With more than 14 million people living within its greater metropolitan area, Bangkok is a city of contrasts. Among Asia’s most cosmopolitan urban centres, the Thai capital boasts the fifth largest concentration of skyscrapers in the world, where glass and steel towers stand adjacent to magnificent Oriental temples and palaces. It is a city with a bustling network of canals, floating and land-based markets, home to a vibrant nightlife and blessed with a varied and flavourful cuisine.
It also is one of the world’s hottest cities, located just 14 degrees north of the Equator. But November, the month of the 2017 CIBJO Congress, is a considered among the most pleasant of the year, with average daily high temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius, lows of 24 Celsius, and average monthly precipitation of just 48 millimetres.
The giant metropolis known today as “Bangkok” began life in the 15th Century as a small village on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the primary waterway of modern Thailand. But in the late 18th century, King Taksin the Great turned it into the new capital of Siam and renamed it Thonburi. His successor, King Rama I, who was first monarch from the Chakri dynasty that still rules Thailand, again renamed the city Krung Thep, or “City of Angels” in English, and that is how it is known to most Thais to this very day. To foreigners, although the original village has long since ceased to exist, the name Bangkok has endured.
Bangkok is split up into 50 districts, which are further split into 154 sub-districts. Among the most prominent are:
- Siam Square, which is the city’s modern commercial centre, and home to some of its most exclusive shopping malls.
- Sukhumvit Road, which is an exclusive district filled with quality hotels, restaurants and nightclubs.
- Silom Road and Sathorn Road, which by day is Thailand’s financial centre and home to many gemstone and jewellery companies and by night Bangkok’s primary party district.
- “Old Bangkok,” which is located between the river and Sukhumvit. It is a densely packed area that is home to some of the city’s best-known sights, including the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
- Khao San Road is Bangkok’s backpacker mecca. The surrounding district of Banglamphu has everything a budget traveler may require.
- Dusit is a leafy, European-style area, which is the political centre of Thailand, home to numerous political institutions and the monarchy.
- Thonburi lies on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It can be explored with a canal tour, visiting Wat Arun, the Royal Barges National Museum and one or more of the floating markets.
- Pratunam is a large garment market with hundreds of fashion stores selling both retail and wholesale.
GEM & JEWELLERY INDUSTRY
Bangkok today serves as the nerve-centre of one of the world’s most prominent gem and jewellery manufacturing and trading nations, drawing from an extensive cross-country network of factories and artisans and a value chain that stretches from the mine to retail outlets.
The country’s traditional gemstone capital is Chanthaburi, about 250 kilometres southeast of Bangkok near the border with Cambodia, which is the major processing and trading centre for colored gemstones in South East Asia. Once famous for its ruby and sapphire mines, demand for Thai gemstones was so great that by the 1980s the local mines were largely worked out. But the gem factories remained, in part due their expertise in heat treatments for enhancement of gem colour and clarity.
Thailand’s gems and jewellery sector grew from a cottage industry into the country’s third largest export earner, with annual revenues worth more than $10 billion, creating jobs for millions of people. There are three primary segments, namely gemstone cutting, polishing and heating; jewellery design and manufacture; and gemstone and jewellery trading. More than a third of the country’s total exports are comprised of jewellery, both of local brands and also third-party production, which Thai manufacturers carry out on behalf of foreign brands.
The traditional centre of the Bangkok gemstone and jewellery trade is in the city’s financial district, around Silom Road. But today, a major portion of the business is headquartered in Gemopolis on the outskirts of the city, which in 2008 it was granted free-zone status by the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand. It currently hosts about 140 companies, and is home to Thailand’s official diamond and gemstone bourse, the Bangkok Diamonds and Precious Stones Exchange.