Contrary to popular belief, all roads in the Thai capital do not lead to the heavily touristed Khao San Road. Even in the world's most-visited metropolis, it's possible to get off the common path—and taking the detour can be quite rewarding in the bustling city of Bangkok. Here are four other Bangkok neighborhoods worth getting to know.
If you have only one day in Bangkok to just wander, go here. The century-old neighborhood is a riot of sights, sounds, tastes, and smells (yes, that is freshly hacked durian singeing your nostril hairs). Gold chains, blue-and-white pottery, pirated DVDs—whatever you fancy, you’ll get more bang for your baht here than anywhere else in the city. See the 5.5-ton Golden Buddha statue at Wat Trai Mit and live crocodiles at Wat Chakrawat; photograph the vertical sea of Chinese-language signs fighting for attention on busy Yaowarat Road; and sample the fish maw soup at bustling Talat Kao market or the khanom buang (crispy Thai dessert crepes) from a street cart on Sampeng Lane. Come nightfall, head to the shophouses of Soi Nana on Chinatown’s southern fringes. It’s this pocket of gritty-chic bars and boozy galleries (Teens of Thailand, Tep Bar, Ba Hao, Project 189, 23 Bar & Gallery, etc.) that is credited with—and also blamed for—gentrifying one of Bangkok’s most historic neighborhoods. In a recent show of deference, Cho Why Gallery staged an exhibition of documentary photography titled Bye Bye Chinatown. The aim? To raise awareness about the district’s rapidly vanishing culture—and lobby for its protection.
For years, the neighborhood south of Chinatown was mostly known for Siang Gong, a warren of grubby storefronts trading in chop-shop auto parts and engines. But now that the Thailand Creative & Design Center, or TCDC for short, has opened in the former Grand Post Office Building, the area has rocketed to instant—and Instagram—stardom. The enormous five-story space includes a multilevel design library, a 3-D-printing lab, and a gift shop featuring the work of Thai designers. About a minute away, respected architect Duangrit Bunnag is transforming two WWII-era waterfront warehouses into a mixed-use creative space. When it’s complete, Warehouse 30 will host a flagship store for Duangrit’s fashion label, Lonely Two Legged Creature, plus a restaurant and cocktail bar, a coffee roaster, a flower shop, a hostel, a cinema, an indie bookstore, and lots of coworking space. Hip young Thais are also lured to Talad Noi to get inked at Black Pig Tattoo, devour burgers at Little Market and charcuterie plates from Outlaw Creative Cuisine, and rage until late at party galleries such as Speedy Grandma and Soy Sauce Factory. Of special note on the food front is the restaurant 80/20, helmed by rising chef Napol Jantraget. Though its food is economically priced, the experimental locavore haunt, which opened in 2016, should be a shoo-in for a Michelin star when the first-ever Bangkok edition drops next year.
Just a few Skytrain stops north of Ratchathewi’s chaotic wholesale clothing markets and buzzing electronics malls is a well-heeled residential neighborhood that seems to have more trees than the rest of Bangkok combined. Hop off at the Ari station to explore leafy streets peppered with creative businesses such as Future Factory Bangkok, a youthful art gallery that hosts rowdy music events in the basement of an insurance building; TrueLove Café, the canine equivalent of a cat café, home to more than 20 Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes, plus a Japanese Akita; and La Liart Coffee, where third-wave purists share a roof with Tokyobike, a manufacturer of lightweight, fashion-forward rides. For all-day eating in a convivial atmosphere, Summer Street is a must. The covered picnic tables surrounding the seafood truck have charcoal grills; it’s on you to cook the squid, sea snails, and giant freshwater prawns to perfection.
One train stop north of the trendy Thong Lo neighborhood, this condo-dense area in Upper Sukhumvit is a notable expat hang. But it’s hardly all foreigners loading up on cool accessories at Onion, rummaging for snakeskin pumps at (Un)Fashion Vintage, getting their spines cracked by Thai masseuses at Health Land, or throwing back old fashioneds with infused syrups at the dimly lit vinyl bar Sugar Ray You’ve Just Been Poisoned. The main thoroughfare, Ekkamai Road, is dotted with casual eateries (Tamnak Isan, Sabai Jai Gai Yang, Hom Duan) specializing in fiery fare from Isaan, a region in northeast Thailand made famous in the States by Pok Pok chef Andy Ricker. For a break from shopping and eating, swing by the tranquil Wat That Thong, an 80-year-old Buddhist temple that goes largely unseen by tourists. Merit-making ceremonies are common here, as are funerals; use your judgment before whipping out your camera.