Lay of the Land
With fifty districts (khet) and occupying more than 600 square miles, Bangkok can be an overwhelming place to navigate, though tourists tend to stay close to just a few neighborhoods. Here are some of the ones to know:
On the River: More than just a river, the Chao Phraya is the city’s heart and soul and has been used for trade for centuries. Now, it’s used as the city’s main thoroughfare, serving as a byway for tourists and freighters by day, and illuminated at night by the many dinner cruises that make their way up and down its velvety dark length. For all intents and purposes, ‘On the River’ refers to the southern banks of the river Phraya that are home to some of the city’s most sumptuous hotels, including the Mandarin Oriental and Peninsula, as well as a host of shopping meccas, like River City.
Old/Historic Bangkok: A ten-minute boat ride north of the cluster of luxury properties and high-end shopping centers sits holy sites like Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho – not to be missed for first time visitors, all of whom should start their sightseeing on the river to feel the pulsating energy of Bangkok. The area has a wealth of temples and tons of historic charm, especially in Chinatown, a souk-like labyrinth of small alleys and markets.
Downtown: In the sprawl that’s Bangkok,there’s no real downtown, of course, but that’s what many call the business area surrounding the city center. This area most easily understood when divided by one of the city’s main boulevards into two separate neighborhoods, one north of Rama IV Boulevard, and the other south of it.
South of Rama IV Boulevard: South of the main boulevard on Rama IV, you’ll find hotels like the Metropolitan and Sukhothai, restaurants such as Eat Me and Harmonique, and some delicious off-the-beaten-path street food stalls.
North of Rama IV Boulevard: North of Rama IV Boulevard you’ll find the Four Seasons, restaurants like M.R. Kukrit Heritage Home and some of the city’s massive department stores, including Siam Paragon and Siam Square. Tucked away on a side street to the west is the Jim Thompson House, a first-time must for any visitor.
Sukhumvit: Sukhumvit Road is a major thoroughfare (technically 250 miles long, ending in Trat, in eastern Thailand) from which extend a myriad of small sois (streets). Each seems to harbor a microcosm ofits own— Soi 38, for instance, has excellent street-food stalls; Soi 55, some great shops; and Soi 11, the best clubs—and new clusters are constantly popping up. This area is great for dinner, drinks and dancing: thanks to the BTS Sky Train, which runs along Sukhumvit Road, it’s easy to get around. Don’t miss: Face Bar, Bed Supperclub, Spring-Summer and Agalico.
Off the Beaten Path: Perhaps one of the most special things about Bangkok as a city is that every neighborhood has something unique to offer, something special to cherish. While tourists tend to stick to the more well known neighborhoods, travelers will find something exciting in many of the lesser known ones too. These include places like the beautiful boutique Siam Hotel, the Chatuchak Weekend Market and the ancient majestic capital of the kingdom of Siam, Ayutthaya.