Arrival in Bangkok
The hot and humid air attacks your face. You enter the back seat of a taxi, look for the seat belt, and remember – seat belts are not a thing here. The meter makes a double beep every now and then, and the radio chats away in Thai while giant billboards fly by and well-known skyscrapers appear one after another. You take a deep breath – Bangkok it’s good to be back!
Bangkok in a “Not”shell
You can’t have Bangkok in a nutshell. It’s already everything except clean and quiet. It’s touristy and not touristy, familiar and yet so foreign, it’s rough and delicate, it’s lowly alleys and posh roof-tops, it’s high or low, love or hate. So many destinies are bound to this place. Bangkok changes the direction of lives.
As the unequivocal hub in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is the entry and exit point for flows of people to the region. Some never escape while some leave instantly refusing to let the city get under their skin. It got under ours.
Bangkok Area Guide
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Bangkok is one of those cities every one has an opinion about. There is the dreadful traffic, constant noise, polluted air interspersed with foul smells from who knows what, and then there is the impressive metropolitan dynamics, fantastic shopping and nightlife, and infinite adventure potential. You can find everything in Bangkok, you get people from all corners of the world, and the city delivers for cheap charlies and big spenders alike. Those who manage to overcome the first clashes with Bangkok, will often grow to love the metropolis and repeatedly come back for visits.
To get the most out of your stay in Bangkok, you need to know about the areas of the city. This is Beachmeter.com’s concise guide to the most central and relevant (to tourists) areas of the City of Angels, Bangkok, or as the Thais call it Krung Thep.
(1) Khaosan Road (Thai: ถนนข้าวสาร)
Khaosan Road has been the number one backpacker hub in Bangkok for decades. In fact, it is the backpacker hub for all of Southeast Asia. Backpackers from all over the world are attracted by cheap hostels, an impressive selection of low-budget restaurants, colourful bars, street side market vendors with everything from tacky souvenirs to artisan fashion design, travel and tour agents, and most of all the youthful and neo-hippieish vibe. Khaosan Road is also near the old historical district of Bangkok, and nearby temples (wat‘s) and monks in orange ropes add to the exoticism.
Khaosan Road is the main strip, but the surrounding area – called Banglamphu – is equally vibrant. Try walking down Soi Rambuttree which has developed as a slightly calmer Khaosan Road “light”. While the amount of tourists and hectic noise turn off some visitors from staying in the area, you can’t help but love the bombardment of the senses at Khaosan Road.
(2) Rattanakosin (Thai: รัตนโกสินทร์)
Within walking or tuk-tuk distance from Banglamphu, you will find the old historical area called Rattanakosin. The area is situated along the Chao Phraya River a little north of Chinatown. Here you will find Bangkok’s most impressive temples and historical attractions. The most famous of these are The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. If you are hungry for more temples, don’t miss Wat Pho and Wat Mahathat either.
This area is compulsory on most Bangkok city tours, so you will not be alone. As always, wide-eyed tourists attract hustlers and tricksters, so be sceptical of friendly people advising you on free tuk-tuk excursions, closed temple entrances, and made up Buddhist holidays etc. That said, you haven’t really been to Bangkok, before you have checked off Rattanakosin.
(3) Chinatown aka. Yaowarat (Thai: เยาวราช)
Bangkok’s Chinatown, locally known as ‘Yaowarat‘, has all the characteristics a real chinatown ought to have. Here are Chinese restaurants, Chinese temples, heaps of stores selling gold, amulets, and traditional Chinese medicine, and entire streets dedicated to selling either car parts, tupperware, or fabrics.
At night, the Chinese signs on buildings and red lamps light up Chinatown into a magical inferno of colours, and the street-side restaurants appear along with the constant chatter. The most common language spoken here is Chinese, and if you were dumped down in the middle of Yaowarat, you would probably think you were in China.
(4) Silom (Thai: สีลม)
Silom is most (in)famous for two small streets, Pat Pong 1 and Pat Pong 2. These streets are notorious for their go-go bars, and in days not so long gone they attracted sailors, soldiers, and lost souls. Even though Pat Pong is still a “red light” district, the area is now a common excursion point for tourists. The streets are lined with market stalls full of souvenirs and brand copies, and needless to say, there is no shortage on bars and sports joints.
Outside of Pat Pong, Silom is a thriving international business area with numerous skyscrapers, a big expat community, and upscale dining options. On the northeastern edge of Silom, you will find Lumphini Park, a green oasis in the city.
(5) Siam Square (Thai: สยามสแควร์)
Siam Square is the area where big numbers of Bangkok residents meet up outside of work and school hours. The area is filled to the brim with shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, and hair-dressers. Siam Square has small fashion design boutiques and vintage shops. The shopping malls in the area are Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam Paragon, MBK, and Central World.
The area is surprisingly quiet after the big shopping malls close, so head elsewhere if you are going out at night.
(6) Sukhumwit (Thai: สุขุมวิท)
Sukhumwit is one of the central traffic arteries in Bangkok, and in fact, one of Thailand’s longest roads continuing all the way to the Cambodian boarder in the east. Sukhumvit is generally considered as a business area. This is where most foreign business men and women live and work.
However, the beginning of Sukhumvit (west) resembles more of a “red light district” with an abundance of restaurants, bars, and tourists. This end of the area is also known for small ethnic areas such as the Middle Eastern and Japanese quarter. Further down Sukhumvit, you will find countless condominiums, restaurants, and nightclubs – most of them in the more expensive range. This area attracts the growing middle class of Bangkok.
General Bangkok Travel Tips
If you plan to explore Bangkok, make sure you stay near a BTS skytrain station or a MRT subway station
Remember to have some petty cash on you for street food, markets, and taxis
Tuk-tuk’s are often more expensive, less comfy, less safe, and more of a health hazard for your lungs than a taxi or other public transportation
Photo credits: Tourism Authority of Thailand