One night in Bangkok

“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, 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.






Travel Thailand Bangkok

‰Buddhists carry candles as they circle around Wat Benjamabophit on Makha Bucha Day in Bangkok February 25, 2013. Makha Bucha Day honors Buddha and his teachings and falls on the full moon day of the third lunar month.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A statue of Buddha sitting atop a taxi is silhouetted by vehicle lights during rush hour traffic on Makha Bucha Day in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A tourist shoots a video in front of a national flag of Thailand at Wat Pho (Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn), a Buddhist temple, in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A woman takes a picture of herself at Siam Center in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A man plays on a pinball machine as a hostess (L) uses her mobile phone inside a bar at Nana red-light area in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A motorcycle taxi driver is reflected in a mirror as commuters wait at a bus station during the evening rush hour in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

Commuters travel on an overcrowded bus during the evening rush hour in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A strong breeze blows as tourists from California take pictures of the setting sun while at the Vertigo and Moon Bar, situated on the 68th floor of Banyan Tree Bangkok in central Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A boy poses for a photo in front of a sculpture at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A saleswoman sits at the entrance of a ladies shop waiting for customers inside the Platinum shopping mall in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A woman sits on a bench while she receives a fish pedicure in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

Customers are given foot massages on a street in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A sales assistant is reflected in a mirror as she attends to a customer at a make-up counter in a shopping mall in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A tourist has her hair done by a woman on Khaosan Road in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A street food vendor reads a book as she waits for customers in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A woman selling poultry in a local food market uses her mobile phone in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

Men work at a street food restaurant in central Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

Women lay out the delicacies of the day at a street food restaurant in central Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

People eat at a street food restaurant in Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

People eat at a restaurant by the side of a street in central Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A transsexual (L), locally known as "katoey" or "ladyboy," chats with others at midnight in the Soi Cowboy red-light area of Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

Poledancers perform in a bar in the Soi Cowboy red-light area of Bangkok.

Travel Thailand Bangkok

A transvestite hostess (R) puts on make up outside a bar in the Soi Cowboy red-light area in Bangkok.