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Bangkok

Statue at Grand Palace (Courtesy of foto76/Shutterstock.com)

Glimmering golden temples and sacred statues of Buddha; khlongs (canals) bustling with river boats and floating markets; sensuous silks and fragrant orchids; sparkling sapphires and rubies; exquisite "spirit houses" and people with perpetual smiles on their faces -- that's what the Kingdom of Thailand is all about.

As one of the most developed and progressive nations in Southeast Asia, Thailand -- once known as Siam -- is bordered by Myanmar (Burma) to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Cambodia to the southeast and Malaysia to the south of Thailand's isthmus. The government is a constitutional monarchy, and Westerners are eagerly welcomed -- even though con games and price-gouging aimed at tourists can be rampant.

Thailand's roots reach back to the 10th century, but Bangkok, the nation's current capital, wasn't founded until 1782, when Rama I became the first king of the Chakri Dynasty. Since that time, this "city of angels" has been an economic and cultural powerhouse in the region.

Known as the Venice of the East, due to the many canals slicing through the city, Bangkok lies at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and has been wowing tourists with its exotic temples, lavish palaces and teeming markets for decades. No matter where your travels take you, the people of Thailand will greet you with genuine smiles and a respectful wai (hands pressed together, as if in prayer, accompanied by a gentle bow of the head).

--written by Andrea M. Rotondo; updated by Marsea Nelson

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