With so much of its daily life conducted on the street, there are few cities in the world that reward exploration as handsomely as Bangkok does. Cap off an extended boat trip with a visit to a hidden market. A stroll off the beaten track in Banglamphu can lead to a conversation with a monk. Get lost in the tiny lanes of Chinatown and stumble upon a Chinese opera performance. Or after dark, let the BTS (Skytrain) escort you to Sukhumvit, where the local nightlife scene reveals a cosmopolitan and dynamic city.
Siam Square, Ploenchit, Pratunam & Ratchathewi
Multistorey malls, outdoor shopping precincts, and never-ending markets leave no doubt that Siam Square, Pratunam, and Phloen Chit combine to from Bangkok’s commercial district. The BTS (Skytrain) interchange at Siam has also made this area the center of modern Bangkok, while only a few blocks away, scruffy Ratchathewi has a lot more in common with provincial Thai cities.
Leafy lanes, antique shophouses, buzzing wet markets and golden temples convene in Banglamphu – easily the city’s most quintessentially ‘Bangkok’ neighborhood. It’s a quaint postcard picture of the city that used to be, that is until you stumble upon Th Khao San, arguably the world’s most famous backpacker enclave.
Once ringed by rice fields, modern Bangkok has since expanded in every possible direction with few concessions to agriculture or charm. Within northern Bangkok, other than some of the city’s best markets, sights are relatively few and far between, but the upside is that the area is a good place to get a taste of provincial Thailand if you don’t have the time to go upcountry. If you’re into Thai boxing, the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium relocated here in 2014
Riverside, Silom & Lumpini
Although you may not see it behind the office blocks, high-rise condos and hotels, Mae Nam Chao Phraya forms a watery backdrop to these linked neighborhoods. History is still palpable in the Riverside area’s crumbling architecture while heading inland, Silom, Bangkok’s de facto financial district, is frenetic and modern, Th Sathon is the much more subdued embassy zone and Lumphini is dominated by central Bangkok’s largest green zone.
Ko Ratanakosin & Thonburi
The artificial island of Ko Ratanakosin is Bangkok’s birthplace, and the Buddhist temples and royal palaces here comprise some of the city’s most important and most visited sights. By contrast, Thonburi, located across Mae Nam Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya River), is a seemingly forgotten yet visit-worthy zone of sleepy residential districts connected by klorng (canals; also spelt Khlong).
It’s the contradictions that provide the City of Angels with its rich, multifaceted personality. Here, climate-controlled megamalls sit side by side with 200-year-old village homes; gold-spired temples share space with neon-lit strips of sleaze; slow-moving traffic is bypassed by long-tail boats plying the royal river; Buddhist monks dressed in robes shop for the latest smartphones; and streets lined with food carts are overlooked by restaurants perched on top of skyscrapers. And as Bangkok races towards the future, these contrasts will never stop supplying the city with its unique and ever-changing strain of Thai-ness.
(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)