Unlike other cities, Bangkok’s neighborhoods are hard to define, and they blur together in the maze of chaotic sois (side streets). Generally, when giving directions to a taxi driver, you’ll want to tell the closest intersection or the name of the nearest BTS or MRT station near your destination. This will be much more successful than spouting off a name of a neighborhood.
Riverside & Thonburi Bangkok's grandest riverside hotels are all clustered near Saphan Taksin. You'll find wholesale silver, jewelry, and antiques stores along Charoen Krung (New) Road and Soi Oriental. Farther upstream, colonial buildings and churches give these old run-down districts a certain charm. Across the river in Thonburi, you can discover Thai dance shows and theater, as well as low-cost riverside diners and luxury spas.
Yaowarat or Chinatown Also along the riverside and just west of the Grand Palace area and Banglampoo, Chinatown is a frenetic maze of stores, old trading warehouses, and great places to eat. It is an atmospheric home to indie nightlife and the best street food in the city.
Banglampoo & Historic Bangkok Home to the Grand Palace, this area lies within the area known as Ko Rattanakosin. It contains the city's most important historical sites, including the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, and Wat Po, as well as the Dusit Zoo and Vimanmek Palace Museum. Within the area are numerous historic wats (temples), the National Museum, and the National Theater and Library. Khao San Road is the city's former backpacker district, and moderate accommodations are located among the many budget guesthouses. The only drawback here is that it's a real trek to get to the BTS or MRT.
Bangrak This area likes to think of itself as the Central Business District, though its "downtown" label is debatable. It is bound by Rama IV Road on the north, Yaowarat (Chinatown) on the northwest, and Charoen Krung (New) Road due west, while Silom and Surawong roads run through its center. Many banks, businesses, and embassies have offices in this area, but it is also a good choice for travelers, with malls -- such as the Silom Complex -- reasonably priced restaurants, tourist hotels, and the seamier Patpong red-light area.
Sukhumvit Road, Ploenchit Road & Chit Lom Known as Rama I Road at its western end, this main east-west thoroughfare is straddled overhead by the BTS. After crossing Ratchadamri Road (at the Erawan Shrine), it then becomes Ploenchit Road and runs directly east, crossing Witthayu (Wireless) Road at Chit Lom BTS (for CentralWorld department store), until it finally becomes Sukhumvit Road at the mouth of the airport freeway. Hotels, shopping complexes, office buildings, and some smaller embassies serve a thriving expat community here. Though rather far from the historic sites, it's convenient for shopping and nightlife.
Lower Sukhumvit: Nana to Ekkamai At the BTS stop by the same name, the neighborhood of Nana is home to some pretty naughty nightlife and outstanding Arab food. Follow the BTS to reach Asok, where Terminal 21 is a funky mall with a cool market vibe. Below the Asok BTS is a chaotic intersection with lanes of cars, buses, and motorbikes converging into a state of organized chaos. The next two stops are Phrom Phong and Thonglor; both are upscale neighborhoods with large Japanese and Western expats populations. The bar scene is outstanding here, and mixologists shake, stir, and pour strong cocktails in these parts. Reach Ekkamai, which is as far out most tourists will ever find themselves, for a laid-back neighborhood vibe, perky cafes, and a few notable art galleries.
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