Bangkok’s traffic is legendarily bad, which is why it makes so much sense to give that FitBit a workout by using your feet to see the city. What’s that? Bangkok is huge and sprawling and confusing? Yes, well, it does cover over 1,500 square kilometers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great neighborhoods to see Bangkok on foot.
With that in mind, here are five of our top spots in the city to walk around in. And remember, sometimes it’s only by getting lost do you find the real treasure.
The area around the Grand Palace is always busy, and like most old neighborhoods, much of the charm is lost when seen through the window of a tour bus. But whenever we have some time to kill around here, we like to head east from the Palace. Back in the 1800s, this area was Bangkok, and many of the buildings here still date to that time, connected by vast networks of narrow streets and alleys and back roads filled with all kinds of neat finds. You can see the Giant Swing, a few nice parks, temples (both grand and obscure), lots of food, and examples of architecture that renovation-happy Thailand is all-too eager to replace in other, less important parts of town. If you finish near Wat Saket (The Golden Mount) you can catch the Saen Saeb canal boat just north of it, which takes you east up towards the (new) city center.
Charoen Krung Road, Saphan Taksin to Charoen Krung soi 30
The area around Saphan Taksin is a hive of activity most days. It’s where a busy BTS station meets a large pier, a large road, and a large bridge. But walk north for a few minutes and the crowds thin out, leaving you free to explore in (relative) peace. Most of the notable sights are on the west side of the road, where streets, alleys, and lanes cut through to the riverside, revealing everything from hidden restaurants (Harmonique) to national embassies (France and Portugal). Don’t miss the decaying beauty of the original customs house, the small but interesting Haroon Mosque community, or the opulence of the famed Oriental Hotel, among many other shops, boutiques, and hidden corners. After soi 30 there is still a ton to see, but Charoen Krung is a long road, and we have to cut it off somewhere.
Wong Wien 22 (July 22, 1917 Roundabout)
This semi-industrial area just northwest of Hualumphong train station is a bit of a strange place to recommend for a walk, but every time we’re down here, we wish we had more time to look around. Named rather incongruously for the date Thailand declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary in WWI, this is a real “off the grid” area that sees very little tourists. However, for those looking for typical Bangkok street scenes away from the temples and tour buses, this is it. It’s especially interesting for street photographers, as you can find shops selling gold, rope, automobile parts, guns, clothing, food, tires, and more – as well as the varied assortment of people who frequent these places. Pro tip 1: The most interesting things will be found down the smaller lanes. Pro tip 2: Avoid during weekends and evenings, when most everything is closed.
Sukhumvit 55 (Thong Lo)
Sort of the opposite to the ‘off the beaten path’ selection above, but similar in that there never seems to be enough time to explore this place fully. Once a boring, dusty road, it’s now full of hip bars, towering condos, and fantastic restaurants. It’s busy during the day, but it’s best to visit come nightfall when it swells with crowds looking to dine, drink, and mingle. It’s a long street, but most of the ‘action’ can be found in the middle, with a few multi-story community malls serving up all types of goodies. There are also still a few old shophouses left that have retained their original keepers, offering some of the best regional Thai food that made Thonglor popular in the first place. A few of the smaller sois have well-known hipster bars and funky dives of all types, and it seems every time we’re down here, there’s a new place to eat at, drink in, or take photos of.
Around the Thonburi side of the Memorial Bridge
It’s hard to pin down a precise road for this, but the compact area from Wat Kalayanamit (west of the Memorial Bridge) to the Princess Mother Memorial Park (east of the Memorial Bridge) has some interesting, secluded little communities, a few nice parks, and important temples. Wat Kalayanamit itself is off the tourist trail, but houses an absolutely massive Buddha image. A stone’s throw away you’ll find the Santa Cruz Church, which dates back to the mid-1700s (though the current building was constructed in the early 1900s). On the east side of the Memorial Bridge you’ll find the Princess Mother Memorial Park, a beautiful garden/museum built to honor Rama IX’s mother, who was born in this neighborhood. There’s a lovely concrete walking path that follows the riverbank from the Memorial Bridge up to Wat Kalayanamit – great vistas of the Chao Phraya River here. The community around Santa Cruz Church is also exceptionally picturesque and interesting.