Jan 14 2014
Update, 3 March 2014: The “Bangkok Shutdown” is over. All PDRC protesters have moved inside Lumpini Park, leaving virtually all of Bangkok open for business as usual. This article is no longer relevant, but concerned travellers can still ask questions in the comments and receive answers.
With the so-called Bangkok Shutdown now in full swing, many travellers are wondering how to approach a city that, daunting at any time, is dealing with the occupation of several key intersections. Fear not — we’ve suggested some strategic places to stay that allow you to make the most of Bangkok in spite of the protests.
Staying close to a BTS sky train or MRT subway station is convenient at any time, but it’s now a better idea than ever. With that said, there are six stations that sit smack in the middle of protest zones and should probably be avoided when choosing a place to stay (the stations remain safe for normal use). These are: Siam, Chit Lom, Asok and Sala Daeng on the BTS lines, along with Sukhumvit and Si Lom on the MRT line.
While the sky train, subway and San Saeb canal boats are all running through central Bangkok with no problems, it’s probably a good idea to stay just outside the centre (Lumpini Park north to Siam Square and east to Asok). This will allow you to enjoy ‘business-as-usual’ Bangkok without giving up traveller-friendly conveniences. Unless, that is, the occasional protest march streams through.
As long as you’re not angling towards the old city around Khao San Road (see below), our first suggestion would be to head to mid to upper Sukhumvit Road — by that we mean anywhere southeast of Asok sky train/Sukhumvit subway station (that is, heading out of town). This area is also strategic because, if the protests take a turn for the worse, you can hop on a bus to Ko Samet, Ko Chang, Chanthaburi or Aranyaprathet (Cambodia border) at Ekkamai (Eastern) bus terminal, or shoot straight to Suvarnabhumi Airport unhampered.
Plenty of quality places to stay are found in the vicinity of Phrom Phong, Thong Lo, Ekkamai and On Nut BTS stations. Budgeteers might check out Pridi Hostel * or Refill Now! *. Hotel California, Imm Fusion and Sawasdee Sukhumvit Inn should fit the bill for flashpackers, and those with a bit more buying power could try The Eugenia.
Sathorn & Silom Roads
The business district stretching west on Sathorn and Silom roads to Charoen Krung and the Chao Phraya River is another solid choice (just be careful to avoid the far eastern end of Silom). It’s a bit away from the protest centre at Sala Daeng / Lumpini and enjoys easy access to the sky train at Chong Nonsi, Surasak and Saphan Taksin stations. The central Chao Phraya express boat pier also puts many of Bangkok’s major attractions within reach.
Here we’d suggest Mile Map *, Saphai Pae * and Baan Sathorn for backpackers, while King Royal Garden Inn and the Swan are safe bets in the midrange. Swish riverfront hotels like Mandarin Oriental and Shangrila also enjoy strategic locations in light of the protests. Across the river in Thonburi, Focal Local, Bang Luang House and The Overstay are suitable for backpackers or flashpackers seeking something more offbeat.
Another good choice is Chinatown, which is wedged between Ratchawong express boat pier and Hualamphong MRT station (as well as the same-named long distance train station), far away from any protest site. While it can be a pain getting around here at any time, no “shutdown” can stop Yaowarat from buzzing away. The budget set can settle in at Cozy Bangkok Place * or @Hua Lamphong * while more well-off, style-conscious travellers should not miss Loy La Long.
With its many budget-friendly shopping malls and markets, Pratunam also warrants a mention as a protest-free alternative to the Siam shopping district. Though it’s not too far from the protest site at Pathumwan, the immediate area is strategic thanks to Ratchathewi BTS station, Ratchaparok Airport Link station and several canal boat piers. Link Corner gets it done for budget travellers, Lemonseed Rooms is a great flashpacker spot, and for those with some cash to flash, Baiyoke Sky affords views over all of the protest sites.
Not far from Pratunam, the protesters abandoned their encampment at Victory Monument in early February, making this area another fine choice. The former protest site at Lat Phrao is also now clear along with everywhere else in north Bangkok save Government Complex on Chaeng Watthana Road, which most travellers would never go near anyway, unless needing to extend a visa.
Khao San Road
The area around Democracy Monument in Bangkok’s historic district (a 15-minute walk east of Khao San Road, the Grand Palace and other key sites) had been mostly clear since early January, but violent clashes between police and protesters erupted in this area on February 18. Though no further violence has occurred in the area since, we recommend avoiding anywhere east of Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue completely. Khao San itself and the immediate area remains safe, including Soi Rambutri, Phra Arthit and Samsen roads.
Located just east of the Grand Palace between Atsadang and Feung Nakhon roads, the Ministry of Interior is also a potential flashpoint for clashes, though no serious violence has occurred there as yet. The Chao Phraya express boat is a reasonable way to travel outside of the general Rattanakosin / Khao San Road area and link up to the sky train at Saphan Taksin, but it can get crowded, is not luggage friendly and only runs until 19:00. Protesters have held unpredictable and relatively frequent marches in this area, which sometimes makes catching a taxi difficult.
If Bangkok proper just seems too intimidating while the protests are on, there’s no need to flee the city altogether. Accessible via a short ferry hop from upper Sukhumvit, the low key Phra Phradaeng (Bang Kachao) area feels a world away from the usual urban chaos, let alone the protests. While the budget to midrange gang have a decent range of homestays and guesthouses to choose from, eco-conscious high-end travellers can climb into Bangkok Treehouse.
Despite all the media coverage, the vast majority of Bangkok remains largely unaffected — for now. While none of the above-mentioned properties are overly affected by the protests, it’s prudent to keep abreast of developments day by day. It remains a very fluid situation and what is unaffected today could be chaos tomorrow.
The hostels above marked with an asterisk (*) are included in our 2014 Best Hostels in Bangkok eBook — you can read more about them, or download the free Best hostels iBook/PDF here.
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