Many Bangkok visitors find it difficult to believe this cosmopolitan city was a tiny riverside village prior to the late 18th century fall of Ayutthaya. King Rama I moved the national capital to Rattanakosin, the former home of a Chinese community on Chao Phraya River's east bank. The Chinese were moved to Yaowarat, the location of Bangkok's present-day Chinatown.
The Guinness Book of World Records lists Bangkok's full name as the longest name of any location on Earth, but most Thais simply refer to their national capital as Krung Thep, which translates to 'City of Angels' in English. For a long time, temples and palaces were the only buildings constructed on land in this city where most people lived on riverside bamboo rafts and purchased produce from floating vendors.
European influences first came to Bangkok in order to prevent the country from being colonised like many of its Southeast Asian neighbours. Many Bangkok canals were turned into European-style roads, and the European influence is especially evident in the grand boulevards around Dusit Palace.
Today, Bangkok is one of Southeast Asia's biggest and most modern cities, but its citizens still enjoy celebrating traditional festivals such as Chinese New Year. Yaowarat Road, the heart of Bangkok's Chinese district, is closed to motorised traffic during this lively time of year. Bangkok also rings in the New Year at Central World Square on December 31 and during the traditional mid-April Songkran Festival.
Sanam Luang is the location of the ancient Royal Ploughing Ceremony which officially ushers in Thailand's rainy rice growing season. Farmers believe this festival can predict the success of the upcoming growing season. Another lively festival, the Loi Krathong Festival of Lights, typically takes place in November. December is the month when Thailand's royal family is honoured during the Trooping of the Colours and the king's 5 December birthday.
The Calypso Cabaret Show at Ratchathewi's Asia Hotel may be the most famous of Bangkok's many infamous 'ladyboy' shows where drag performers sing, dance, and wear glamorous costumes. The district of Ratchadaphisek also contains plenty of culture, both traditional and modern.
Ratchadaphisek is also home to the Thailand Culture Centre, where up to 2,000 spectators can enjoy traditional Thai cultural shows or symphony orchestra performances. Another Ratchadaphisek cultural venue, Siam Niramit, stands steps from the Thailand Culture Centre. Siam Niramit's most popular show integrates Thai traditions with modern technology and over 150 performers to share the histories of every corner of Thailand.
In addition to the Bangkok National Museum, Southeast Asia's largest, the city is also filled with many more Thai cultural museums such as the Bangkok Folk Museum, King Prajadhipok Museum, the Museum of Siam, and Silpa Bhirasri National Museum. Most of these fascinating museums are situated in Rattanakosin near the Grand Palace Bangkok and many of the city's most historic temples. The Ancient City is a museum of a different sort where visitors can admire many of Thailand's most famous landmarks in miniature format.