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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 boutiques. While best known for its shopping, through the first half of 2010 this area was the heart of the Red Shirt protests that exploded into violence in May of that year. In the aftermath, the massive Central World shopping mall was gutted by fire and a number of other outlets were badly damaged. Siam has since rebuilt, though early 2014 saw a new wave of demonstrations in the area, this time from the Yellow Shirt side.
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 the prestigious Chulalongkorn University makes up the southern border of the neighbourhood, and this is reflected in many of the student-orientated stores. If you're after a trendy and modern area that can feel like parts of Tokyo on a hot day, look no further.
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 offerings, to the more upscale Siam Paragon, where Lamborghini and Ferrari dealerships sit beside Prada and La Perla boutiques. An above-ground walkway beginning at Siam BTS station and connecting to Chit Lom BTS station allows you to stroll past a number of shopping and hotel complexes. Taken as a whole, the Siam Square area is the centre of Thailand's shopping universe.
Siam Square plays host to the greatest concentration of Bangkok's cinemas, including the vintage Scala and Lido, and the futuristic 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. This area is also where you'll find Wat Pathum Wanaram, a royal-grade temple that starkly contrasts the surrounding malls. 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 second 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 Platinum Mall and nearby electronics heaven Pantip Plaza, you can get everything from pirated software to a new laptop and fake Gucci handbags to $5,000 suits.
Characterised by heavy traffic, state-of-the-art advertising screens, stylish twenty-somethings and sleek hotels, all of these areas are permanently teeming with people. Siam BTS station links the city's two skytrain lines, while the area can also be reached by San Saeb canal ferry. Real estate around here is among the priciest in Thailand.
By David Luekens. Last updated on 5th March, 2016.