The first time you visit the Sukhumvit area you can be disappointed with this famous part of Bangkok. The disadvantages of the area are almost instantly apparent, while it takes a bit of time to appreciate the advantages of the place. Sukhumvit is patronised by people from all over the world, who come for a variety of reasons. So what is it about Sukhumvit that keeps people coming back time again?
For the first time visitor to Bangkok who is keen to stay near the major tourist attractions Khao San is more convenient. For those looking for a decent hotel Silom has plenty of options. For those looking for a hotel with a special location there are boutique hotels along the river front.
In contrast, the Sukhumvit main thoroughfare is terribly congested both on the road and on the pavements. The present interim government are fighting a losing battle to stop the street vendors taking up half the pavement.
The annoyances of Sukhumvit don’t stop there. Recently municipal authorities have been hiding doorways in Sukhumvit to catch foreigners littering in order to demand ID and the payment of a disproportionate fine.
The pavements on the sois adjoining Sukhumvit are often broken up. Many of the narrow roads don’t have space for pedestrians. It is not an easy area for a young child to walk around.
Those drinking in Sukhumvit at night will notice the seedy side of the area quickly. There are numerous middle-aged (and older) white men being escorted by young Thai women. Soi Nana is only a short street but packed full of strip bars where flesh is for sale. In short, those with strong moral convictions might be upset by visiting Sukhumvit.
I will not attempt to defend Sukhumvit from any of the above allegations. The place is guilty as charged; however, there are some important redeeming features to Sukhumvit.
The first is modern conveniences. Khao San can be a pain to get to either using a slow ferry, a frightening tuk tuk or one of the avaricious taxi drivers that hang around the entry points to Khao San. In contrast Sukhumvit has sky trains (BTS), underground trains (MRT) as well as buses, taxis, motorbike taxis and tuk tuks. There is even a ferry stop (Sathorn Pier) in Sukhumvit that is a handy short walk from Saphan Taksin BTS. Also importantly, the airport train links to the BTS north-south line. You cannot get better connected than Sukhumvit.
Within a small area you have numerous small shops, fashion boutiques, food places, restaurants, spas, street vendors, street bars, pubs, clubs as well as large shopping malls. There is Terminal 21 and Rainhill Shopping Centre – two big shopping malls featuring exclusive boutiques and brand labels.
Sukhumvit is a culturally diverse place. Whereas you see mostly backpackers and Thais in Khao San, in Sukhumvit you spot backpackers, families as well as areas heavily populated with Koreans, Japanese and Arabians. You never have to walk far to find food from all over the world. There are enclaves in Sukhumvit where you could forget for a moment that you were in Thailand. It is this multi-cultural mix that is at the heart of what is enticing about Sukhumvit. It feels more like a modern capital city than other parts of Bangkok.
And don’t forget this is the part of Bangkok where you can sip a cocktail at 820 feet in the air at the Skybar at Lebua. This is the area you can find Michelin star quality food. Sukhumvit is where you can stay at memorable boutique hotels such as the Eugenia Hotel, Davis Hotel, MaDuZi, Praya Palazzo, Imm Fusion and Seven Hotel. It is the place of the best nightclubs, the most underground clubs and exclusive clubs. There are art galleries, designer shops, car shops, wine shops and of course loads of coffee shops.
Sukhumvit is in many ways the centre for sophistication and modern urban culture in Bangkok. It is where high society Thais go to play and spend money. It is also the destination of choice in Bangkok for many a well-heeled expat who can see where the money’s at.
And of course from the tourist’s point of view many of these activities and places of interest are not totally out of the budget. Food, drink and accommodation are very reasonably priced compared to London or Paris for example. Here is a good place to sample how the other half live.