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Bangkok was a small trading post during the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 15th century. It eventually grew in size and became the site of two capital cities: Thonburi in 1768 and Rattanakosin in 1782. Bangkok was at the heart of Siam's (as Thailand used to be known) modernization during the later nineteenth century, as the country faced pressures from the West. It was the centre stage of Thailand's political struggles throughout the twentieth century, as the country abolished absolute monarchy and underwent numerous coups and uprisings. The city grew rapidly during the 1960s through the 1980s and now dominates Thailand's politics, economy, education, media and modern society.
The Asian investment boom in the 1980s and 1990s led many multinational corporations to locate their regional headquarters in Bangkok. The city is a now a major regional force in finance and business. It is an international hub for transport and healthcare, and is emerging as a regional centre for the arts, fashion and entertainment. The city's vibrant street life and cultural landmarks, as well as its notorious red light districts, have given it an exotic appeal. The historic Grand Palace and Buddhist temples including Wat Arun and Wat Pho stand in contrast with other tourist attractions such as the nightlife scenes of Khaosan Road and Patpong. Bangkok is among the world's top tourist destinations. It is ranked third after London and Paris in MasterCard's Global Destination Cities Index, and has been named "World's Best City" for three consecutive years by Travel + Leisure magazine.
Bangkok's rapid growth amidst little urban planning and regulation has resulted in a haphazard cityscape and inadequate infrastructure systems. Limited roads, despite an extensive expressway network, together with an over-reliance on private cars, have resulted in chronic and crippling traffic congestion. This in turn caused severe air pollution in the 1990s. The city has since turned to public transport in an attempt to solve this major problem. Four rapid transit lines are now in operation, with more systems under construction or planned by the national government and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.