The Best Neighbourhoods in Bangkok
Posted by Mark Philip
Bangkok is an expansive, sprawling capital city, and it is comprised of a fairly diverse range of neighbourhoods (or districts –although they aren’t strictly the same thing).
So depending on whether you’re on a short visit to the Thai capital or you are looking for a slightly longer stop-off in the chaos of Bangkok, this neighbourhood guide will help to give you some idea of the best places to head for in terms of lifestyle or accommodation.
With over eight million people spread out over more than 50 districts, make no mistake that Bangkok is verging on the massive side as far as cities are concerned.
That said, the majority of visitors usually tend to stick to just a few of the ‘tried-and-tested neighbourhoods (some of which are featured here) like the Sukhumvit, Khao San, or the Silom and Sathorn areas of the city..
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long as you are aware that these particular areas also tend to be focused largely on city-centre types and tourists.
But there is definitely more to Bangkok than just these three well-known areas, with different neighbourhoods becoming cool at particular times whether for some aspect of general life or nightlife.
Some of the most common questions about Bangkok that would-be travellers may likely have are:
What is the best neighbourhood in Bangkok for budget travellers? What about families? And for first-time visitors? All of these questions and more will be answered in our guide to some of the best neighbourhoods in Bangkok.
1. Charoen Krung
Not always one of the well-known or obvious choices for many visitors to Bangkok, Charoen Krung Road area is great for river views featuring 19th-century architecture.
The region does have some history behind it though, and in fact contains what was apparently Bangkok’s first modern road, built around 150 years ago. It would also have been home to the bustling centre of trade on the right side of The Chao Phraya River before the business districts moved more to Silom and Sukhumvit.
This is a neighbourhood that has been developing and growing in interesting ways over recent years, and has attracted a host of trendy and creative types, especially in terms of designers and writers.
Forward-thinking entrepreneurial-types have already made their mark in the form of buildings like Warehouse 30, basically a contemporary creative space containing cafés, bars, boutiques and galleries that has been developed from leftover WWII premises, and the relocation to the region of the TCDC (Thailand Creative & Design Centre) has also been notable.
So for a trendy and somewhat different angle on the city, Charoen Krung Road is definitely worth checking out. For anyone wanting to stay in the area won’t be disappointed and will delight in the array of cafes, cocktail bars and restaurants etc., that can be found in this particular region of the city.
2. Sukhumvit Road
Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Road is actually a huge road that stretches so far across the city and the country that it actually goes all the way to Cambodia – so don’t be surprised if the taxi driver looks at you in a strange way when you get in and say ‘Sukhumvit’.
When people talk about Sukhumvit as an ‘area’, they are probably referring to the central section, largely centred around Asok (BTS and MRT stations are located here), which is a commercial hub located in a spot that also contains its share of shopping, food and nightlife that stays open late.
All varieties of restaurants under the sun can be found somewhere within this vast area, which makes it a hot spot for expats, and tourists, as well as some locals who want a change of scene.
For shopping there is the huge Terminal 21 at Asok, then one stop down on the BTS line to Phrompong station there are 2 luxury malls in the form of Emquartier and Emporium, which also happen to have one of the city’s prime green areas next to them in the form of a park.
Nightlife on and around Sukhumvit includes modern, international-style dance clubs and plenty of other types of clubs, bars and restaurants. There are of course a few ‘seedier’ areas on Sukhumvit that are not on the ‘family-friendly’ side of things, Soi 4 in Nana being a prime example, but going up in the numbers, Soi 11 is quite popular with party-goers, and a little further up still there is the trendy Thong Lor district somewhere around Sukhumvit 55.
Thong Lor is currently quite popular with young, affluent Thais, making it quite a ‘hip’ neighbourhood. It is an area with some great Japanese restaurants, themed cocktail bars and an all-round trendy vibe, which makes it great for coffee, brunch, galleries or nightlife.
The Skytrain (BTS) runs right down the whole of the main stretch of the Sukhumvit Road, from Chit Lom up to Ekkamai and beyond, which makes it super easy to get around this region of Bangkok in which you will never be bored.
Banglamphu is an area towards the Old Town section of the city. It is one of the places in the city of Bangkok that is known for its historical temples and monuments, and it is in fact very close to The Grand Palace.
This is also the region of the city to get those pictures on the boat to Wat Arun and Wat Saket, the ancient monuments to Thailand’s historical past, and take in the views from a hike up to the ‘Golden Mount’ Temple in the area, which has a staircase comprising and leading up to some of the best daytime views over Bangkok.
The neighbourhood of Banglamphu is better known to many by its main strip – Khao San Road, the super famous backpacker paradise brimming with hostels, bars, clubs, and shops, although these days more people are heading to the nearby Soi Rambuttri.
Most budget travellers to Thailand have traditionally headed for somewhere to stay near Khao San Road, which caters to this crowd with budget bars, cheap restaurants and general late-night revelry – although possibly this is on its way out as Thailand’s Tourism Authority is now targeting wealthy visitors as its customer of preference.
Chinatown is the region of Bangkok that has been home to Bangkok’s Chinese community for over 200 years. The neighbourhood is formed largely around Yaowarat Road, a strip that runs just west of Chao Phraya River to Hua Lamphong train station.
It is an area of the city that is still fairly cheap and undeveloped, although there seems to be a growing cocktail bar scene and a coffee bar scene.
Yaowarat Road is in fact the main stretch of the area that is renowned for food with locals – an obvious fact from the many street food vendors and indulgent crowds. The abundance of street food in this area makes it the perfect place to stay for food-lovers, but the best cuisine is not limited to the street vendors, as there are many restaurants to suit all budgets.
The whole area of Chinatown, including the many warrens of lanes surrounding it, is packed with food stalls filling space outside stores selling gold and other wares. This is actually also the place to come if you are looking to buy gold while in Bangkok – apparently the best-quality gold is most likely to be found in Chinatown.
So there is plenty to do by both day and by night in Chinatown, whether you are looking for coffee bars, restaurants, temples markets or bars – there is even a flower market at the northern end of the region — it’s all here!
5. Sathorn and Silom
Sathorn is actually Bangkok’s busy central business district, and it blurs into the ‘downtown’ centre of entertainment, Silom, especially after nightfall.
Business-type people can be seen bustling about in the daytime amidst the tall city-centre skyscrapers that fairly dominate the skyline in the Sathorn region of the city, although this neighbourhood stretches from the green expanse of Lumpini Park to the banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Sathorn Road is actually the old backpacker area, once full of budget guesthouses and cool bars, although this is changing and most of the area is pretty tame at night once everyone has gone home from work!
Needless to say, the area these days is filling up with a range of elegant, 5-star and boutique-style hotels, all complete with stunning, rooftop “sky bars” that provide some of the best night time city views across Sathorn and Silom, the latter being the busier side of the region after dark.
Silom is just north of Sathorn, and again is something of a finance centre by day, although it is quite a bit more of an entertainment area after dark, famous for its seedy go-go bars and other forms of late-night entertainment.
Home to a wide variety of clubs, restaurants and bars, Silom has everything from the nightlife of Patpong to upscale, high-end restaurants. The neighbourhood is easily-accessible by both the BTS Skytrain (Sala Daeng Station) and the MRT (Lumpini Station, Silom Station).
While not strictly a neighbourhood as such, Siam is an area that many locals consider to be the city centre.
And for those visiting Bangkok with families, especially younger ones, the good news is that this is probably the most family-friendly area in the heart of Bangkok. Not only is Siam the shopping-complex-capital-of-Thailand, it is also host to a variety of other attractions such as the marine adventure Siam Ocean World, the waxworks Madame Tussaud’s, and a fun and educational zone for youngsters, Kidzania.
Siam is all vast, air-conditioned malls, fancy little boutique shops, department stores, local and international designer shops, cinemas, bookstores, etc., etc. If shopping is high on your ‘must-do-in-Bangkok list, then you’ll find Siam Paragon, MBK Centre and Siam Discovery along with the huge CentralWorld complex all in this area of the city.
There’s not a lot else to do in this area from a cultural standpoint, and if you are not one for crowds then this area is probably best avoided, but it is one way to wear out the kids!
Having said that, just around the corner from the main stretch of malls is the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which comprises five floors of modern exhibition space. This space is largely a showcase for local Bangkok art and handicrafts.
Siam can be accessed easily by either of two BTS stations (National Stadium and Siam), and it is quite a good place from which to attempt explore the rest of the city. There are of course plenty of hotels in and around the area from grande, 5-star affairs to slightly more downscale boutique establishments.
Ari is typical of a neighbourhood in Bangkok with a more suburban feel to it. Not that far from what might be considered the central areas of the city, in fact only really a couple of stops on the BTS line, it is still possibly a suitable place to stay in that it has some but not all of the features of busier areas.
With its suburban feel, Ari has become an increasingly popular area to live in, especially for expats, but there’s not much going on in terms of tourism. But there are plenty of nice coffee shops, cafés, and restaurants here, along with a few decent amenities like a Villa Supermarket right next to the BTS station.
Just a couple of stops north of Victory Monument, this tree-lined neighbourhood is another good place to navigate the rest of the city from. No shopping malls or cinemaplexes here, but plenty of restaurants, coffee shops and eateries with a slightly more laid-back feel than in some other regions of the city.