like Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and the like, most travelers will likely be in need of a relaxing, open-air break. Thankfully Bangkok isn't without its parks and recreation, and destinations like Lumpini Park and Club 11 provide refreshing outdoor escapes for the metropolis-weary. Hungry? Well you're in the right country. Thai cooking is everywhere, and perhaps nowhere is that more evident than Yaowarat Road (also known as Chinatown), where cheap and truly amazing meals will make you wonder why you ever paid so much for Pad Thai back home. Then it's off to Patpong, Soi 11 or the RCA Plaza for nightlife entertainment that ranges from laid back bars and chic clubs to the kind of sex and ping-pong shows the city has become so notorious for.
Exhausted yet? That might be an understatement. But have no fear, because while Bangkok has plenty of reasons to stay in the city and explore, the surrounding country side offers just as many reasons to trade in the congestion for some romps in the beautiful Thai wilderness. Head in just about any direction and the great outdoors awaits, from scuba diving off the coast of nearby Pattaya to hiking the refreshing waterfalls of Khao Yai to the northeast. There's strange wildlife, unique history and hidden mountaintop temples to explore, and all within a 2-3 hour drive of the city center. So when the plane lands unbuckle that seat belt, take a deep breath of wet, topical air and prepare yourself for a serious introduction to all things Thailand. You're about to experience one of the coolest, craziest cities the 21st century has to offer.