Bangkok is a vast city – like, really huge. However, it’s safe to say that most foreigners – and a good chunk of Bangkok’s expats – spend much of their time within a 6 or 8 sq.km area. Within this square, many of Bangkok’s best hotels, restaurants, malls, cinemas and tourist attractions are located, and if they’re not, it’s a good bet that transport to them will be.
Two of Bangkok’s most densely packed hotel areas are along Sukhumvit Road and along the Chao Phraya River, and we often get asked which one is better. Well, how long is a piece a string? It’s a good question to ask, but a hard one to answer. Both places offer their own unique settings, have their own hidden corners and great hotels, and both places have drawbacks and compromises that will have to be made. Let’s look at them in greater detail:
Sukhumvit is one of the longest roads in the world, and goes all the way to the Cambodian border! However, most of the action is stuffed between soi 1 and soi 71-ish (Soi is Thai for road). A hundred years ago it wasn’t much more than a dirt track but today it’s Bangkok’s Broadway. Lined with tall office towers and five-star hotels – and in between those countless restaurants, massage shops, tailors and stores – it’s pretty easy to stay on Sukhumvit and have a great, if not very adventurous, Bangkok escape. With even-numbered sois on one side and odd-numbered sois on the other, it’s easy to navigate. On top of that, each soi is its own little community, and no two are ever the same. It’s a great area to explore!
Pros: The biggest one is the BTS skytrain running right down the middle of Sukhumvit, which makes it a snap to get in and out, and avoid Bangkok’s famously bad rush hour traffic. Lots to eat, lots to drink, and English is widely spoken.
Cons: No matter where you think you are, this ain’t Thailand. With light from McDonalds and Starbucks logos lighting up the sidewalk, some of Bangkok’s most notable red light districts, and plenty of touts begging you to buy a suit or gems or have your cards read, saying you experienced Thailand on Sukhumvit is like saying you saw Star Wars on your iPhone.
Chao Phraya River
Called the River of Kings, the mighty Chao Phraya has been Bangkok’s lifeblood for centuries. Before the roads and highways and airports, this was Thailand’s link to the world. The riverside communities that line it go back centuries, and are responsible for Bangkok becoming the city it is today. The Bangkok (east) side is where most of the big hotels are, while the Thonburi (west) side is largely undeveloped, at least in terms of tourist infrastructure, although this is changing fast. But no matter where you stay, daily life on the river is a unique and bustling experience, and it’s easy to spend a few hours simply sipping a drink and watching it all play out.
Pros: Great views, constant breeze, and a great opportunity to take the cheap and scenic river taxi, not to mention easy access to those lovely khlong tours that are always a fun afternoon. Lots of little sois and streets to explore, and if you’re staying near Saphan Taksin Bridge, you might even get a great fireworks show for no reason.
Cons: Unless you know where the MRT and BTS stations are and how best to get there, it’s often a pain getting in and out of the area to see things. Similarly, unless you know how to find the good, authentic restaurants, you might be stuck eating at more expensive restaurants that cater to lost tourists. Also, lots of one-way streets around here – if your taxi driver gets turned around, it’s often an adventure getting back to where you started!
Ready to plan your Thai adventure? Contact Us and one of our adventure travel consultants can help you plan the perfect vacation and recommend great hotels in either of the two key areas!