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Siam Square and surrounds

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At the heart of Bangkok's Pathumwan district sits Siam Square. An entertainment, shopping and educational area packed with restaurants, cinemas, and hundreds of quirky shops. While best known for its shopping, through the first half of 2010 this area was the heart of the Redshirt protests that exploded into violence in mid-May 2010. In the aftermath, Central World (previously known as Zen) was gutted by fire and a number of other outlets were badly damaged.

Siam Square itself overflows with retail outlets where designer boutiques jostle with knock-off shops and fancy restaurants abut streetside eateries. The area is popular with students, as Chulalongkorn University makes up the southern border of the neighbourhood, and this is reflected in many of the student-orientated stores.

The area is also home to a number of Bangkok's top shopping malls, from the more low-brow MBK Centre, where cell phones, clothes, and furniture are the primary wares, to the increasingly more upscale Siam Discovery, Siam Centre, and Siam Paragon, where Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships sit beside Prada and La Perla boutiques. An above-ground walking path beginning at Siam BTS Skytrain and connecting to Chit Lom BTS Skytrain allows you to stroll past a number of shopping and hotel complexes.

Siam Square plays host to the greatest concentration of Bangkok's cinemas, including Scala, one of the few old-school widescreen theatres, Lido, which screens independent films, and Paragon IMAX. Movies are much cheaper in Thailand than in the West, but remember to bring a sweater as they tend to be air-conditioned close to freezing point, and to stand when they play the anthem for the King.

Heading east, the main thoroughfare of Rama I becomes Phloenchit Road, off which Sois Ruam Rudee and Lang Suan run. These are famous for their food and entertainment spots, although some are in danger of being replaced by condos. Further south lies Lumpini Park, central Bangkok's largest expanse of greenery and a leafy, somewhat depressing reminder of what Bangkok could have been.

North of Siam Square is Pratunam, another of Bangkok's major shopping areas, with a bustling wholesale clothing market in the shadow of Bangkok's tallest building, Baiyoke Tower. Traditionally a cloth and fabrics warehousing and trading area, Pratunam's offerings have expanded considerably over the years and today, thanks to the likes of new-on-the-scene Platinum Mall and nearby software heaven Panthip Plaza, you can get everything from pirated software to a new laptop and fake Gucci handbags to $5,000 suits.

Further north again lies Phayathai, centred around the landmark Victory Monument, which was built to honour Thai soldiers who died defending their homeland. Although a popular shopping area for students, Phayathai has little of interest to the overseas visitor other than one landmark bar and a unique restaurant.

North again brings you to Ari BTS Skytrain which services a relative newcomer to Bangkok's trendy art scene. Much like the J-Avenue area of Thong Lo, Ari has become a haven for arty Thais, although it's less developed and therefore a bit more subdued. Originally well known for its concentration of excellent Thai food, Ari has seen the introduction of a number of Thai chain eateries, as well as a few hip new cafes, bars, and hotels.

Characterised by heavy traffic, congested pavements and mid-range hotels, all these areas are permanently teeming with people.

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Text and/or map last updated on 30th October, 2013.

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