In terms of present-day Thailand, to speak of urban life essentially means to speak of Bangkok, for though many provincial capitals have grown rapidly in recent years the national capital is still the ultimate city to every Thai.
One out of ten Thais li es is Bangkok, which is 45 times bigger than Chiang Mai, the second most populous city The metropolitan area now covers some 1,537 square kilometers on both sides of the Chao Phraya River. Almost all major domestic and foreign companies are located in the capital, as are all government ministries and most of the country's leading educational ,sporting, and cultural facilities. The greater part of Thailand's imports and exports pass throug Bangkok (though this may change when the Eastern Seaboard Project gets underway) and 90 per cent of the motor vehicles in the nation are registered there.
It is the focal point of Thailand's aviation, railroad, and communications network, as well as th e chief destination for the majority of tourists who came annually to occupy its more than 20,000 hotel rooms. Given such facts, it is not surprising that Bangkok acts as a magnet for people from all parts of the country.
They come to be educated at its schools, colleges, and universities, to find employment in its numerous factories and commercial firms, or sim ply to see its famous buildings and monuments and enjoy its highly varied pleasures. Both metaphorically and literally, all Thai roads converge on the capital.
By contrast, provincial cities tend to reflect regional characteristics.For example, Hat Yai, the south's major city, is growing rapidly but it is still very much a projection of the tin and rubber industries which dominate the region. Chiang Mai in the north is both a coordination point for the agriculture of the area and also famous as a center of northern culture and traditions. Similarly, such northeastern cities as Nakhon Ratchasima and Khon Kaen, while prospering on local development, are essentially provincial in all senses of the word.
Only Bangkok, with its huge, diverse population, its shopping centers and highrise office buildings, and its cosmopolitan sophistication presents itself as a city in the international sense of the term.
Thus to understand modern urban culture in Thailand, it is necessary to examine the capital in some detail. Bangkok's in the 1990's Numerous districts in Bangkok are centers in themselves, each unified by common features rooted either in ethnic character of a specific function or business. Thus Ratchadamnoen Avenue and its environs remain the center for government ministries and in ternational agencies, while there is a major concentration of commerce in Chinatown. Silom Road has become the primary banking and financial district and the Sukhumvit Road area is predominantly a middle-class residential section. Those seeking entertainment are attracted by the neon glare of Patpong and New Phetburi Roads, where there are hundreds of bars and restaurants.
Outlying residential districts, meanwhile, continue to expand rapidly as more housing estates and shopping complexes are built to accommodate both the flow of migrants converging on the capital from upcountry and the new generation of young married couples who are increasingly leaving their parents' homes for places of their own.
Heavy industry, too, is concentrating on the outer fringes of the city, with industrial parks springing up along major highways leading out into the country. To facilitate communication between the suburbs and downtown areas, an elevated expressway has been built. A ring road project, the major portions of which have been completed, will also relieve congestion by permitting through traffic to bypass the city center.
Older Bangkok residents lie in separate, private houses, located either in high-density neighborhoods or, increasingly rare, in relatively spacious compounds in long-established residential areas like Dusit and Bangkapi.
Rising land values, however, are producing new housing concepts, especially in the more congested inner city. Though Western-style apartment buildings are inhabited mainly be foreigners, more and more Thais are moving into " town houses," projects in which they own the actual land and building but share a common wall with their neighbors; hundreds of these projects have been constructed in the city, some consisting of several dozen units in an area that once contained a single dwelling.
As the 1990's got underway the biggest residential boom was in condominium construction. This era dawned with the passage of the Condominium Act by Parliament in 1979. According to a survey conducted in 1982, there were 48 condo projects being implemented in the country, most of them in Bangkok; another survey at the end of the decade found more than 220 such projects, with whose in the capital being concentrated on Sukhumwit and Rachadapisek Roads and along the Chao Phraya River.
An important factor in the sale of condominium units has been a desire to escape the traffic jams which add hours to suburban commuting times. Throughout Bangkok, lining main roads and side streets, are innumerable two-three-and four-story shop houses which contain specialty shops, restaurants, or small factories that are generally family concerns. Workers and family are commonly housed on upper floors. Such dwellings rarely have recreational space or gardens, though imaginative roof-top plantings can be glimpsed on some. Automobiles are generally parked inside on the ground floor and children play on the sidewalks outside.Poorer people often live in single-storey houses made of scrap lumber, concentrated around the port area and in certain suburbs. Government public housing usually takes the form of lowrise blocks of simple flats located throughout the city.
The rapid growth of Bangkok has severely strained its facilities and led to a number of serious problems. The city now has over a million registered motor vehicles and because of the limited road surface traffic congestion is heavy in downtown areas. Moreover, some parts of the city are sinking due to the pumping of water from artesian wells to supply suburban projects and drainage is inadequate in others; both have resulted in periodic flooding during the rainy season. Experts are presently working on elaborate plans to relieve these problems, among them an elevated system of rapid public transportation and extensive flood-control projects.
Bangkok's population is predominately young. Over half the residents are under 30. Numerous new schools, both public and private, have emerged to meet the needs of this high concentration of young people, as well as two "open" universities for those who cannot be accommodated by the older institutions of higher learning. The young have also influenced the life of the city in other ways-most of the capital's shopping centers are youth-oriented, as are its entertainment facilities. The city's cultural life is greatly enriched by its minority communities.
Chinese and Indians account for nearly 10 per cent of the capital's population and contribute to its variety of cuisines and festivals. Japanese and Asians from neighboring count ries also figure prominently in the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere. Western influence has been instrumental in creating a taste for new fashions and new life-styles, reflected in such things as golf and tennis, delicatessens and boutiques, music and drama, libraries and popular games, architecture and interior decoration .
Fast foods from the West, too, like hamburgers and pizzas, have become popular with young and old alike. Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is well known worldwide for its fierce and exciting ways of fighting. Leisure in the city The stress of city life make leisure activities vital, and weekends find Bangkokians dedicated to having a good time.
Sometimes there are local temple fairs featuring food and traditional forms of entertainment like the ever-popular li-ke. Sporting events draw large crowds, whether they be of purely local interest or involve foreign footballers boxers or gymnasts. Several museums, a planetarium, art galleries, and a cultural center can be visited for instruction as well as relaxation.
There are dozens of modern air-conditioned cinemas throughout Bangkok, most of them showing Thai and Western movies. The most popular local productions are melodramas with equal measures of comedy, romance, and epic adventure. Several amusement parks are located on Bangkok's outskirts, with carousels, Ferris wheels, roller coasters, shooting galleries, and ice cream stalls to keep young visitors cheerfully occupied for hours.
Lumpini Park, in the heart of the city, is crowded on weekends with footballers and strollers, as well as joggers and others in search of physical fitness.
Chatuchak Park on the outskirts is the site of the famous Weekend Market featuring several acres of stalls selling a remarkable assortment of goods: household pets, every conceivable kind of fruit, fresh vegetables and spices, clothing, Buddha amulets, various handicrafts, potted plants and trees, secondhand books and records, and probably, if one is persistent, the proverbial kitchen sink.
The new Rama IX Park, presented to the city on the occasion of His Majesty King Bhumipol Adulyadej's 60th birthday, is another popular place to excape the city's clamor; Thailand's only true botanical garden, it also features an imposing pavilion with displays of the king's life and interest. Bangkok boasts some of the most varied nightlife in the Orient. Visiting ballet, operatic, and folk dance troupes from Europe, The U.S., and various Asian countries frequently appear, and film festivals are held by foreign cultural organizations like the Alliance Francaise, the Goethe Institute, and the British Council.
Patrons of nightclubs and supper clubs, many of them in the city's leading hotels, are entertained by international as well as local performers. Discotheques with the latest gadgetry flash and throb to the insistent beat of music played at top volume. Bangkok's cosmopolitan quality is particularly evident in the incredible variety of foods offered by its countless restaurants. Diners in the city have a choice of French, Danish, Italian, German, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Swiss, English, Mexican, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, Burmese, and American fast food outlets, as well as of course, superb Chinese and Thai cuisine.
Although Bangkok abounds in markets, shops and department stores selling every possible kind of merchandise, those who prefer to spend the day at home in the city's residential lanes can buy what they need from itinerant vendors who bring necessities right to the door-step, selling charcoal (for cooking), fruit, ice cream, noodle dishes, grilled chicken, handmade brooms, pots and pans, and countless other items.
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