“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble,” sang Murray Head for the musical Chess in an iconic track that sums up, pithily and unapologetically, everything that represents the capital of Thailand. Made of equal parts spirituality and sleaze, commoditization and nirvana, despite recent anti-government protests, Bangkok continues to hold tourists in thrall.
Home to over 9 million people, Thailand's capital is both one of the most popular tourist destinations in Southeast Asia and a wannabe metropolis with one of Asia's widest rich-poor disparities. The chaotic and vibrant city is a mishmash of dizzying skyscrapers and colossal shopping malls jammed up against residential apartment buildings and homes. Crowded streets bustle with sidewalk vendors and motorbikes, and 7.5 million registered cars overwhelm roads designed for just 1.4 million. Just an air-hop from Bangkok, famous among other things for its intriguing Magic Tattoo Festival (see slideshow: Incredible Ink) are the floating markets (see slideshow: Footloose in Thailand's Floating Markets) and beach resorts (see slideshow: Hale and hearty in Thailand's resort islands), but the capital alone has its charms, its draws, its temptations and its traps. Not much to choose between despair and ecstasy, as some might say, quoting the song written by Swedish lyricist Anders Glenmark. And, yes, you can't be too careful with your company. Photos: Reuters ALSO SEE: BANGKOK CITY GUIDE A protester walks on a defaced poster of Thai Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha during an anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, June 1, 2014. Hundreds of demonstrators shouting "Freedom!" and "Democracy!" gathered Sunday near a major shopping mall in downtown Bangkok to denounce the country's May 22 coup despite a lockdown by soldiers of some of the city's major intersections. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn) A Buddhist monk, foreground left, and a woman, foreground right, walk past line of Thai soldiers guarding the square at Victory Monument to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist in Thailand called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government's ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn) A Buddhist monk stands next to a wall painting of ancient warrior carrying a M-79 grenade launcher at the Chedi Luang temple in Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand Monday, June 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Wichai Taprieu) A Western tourist tours Wat Pho in Bangkok, Thailand Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The drama of Thailand's military takeover has played out mainly in the political arena. While the army detains political leaders and issues stern warnings on TV, tourists are kicking back on the countryâs famed beaches and sightseeing in Bangkok. The main impact on visitors for now is a 10 p.m. curfew, which forces nightlife to close four hours earlier. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) A sky train cruises on its track over Victory Monument square after Thai soldiers block the surrounding roads to prevent anti-coup demonstration in Bangkok, Thailand Friday, May 30, 2014. An anti-coup activist in Thailand called Friday for a weekend rally to defy the military government's ban on demonstrations, urging those opposed to the takeover to wear masks and be ready for cat-and-mouse chases with soldiers in the capital. (AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn) BANGKOK, THAILAND - JUN 01: Foreign torurists get out from a 24 hours Mcdonald's at Khao San during a curfew on June 01, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Khao San Road is a popular area with tourists and renowned for its nightlife. Martial law has been declared across Thailand, with a night time curfew, which is having an impact on some street traders and local businesses. Despite this curfew some of the most important tourist areas remains open. Thailand is known as a country with a very unstable political record and is now experiencing it's 12th coup with 7 attempted pervious coups. (Photo by Borja Sanchez-Trillo/Getty Images) Two Buddhist monks, dressed in bight orange robes, stop to have their photograph taken outside one of the many bars on Patpong Road in this 2004 file photo. Patpong Road became popular with U.S. servicemen during the Vietnam War era as an "anything goes" nightlife zone and today remains as a mixture of go-go bars, massages parlors and shopping bazaars. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) Tourists and locals take part in water fights and festivities near Khao San Road in the run-up to the Thai New Year on April 12, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Thai New Year or Songkran Festival celebration ran from 13 to 15 April with large scale water fights and street parties held throughout the country. (Photo by Rufus Cox/Getty Images) Thai revellers pose during the Songkran water festival in a foam party on April 13, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Songkran festival marks the traditional Thai New Year and is celebrated each year from April 13 to 15. The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people and is meant as a symbol of cleansing and purification. (Photo by Borja Sanchez-Trillo/Getty Images) Pre-monks, dressed with the Naka (white robe), hold their new robes during the ordination ceremony at Wat Boworn on April 20, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand. Thai Buddhist youths become a monk as an ideal once in their life and can remain a monk for as long as he wishes, even for just one day but is usually three months. During the day long ordination ceremony the pre-monks are shaved, dressed with robes and asked for a Buddhist commitment. Monks must observe 227 rules which govern their behavior. Taking part of Sangha (the monkhood) in Thailand is an intentional act to make merit, especially for one's parents. (Photo by Borja Sanchez-Trillo/Getty Images) In this 2010 file photo, a Thai soldier stands outside a go-go bar on Patpong Road in the business district of downtown Bangkok, Thailand. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) Transvestites May, left, and Jenny call out to a passerby as they walk along Patpong Road Saturday, in this 2004 file photo. Laws enacted during the period forced many of the bars on the famous street to close by 2 a.m. However, at sunrise many people still linger in the area. Patpong Road became popular with U.S. servicemen during the Vietnam War era as an "anything goes" nightlife zone and today remains as a mixture of go-go bars, massage parlors and shopping bazaars. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) Two thai women offer prayer at Lumpini Park in Bangkok, Thailand, during Loy Krathong. Small, highly decorated rafts are set adrift during the festival in believe that sins and bad luck will be carried away. The celebration is similar to the Hindu festival of Deepavali where floating lanterns of thanksgiving are launched on the Ganges. Thailand officially adopted the festival under King Rama IV as a way to honor Buddha. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) In this 2010 file photo an address by a Thai military official plays on a television at bar on Patpong Road, in Bangkok, Thailand. The area is famous for its go-go bars and night market remains mostly closed as political protest continue in the Thai capital. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) In this 2010 file photo, Thais walk through a deserted and closed Patpong Road in Bangkok, Thailand. The area is famous for its go-go bars and night market remained closed as political protest continued in the Thai capital. (AP Photo/David Longstreath) Bangkok Chinatown A pro-government Red Shirt member shakes a clapping tool during a rally in Bangkok, Thailand, Saturday, April 5, 2014. Supporters of Thailand's beleaguered prime minister are holding a major rally Saturday, a move aimed at countering months of anti-government protests and an increasing spate of legal challenges that could bring down Yingluck Shinawatra's administration. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) Children shoot a water gun during traditional Thai New Year celebrations or Songkran festival in Bangkok Sunday, April 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit) Bangkok waterways Bangkok Market Bangkok Thailand 2005 Bangkok travel guide from Bangkok eGuide the web site for visitors to Bangkok. Do have a look at Bangkok eGuide Bangkok travel guide from Bangkok eGuide the web site for visitors to Bangkok. Do have a look at Bangkok eGuide