Bangkok (băngˈkŏkˌ) [key], Thai Krung Thep, city (1990 pop. 8,538,610), capital of Thailand and of Bangkok prov., SW Thailand, on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, near the Gulf of Thailand. Thailand's largest city and one of the leading cities of Southeast Asia, Bangkok lies in the heart of the country's major commercial rice-growing region. The metropolitan area includes Bangkok proper, the industrial city of Thon Buri on the west bank of the river, and Klongtoi Wharf, c.5 mi (8 km) downstream, which, along with Bangkok's artificial harbor, handles the bulk of Thailand's foreign trade. The city is the hub of a continental Southeast Asian railroad network and has modern highways; congestion on its roads led to the opening of an elevated light-rail system in 1999 and subway system in 2004. Its nearby international airport (opened 2006) is one of the busiest in Asia. Bangkok's once numerous canals were formerly an integral part of its transport system, but development has resulted in many being filled in.
Processed food, wood, and textiles are leading exports. Industrial plants include rice mills, cement factories, sawmills, oil refineries, and shipyards. Textiles, motor vehicles, electrical goods, and food products are also manufactured. The city is a famous jewelry trading center, dealing in silver and bronze ware and precious stones. Ethnic Chinese dominate both commerce and industry in Bangkok, whose population includes sizable Indian, Pakistani, European, and American communities.
The city began as a small trading center and port community serving Ayutthaya, the capital of Siam until its destruction by Burmese invaders in 1767. Thon Buri became the capital in 1769, but in 1782, King Rama I, founder of the present Chakkri dynasty, built his royal palace on the east bank of the river and made Bangkok his capital. The vast, walled Grand Palace complex encompasses the Wat Phra Kaew, the royal chapel housing the sacred image of the Emerald Buddha. There are more than 400 other Buddhist temples in Bangkok. During World War II the city was occupied by the Japanese and was a target of Allied bombing raids. More recently the city has been endangered by subsidence; the sinking is due both to the effects of development (including the depletion of aquifers beneath Bangkok) and to natural geologic process.
Bangkok is home of the regional headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), as well as many other international businesses and organizations. Bangkok's educational and cultural facilities include five universities, a fine arts academy, the national theater, and the national museum, which has a large collection of Thai antiquities. Of particular interest is the daily floating market, in which merchandise is sold aboard boats on canals.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.