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Northern Bangkok's Victory Monument area is a bustling transport hub and also boasts cheap yet outstanding food, infectious energy and an almost total absence of tourists. It's not the place for those wanting to stick to the city's tourist-oriented neighbourhoods and sights, but if seeking to experience the more "local" side of Bangkok in all its colour, Victory Monument should not be missed.
The actual Victory Monument (the name is used both for a specific monument and the general area around it) was erected in 1941 at the centre of a traffic circle where several major roads converge. It's a tribute to the 646 Thai servicemen and civilians who perished during the 1940-41 Franco-Thai War. A symbol of Thai national unity and pride, the rather industrial looking monument's main feature is a soaring obelisk surrounded by smaller but similar obelisks, collectively representing the Thai armed forces, police and civilians. The monument itself is not all that impressive, but given its location at the centre of so much life and energy, it does have a sort of magnetic draw.
Thanks to Victory Monument being perhaps Bangkok's single most important transport hub, the area also makes a solid base for exploring the city. From here, local buses depart for just about everywhere in Bangkok, fleets of minibuses can take you virtually anywhere in central Thailand, and endless streams of taxis, tuk tuks and motorbike taxis are always at your fingertips. The area is also home to Victory Monument BTS (sky train) station, and the imposing raised tracks and walkways that encircle the monument contribute to its busily dramatic scene. Possibly more than anywhere else in Bangkok, this is an excellent vantage point for just watching the city go by.
Though it's home to several hospitals, schools and countless local businesses, the Victory Monument area -- and northern Bangkok in general for that matter -- doesn't offer much in the way of sightseeing. Nearby Phaya Thai palace is worth a peek, the small but pleasant Suan Santi Phap Park is a lovely spot for a jog or picnic, and Bangkok's tallest building -- the 238-metre-high Baiyoke Tower 2 -- is a short stroll away. Yet most travellers come to the vicinity either to catch a minibus or to soak up the lively local atmosphere.
The area is popular with college aged and twenty-something Thais, and bars like Mezzanine, Waterbar and the legendary jazz club Saxaphone all make for a refreshing break from the more touristy nightlife elsewhere in the city. Cheap shopping is readily available at makeshift street markets and small shopping plazas, and the area hosts a clutch of fantastic street food.
Nearby Rangnam Road is especially notable for cheap and tasty eats, as is Soi Ari just one stop northward up the sky train track. A bit further afield, the Royal City Avenue (RCA) nightlife strip -- extremely popular among hip locals but little known to most tourists -- is a short taxi ride to the east, and four stops up the sky train track to the north brings you to Chatuchak weekend market.
Victory Monument is also considered a sort of gateway to the sprawling local neighbourhoods of Din Daeng, Saphan Khwai, Huay Khwang, Lat Phrao, Bang Kapi and Ramkamhaeng, which stretch over huge swaths of land to the north and east. If wanting to delve even deeper into the non-touristy side of Bangkok, one could spend a long time indeed exploring these areas with Victory Monument as a base.