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Bangkok, Thailand

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Bangkok, Thailand

The city of Bangkok is the capital, largest urban area and primary city of Thailand. Known in Thai as Krung Thep Mahanakhon or กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep for short, it was a small trading post at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River during the Ayutthaya Kingdom.

It came to the forefront of Siam when it was given the status as the capital city in 1768 after the burning of Ayutthaya. However, the current Rattanakosin Kingdom did not begin until 1782 when the capital was moved across the river by Rama I after the death of King Taksin. The Rattanakosin capital is now more formally called “Phra Nakhon” (Thai: พระนคร), pertaining to the ancient boundaries in the metropolis’ core and the name Bangkok now incorporates the urban build-up since the 18th century which has its own public administration and governor.

In the span of over two hundred years, Bangkok has grown to become the political, social and economic center of not only Thailand but for Indochina and South East Asia. Its influence in the arts, politics, fashion, education and entertainment as well as being a business, financial and cultural center of Asia has given Bangkok the status of a global city.

Bangkok is the world’s 22nd largest city by population with approximately 8,160,522 registered residents (July 2007). However, similar to most regional centers, due to large unregistered permanent migrants from the North East of Thailand and other Asian nations in combination with those who commute to Bangkok during the day for work, the population of greater Bangkok is estimated to be closer to 15 million people.

This has in turn shifted the country from being a rather homogeneous Thai population to an increasingly vibrant mix of Western, Indian and Chinese people, in doing so, giving the city a cosmopolitan status. The capital is part of the heavily urbanized triangle of central and eastern Thailand which stretches from Nakhon Ratchasima along Bangkok to the industrialized eastern seaboard—it is the most built-up area mainland-South East Asia.

The Bangkok Province borders six other provinces: Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon and Nakhon Pathom, and all five provinces are joined in the conurbation of the Bangkok Metropolitan Area.

Transportation

River and canals network

An elaborate network of canals known as khlongs gave Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East” at a time when most transportation was by boat. Today, nearly all of the canals have been filled in and converted into streets. While many khlongs still exist with people living along them and markets often being operated along the banks, most are severely polluted. A notable khlong market is the floating market in Taling Chan district.

Through downtown Bangkok runs the Khlong Saen Saeb, which has a canal boat service, the most extensive of which is the Chao Phraya Express Boat with as many as thirty stops along the both banks of the Saen Saeb. However, there are limitations as the further north the route is the farther apart the stations are, impeding the ability of this water taxi to function as a true mass transit system.

Roads

Several elevated highways, newly rebuilt intersections, and many partially finished road and rail projects dot the landscape around greater Bangkok, but have done little to overcome the notorious traffic jams on Bangkok’s surface roads as private vehicle usage continues to outstrip infrastructure development.

Bangkok also includes many shopping and business roads like the Sukhumvit Road which includes highrise business buildings, apartments, and shopping malls, Sukhumvit Road is where many foreigners like to come shopping.

The Wireless Road or Thanon Wittayu include the Stock Exchange of Thailand and many business buildings like the All Seasons Place Complex which includes the Conrad Bangkok, a shopping mall, and many other business offices. The Thanon Khaosan or Khaosan Road is also well-known by foreigners. One of the popular shopping roads for teenagers is Rama I road, which has the Siam Paragon, Siam Square, and the Siam Discovery Center.

Inner-City Buses

A regular bus service is provided by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA) and it operates throughout Bangkok as well as to adjoining provinces around the clock on certain routes. Public buses are plentiful and cheap, with a minimum fare of 7 baht to most destinations within metropolitan Bangkok. Air-conditioned buses have minimum and maximum fares of 11 and 24 baht, respectively. Air-conditioned micro-buses charge a flat fare of 25 baht all routes. A Bus Route Map is available at bookshops.

Rail systems

On the birthday of HM King Rama IX, 5 December 1999, an elevated two-line Skytrain (officially called BTS) metro system was opened. The remains of the failed BERTS (Hopewell) project can still be seen all the way from the main railroad station out towards Don Mueang Airport. Due to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 construction was halted and the concrete pillars were left unused.

The MRT subway system opened for use in July 2004. The MRT connects the northern train station of Bang Sue to the Hua Lamphong central railway station near the city centre, while also going through the eastern part of Bangkok. It connects to the BTS system at BTS stations Mo Chit, Asok, and Sala Daeng.

Currently, transit and development projects initiated by ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin are gaining in popularity with the currently elected government, and have a possibility of being resumed and extended.

A new high speed elevated railroad called the Suvarnabhumi Airport Link, currently under construction, will link the city with the new Suvarnabhumi Airport. The announced opening date has been pushed to back to December 2009. The Airport Express railway is to be operated by the State Railway of Thailand. It will provide a 28.5 km (17.7 mi) link between the new airport and the City Air Terminal (CAT) at Makkasan with connections to the BTS at Phaya Thai and MRT at Petchburi. There are plans to extend the line to Don Mueang and Rangsit, but again, this is very dependent on the political situation.

Plans have been approved for a further extension of the BTS Silom line from Wong Wian Yai to Bangwah (4.5 km/2.8 mi), Sumrong to Samut Prakarn (8 km/5.0 mi), Mo Chit to Saphan Mai (11.9 km/7.4 mi) and the National Stadium to Phran Nok (7.7 km/4.8 mi). This includes five underground stations in the Rattanakosin area. The State Railway of Thailand has also been given approval to complete the Dark Red and Light Green lines. Alongside, MRT has also begun construction on two new lines, the Purple line from Bang Yai to Bang Sue, and the Blue line from Hua Lampong to Bang Khae and Ta Pra.

For intercity travel by train, most passengers begin their trips at Hua Lamphong at the southern end of the MRT. Here, trains connect Bangkok to Malaysia in the south, Chiang Mai to the north, and Nong Khai to the northeast and beyond to Laos.

Bus service

Virtually all cities and provinces are easily reached by bus from Bangkok. For destinations in the southwest and the west, buses leave from the Southern Bus Terminal, west of the city in the Thonburi area. For destinations in the southeast, such as Pattaya, Ko Samet and Ko Chang, buses leave from the Eastern Bus Terminal at Ekkamai. For all destinations north and northeast, the Northern Bus Terminal is at Mo Chit. Bangkok’s less accessible southern terminal was recently moved even farther out. Though Bangkok is well connected to other cities, getting to the bus terminals often are a challenge in themselves.

Bus (Bangkok Mass Transit Authority)

The Bangkok Mass Transit Authority service area covers Bangkok Metropolis and its suburban areas in the adjacent provinces of Nonthaburi, Samut Prakan, Pathum Thani, Nakhon Pathom, and Samut Sakhon. It serves approximately 3 million passengers per day.

The service hours are 05.00-23.00 hrs, except 24-hr night-owl service on some routes. In September 2005, BMTA owns a fleet of 3,579 buses—comprising 1,674 ordinary buses and 1,905 air-conditioned buses. In addition to BMTA-owned buses, there are 3,485 private-own contract buses, 1,113 contract minibuses, 2,161 side-street songthaews, and 5,519 vans. In total, there are 15,857 buses and vans over 427 routes across 8 zones.

  • Zone 1: North (Hubs: Rangsit, Bangkhen)
  • Zone 2: Upper East (Hubs: Bangkapi, Minburi)
  • Zone 3: Lower East (Hubs: Samrong, Samut Prakan)
  • Zone 4: South Central (Hubs: Khlong Toey)
  • Zone 5: Southwest (Hubs: Dao Khanong, Phra Pra Daeng)
  • Zone 6: West (Hubs: Bangkhae, Thonburi)
  • Zone 7: Northwest (Hubs: Nonthaburi, Pak Kret)
  • Zone 8: Central (Hubs: Huay Khwang)

Airports

Bangkok is one of Asia’s most important air transport hubs. In 2005, more than ninety airlines served Don Mueang International Airport (IATA: DMK; ICAO: VTBD). It was the 18th busiest airport in the world, second busiest in Asia by passenger volume, 15th busiest in the world and fourth busiest in Asia in international passenger volume.

Don Mueang consistently ranked 19th in the world in cargo traffic, and seventh in the Asia-Pacific region. Don Mueang is considered to be one of the world’s oldest international airports, its opening in March 1914 making it almost twenty years older than London Heathrow. It has three terminals and is located about 30 km (19 mi) north from the heart of Bangkok.

On 28 September 2006, Suvarnabhumi Airport (IATA: BKK; ICAO: VTBS), became Bangkok’s official international airport, replacing Don Mueang. Pronounced Suwannaphum (RTGS), or loosely Su-wan-na-poom, the airport is located southeast of the city center in Bang Phli district, Samut Prakan Province.

The progress of Suvarnabhumi Airport dates back to the early 1970s when a large plot of land 8,000 acres (3,237 ha) (32 km²) was bought. A student uprising in October of the same year prevented further progress with the development when the military government of Thanom Kittikachorn was subsequently overthrown. After several military coups and the Asian financial crisis of 1997, construction finally began in 2002, after five years of clearing the site. The first flights landed in September 2006, shortly after another military coup. Its two parallel runways are connected by the five concourses of the main terminal building.

The airport features a 132.2-metre (434 ft)-tall control tower, the tallest in Asia and one meter (3.2 ft) taller than Kuala Lumpur International Airport control tower. It is the tallest stand alone purpose built control tower in the world. Airports of Thailand Plc. (AoT) have announced another terminal to accommodate a further fifteen million passengers. This will be part of Phase 2 of the airport, which is expected to begin construction in three to five years. The main airline of Suvarnabhumi is Thai Airways International.

Much of the construction of Suvarnabhumi Airport took place during the premiership of Thaksin Shinawatra, who took personal responsibility for its timely completion. Despite a “ceremonial” opening on the planned date, construction was over a year late. Continuing controversy surrounds the quality of planning and construction; accusations include cracks in the runway, overheated buildings, a severe shortage of toilet facilities and lengthy passenger walks to departure gates. The fact that the airport is already overcrowded and near its maximum capacity less than a year after opening is another concern.

Don Mueang remains in use as a base of the Royal Thai Air Force. Thai Airways and most of the low-cost airlines now use the airport for domestic flights, in an effort to ease congestion at Suvarnabhumi, until the next terminal is opened.

Taxis

These three-wheeled ‘open-air’ motorised taxis (called tuk-tuks) are popular for short journeys. River taxis can be used on the Chao Phraya River. Some are just cross river ferries, but others serve the many landing stages on both banks and cover a route that goes up as far as the northern suburb of Nonthaburi.

Tourism

Bangkok is considered to be one of the world’s tourist hotspots. Bangkok is Thailand’s major tourist gateway, which means that the majority of foreign tourists arrive in Bangkok. The city boasts some of the country’s most visited historical venues such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are numerous projects to maintain Bangkok’s historic sites in the Rattanakosin area and river districts.

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Singapore

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Singapore

Singapore officially the Republic of Singapore, is an island city-state located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, lying 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator, south of the Malaysian state of Johor and north of Indonesia’s Riau Islands. At 710.2 km2 (274.2 sq mi), Singapore is a microstate and the smallest nation in Southeast Asia. This is substantially larger than Monaco and Vatican City, the only other surviving sovereign city-states.

Before European settlement, the island now known as Singapore was the site of a Malay fishing village at the mouth of the Singapore River. Several hundred indigenous Orang Laut people also lived along the nearby coast, rivers and on smaller islands. In 1819, the British East India Company, led by Sir Stamford Raffles, established a trading post on the island, which was used as a port along the spice route.[8] Singapore became one of the most important commercial and military centres of the British Empire, and the hub of British power in Southeast Asia.

During the Second World War, the British colony was occupied by the Japanese after the Battle of Singapore, which Winston Churchill called “Britain’s greatest defeat”. Singapore reverted to British rule in 1945, immediately after the war.

Eighteen years later, in 1963, the city, having achieved independence from Britain, merged with Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak to form Malaysia. However, the merger proved unsuccessful, and, less than two years later, it seceded from the federation and became an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations on August 9, 1965. Singapore was admitted to the United Nations on September 21 of that year.

Since independence, Singapore’s standard of living has risen dramatically. Foreign direct investment and a state-led drive to industrialization based on plans drawn up by the Dutch economist Albert Winsemius have created a modern economy focused on industry, education and urban planning. Singapore is the 5th wealthiest country in the world in terms of GDP (PPP) per capita.

In December 2008, the foreign exchange reserves of this small island nation stood at around US$174.2billion. The Singapore government, with approval from the President, announced in March 2009 that it would tap into their official reserves for the first time ever and withdraw some S$4.9 billion. The funds were then used as part of the S$20.5 billion resilience package unveiled by Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam on 5 February 2009. As of January 2009, Singapore’s official reserves stands at US$170.3 billion.

In 2009, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Singapore the tenth most expensive city in the world in which to live—the third in Asia, after Tokyo and Osaka. The 2009 Cost of Living survey, by consultancy firm Mercer, has ranked Singapore similarly as the tenth most expensive city for expatriates to live in.

The population of Singapore including non-residents is approximately 4.86 million. Singapore is highly cosmopolitan and diverse with Chinese people forming an ethnic majority with large populations of Malay, Indian and other people. English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese are the official languages.

Singapore is a parliamentary republic, and the Constitution of Singapore establishes representative democracy as the nation’s political system.[17] The People’s Action Party (PAP) dominates the political process and has won control of Parliament in every election since self-government in 1959.

Etymology

The English language name Singapore comes from Malay Singapura, “Lion-city”, but it is possible that one element of its name had a more distant original source. Pura comes from Sanskrit puram, “city, fortress”, and is related to Greek polis, “citadel, city”. Singa- comes from Sanskrit siṃha, which means lion. Today the city-state is referred to as the Lion City.

Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions probably never lived there, not even Asiatic lions; the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama, the founder of Singapore who gave it the name meaning “Lion City”, was most likely a tiger, probably the Malayan Tiger. Alternatively, it could simply be a reference to the ancient Sinhapura as described in the Mahabharata.

Tourism

Singapore is a popular travel destination, making tourism one of its largest industries. About 7.8 million tourists visited Singapore in 2006. The total visitor arrivals reached around 10.2 million in 2007. The Orchard Road shopping district is one of Singapore’s most well-known and popular tourist draws.

To attract more tourists, the government decided to legalise gambling and to allow two casino resorts (euphemistically called Integrated Resorts) to be developed at Marina South and Sentosa in 2005. To compete with regional rivals like Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Shanghai, the government has announced that the city area would be transformed into a more exciting place by lighting up the civic and commercial buildings. Cuisine has also been heavily promoted as an attraction for tourists, with the Singapore Food Festival in July organised annually to celebrate Singapore’s cuisine.

Singapore is fast positioning itself as a medical tourism hub — about 200,000 foreigners seek medical care in the country each year and Singapore medical services aim to serve one million foreign patients annually by 2012 and generate USD 3 billion in revenue. The government expects that the initiative could create an estimated 13,000 new jobs within the health industries.

Singapore now is a true melting pot of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Arabic communities. Tourists will see women with Chinese features wear sarongs and Arabic dress, and this cultural aspects contribute to making Singapore one of the unique destinations to visit.

Under the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), Wireless@SG is a government initiative to build Singapore’s infocomm infrastructure. Working through IDA’s Call-for-Collaboration, SingTel, iCell and QMax deploy a municipal wireless network throughout Singapore. Since late 2006, users have enjoyed free wireless access through Wi-Fi under the “basic-tier” package offered by all three operators for 3 years.

There are approximately 30,000 registered hotel rooms available in Singapore, and average occupancy is around 85%.

Population

According to government statistics, the population of Singapore as of 2008 was 4.84 million, of whom 3.64 million were Singaporean citizens and permanent residents (termed “Singapore Residents”). There were 3.1644 million citizens in 2008. Various Chinese linguistic groups formed 75.2% of Singapore’s residents, Malays 13.6%, Indians 8.8%, while Eurasians, Arabs and other groups formed 2.4%.

In 2006 the crude birth rate stood at 10.1 per 1000, a very low level attributed to birth control policies, and the crude death rate was also one of the lowest in the world at 4.3 per 1000. The total population growth was 4.4% with Singapore residents growth at 1.8%. The higher percentage growth rate is largely from net immigration, but also increasing life expectancy.

Singapore is the second-most densely populated independent country in the world after Monaco. In 1957, Singapore’s population was approximately 1.45 million, and there was a relatively high birth rate.

Aware of the country’s extremely limited natural resources and small territory, the government introduced birth control policies in the late 1960s. In the late 1990s, the population was aging, with fewer people entering the labour market and a shortage of skilled workers. In a dramatic reversal of policy, the Singapore government introduced a “baby bonus” scheme in 2001 (enhanced in August 2004) that encouraged couples to have more children.

In 2006, the total fertility rate was only 1.26 children per woman, the 3rd lowest in the world and well below the 2.10 needed to replace the population. In 2006, 38,317 babies were born, compared to around 37,600 in 2005. This number, however, is not sufficient to maintain the population’s growth. To overcome this problem, the government is encouraging foreigners to immigrate to Singapore. These large numbers of immigrants have kept Singapore’s population from declining.

Religion

Singapore is a multi-religious country. According to Statistics Singapore, around 51% of resident Singaporeans (excluding significant numbers of visitors and migrant workers) practice Buddhism and Taoism.

About 15%, mostly Chinese, Eurasians, and Indians, practice Christianity – a broad classification including Catholicism, Protestantism and other denominations. Muslims constitute 14%, of whom Malays account for the majority with a substantial number of Indian Muslims and Chinese Muslims. Smaller minorities practice Sikhism, Hinduism and others, according to the 2000 census.

Some religious materials and practices are banned in Singapore. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are prohibited from distributing religious materials and are sometimes jailed for their conscientious refusals to serve in the Singaporean military. About 15% of the population declared no religious affiliation.

Transport

International

Singapore is a major Asian transportation hub, positioned on many sea and air trade routes. The Port of Singapore, managed by port operators PSA International and Jurong Port, was the world’s second busiest port in 2005 in terms of shipping tonnage handled, at 1.15 billion gross tons, and in terms of containerised traffic, at 23.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs).

It was also the world’s second busiest in terms of cargo tonnage, coming behind Shanghai with 423 million tons handled. In addition, the Port is the world’s busiest for transshipment traffic and the world’s biggest ship refuelling centre.

Singapore is an aviation hub for the Southeast Asian region and a stopover on the Kangaroo route between Australasia and Europe. Singapore Changi Airport has a network of 81 airlines connecting Singapore to 185 cities in 58 countries. It has been rated as one of the best international airports by international travel magazines, including being rated as the world’s best airport for the first time in 2006 by Skytrax.

The airport currently has three passenger terminals. There is also a budget terminal, which serves budget carrier Tiger Airways and Cebu Pacific. The national carrier is Singapore Airlines (SIA). The government is moving towards privatising Changi airport.

Singapore is linked to Johor, Malaysia via the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Tuas Second Link, as well as a railway operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu of Malaysia, with its southern terminus at Tanjong Pagar railway station. Frequent ferry service to several nearby Indonesian ports also exists.

Domestic

The domestic transport infrastructure has a well-connected island-wide road transport system which includes a network of expressways. The public road system is served by the nation’s bus service and a number of licensed taxi-operating companies. The public bus transport has been the subject of criticism by Singaporeans, the majority of whom are dependent on it for their daily commuting.

Since 1987, the heavy rail passenger Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) metro system has been in operation. The MRT has been further augmented by the Light Rail Transit (LRT) light rail system, and increases accessibility to housing estates. Established in 2001, the EZ-Link system allows contactless smartcards to serve as stored value tickets for use in the public transport systems in Singapore.

More than 2.85 million people use the bus network daily operated mainly by SBS Transit and SMRT Buses, the two main public bus operators, while more than 1.5 million people use either the LRT or MRT as part of their daily routine. Approximately 945,000 people use the taxi services daily. Private vehicle use in the Central Area is discouraged by tolls implemented during hours of heavy road traffic, through an Electronic Road Pricing system. Private vehicle ownership is discouraged by high vehicle taxes and imposing quotas on vehicle purchase.

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