Time for a trip to Thailand? If you’re heading to the capital, read on to discover where to go in Bangkok to make the most of this fabulous city. We take a look at eight of the best neighbourhoods to see, each worth exploring for its own sights, sounds and flavours. There’s also a map of where each place is located; plus, find details of another must-do thing in Bangkok – a visit to a famous market away from the city centre.
#1 Rattanakosin Island
Also known as Old Bangkok, Rattanakosin is a historically significant part of the city where you’ll find a bunch of the “big hitters” as far as tourist sights go. There’s the Grand Palace, for instance, built in 1782, plus Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Pho (home to the legendary Reclining Buddha). Also here is Sanam Luang Square, a large open field where festivals are held.
Highlight: Grand Palace
Not just one building but a huge complex of beautifully ornate architecture, the Grand Palace is Bangkok’s most popular attraction, and formerly the residence of the Thai royal family. It’s a great place to wander around for a few hours – especially in the cooler early hours. Note that there’s a dress code here, so the Singha Beer singlet might have to stay in the suitcase for the day.
Sukhumvit is an upmarket residential district favoured by expats. The Skytrain runs the entire length of the road, stretching its way east to the city limits. The neighbourhood features office buildings, shopping malls, hotels and an eclectic range of high-end international restaurants. It’s also home to the cheeky, neon-lit Soi Cowboy, which can be lots of fun for a few drinks with friends.
Highlight: Terminal 21
While this famous multi-storey shopping mall has definitely taken a hit from the pandemic, it’s starting to get its old vibe back. Uniquely for a mall, each floor has a different destination theme – from Caribbean in the basement, up through the likes of London, Tokyo and Istanbul, to Hollywood on the top floor.
Dusit feels more calm and orderly than the rest of Bangkok. Tall trees flank elegant avenues lined with stunning architecture. This district is home to Chitralada Palace, the official residence of the country’s Royal family.
Highlight: Wat Benchamabhopit
Known to most as the “Marble Temple”, this building was founded in 1900 by King Rama V; it’s considered a Thai architectural masterpiece. Perhaps its most striking feature, though, is the use of neoclassical European elements – including columns made from imported marble from Carrara, Italy. The temple is represented on the 5-baht coin.
Yaowarat is home to Bangkok’s Chinatown, and it teems with dim sum restaurants, bustling markets and a huge number of gold shops. This area is one of the oldest in the city and, unlike many other Chinatowns throughout the world, it’s distinctly untouristy. The best way to get here is by boat; the Chao Phraya River Express stops at Ratchawong Pier.
Highlight: Yaowarat Road by night
You’ll eat well here! Yoawarat Road is stacked with food stalls that pump out great dishes at all hours of the day; by night, though, it’s especially atmospheric, with footpaths lit by red lanterns and bustling with hungry families. Don’t miss the grilled seafood or skewers, or a bowl of khao kha moo (braised pork leg).
Silom-Sathorn epitomises Bangkok’s contrasts, with towering office buildings next to small family businesses. At night, this area morphs into a pulsing centre for the city’s nightlife; some of the clubs and restaurants sit atop high-rise buildings, with incredible views. The district also contains the Taksin Bridge (or Sathorn Bridge) that crosses the Chao Phraya.
Highlight: Lumpini Park
There’s not much respite from the chaos in Bangkok, but this green space is one spot where you can definitely find some tranquillity. Pathways wind through almost 60 hectares of ponds, trees and grass, and you’re bound to see a monitor lizard or two as you make your way around.
#6 Siam Square
Siam Square, just north of Sathorn Road, is a shopping mecca. It has an open-air mall and plenty of individual expression on the streets. The Skytrain has a central interchange station here, which makes Siam quick to access from all areas of the city.
Highlight: Jim Thompson House
Close to the National Stadium Skytrain station, this is the former home and museum of American businessman Jim Thompson, who was known for his collection of Southeast Asian art and for helping revive the Thai silk industry in the middle of the 20th century. Following his mysterious disappearance in Malaysia in 1967, the house continued to operate as a museum. It’s a lovely garden-filled place to visit (and shop at!) today.
Thonburi is the name of the sprawling west bank of the Chao Phraya. The atmosphere here is very different from across the water. Lined by canals, its rustic sights and tucked-away wats and museums are best explored by boat; you can charter one from any of the main piers along the river, or book ahead with a travel agent.
Highlight: Wat Arun
For some tourists, there’s a risk of getting “templed out” in Thailand; there are just so many religious buildings you can visit! But Wat Arun is a stunner. Known as Temple of the Dawn, it’s ironically best viewed at the end of the day, when you can look across the river and watch the sun setting behind it.
#8 Khao San
Khao San is one of Southeast Asia’s famed backpacker haunts. The one-kilometre stretch of road offers a string of hotels, gift shops, tattoo parlours, travel agents, massage joints and restaurants, and by night it becomes one big, boozy party
Highlight: Soi Rambutri
Khao San isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a street with a much more chilled-out vibe but still the same plethora of food and drink spots, head to Khao San’s “baby sister”, Soi Rambutri, just a few minutes away from the main drag.
Where to find these eight great neighbourhoods in Bangkok
Love a market? You’ll adore Chatuchak. While it’s often referred to as the “Chatuchal Weekend Market”, the good news is that it now opens nearly every day. Located to the north of the city (just beyond the top edge of the map above), this is Thailand’s biggest market; so you’ll literally find everything under the sun. In particular, though, it’s a great spot for clothing, souvenirs, accessories and more. There’s some excellent street food too. To get there, take the Skytrain to Mo Chit BTS Station; from Exit 1, it’s a 15-minute walk to the east.
Looking for more holiday ideas? Read our piece on short breaks close to Singapore here.
This article first appeared in the May 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!