As major capital cities go, Bangkok  is relatively young. The rise of this city of more than 10 million as the country’s capital is intertwined with the reign of the Chakri Dynasty, who still rule the hearts of the people of Thailand, if not the country itself. It was King Rama I who founded Bangkok, and his successors have helped shape the city into what you see today.
Just 250 years ago, Bangkok was a small trading port with a few small temples scattered around and not really much else to speak of. The city’s rise began after the then capital Ayutthaya  was sacked by Burmese forces in 1767. With Ayutthaya in ruins, and no assurances that the Burmese wouldn’t return, the general in charge of the country’s gutted forces headed south to the flat Chao Phraya delta and set up a new capital on the western banks of the river in what is now known as Thonburi.
Just 15 years later, when King Rama I, the first king of the current Chakri Dynasty, seized power, he moved his palace across the river to what is now modern-day Bangkok and bestowed upon the city the royal name—Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit, meaning “city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Grand Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam.”
Fortunately, the name has been unofficially shortened to Krung Thep in Thai and Bangkok for the rest of the world.
King Rama I set about a series of ambitious public works projects to bring the new capital on par with the now-destroyed Ayutthaya, including the construction of the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, on Ko Rattanakosin. It is this part of the city, surrounded by the meandering Chao Phraya on three sides, and thus called ko, meaning island, which has always been Bangkok’s historic and cultural heart. This is where you’ll find the city’s most important historic sites, including the Grand Palace , Wat Phra Kaew , Wat Pho , and the National Museum .
If you just visit the main sights listed in this travel guide, Bangkok will probably seem like a city with its gaze fixed backwards, staring nostalgically at its past. Most of the “must-see” spots either relate to the royal family or are grand temples built in an era when the city was covered in canals and elephants were still the typical beasts of burden.
“Modern Asia” will seem like a hoax when you’re taking a decrepit wooden boat down the river, and the idea that Thailand could be about more than Buddhism or dashing kings will seem impossible to fathom after visiting your tenth wat.
Of course, Bangkok isn’t stuck in the past, and Thailand is about more than wats and palaces. It can be hard to see that if you’re just hitting the major sights; consider the listings in the other sections as also important to see. It’s while walking through the different neighborhoods, popping into local eateries and even wandering through the city’s shopping malls, that you’ll really get to know this city and its people.