The District of Love
Along streets studded with skyscrapers that tower over crumbling old shophouses, well-dressed business-folk steer shiny German cars past wrinkled old women peddling fruit and flower garlands. Filled with foreign embassies, luxury hotels, cheap street markets, houses of worship and go-go bars, the eclectic Silom area displays some of the starkest contrasts found anywhere in Bangkok. You could even call it a microcosm of Thailand.
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Known as Bangrak, or “Village of Love," the colourful western end of Silom Road, together with Charoen Krung Road, comprises a fascinating slice of the Thai capital. Settled by European dignitaries and missionaries in the 1800s and still hosting substantial Southern Indian and Thai Muslim communities, Bangrak plays host to Bangkok’s most notable Hindu temple along with several historic mosques, churches, Thai temples and Chinese shrines. Gay bars and yoga studios rub shoulders with old-style Chinese-Thai eateries and pricey restaurants serving everything from Indian to French to Middle Eastern and English pub fare.
Architecture buffs will appreciate Bangrak’s century-old European-style buildings, like the stately Neilson Hays Library, contrasted by modern skyscrapers, like the gaudy Lebua State Tower. In between, humble kitchens set in heritage houses churn out a breathtaking array of street food. In the sois running south off historic Charoen Krung, dozens of antique art galleries sell museum-worthy pieces from across Asia and beyond. Walk a little further west to enjoy a creative cocktail on a breezy terrace along the Chao Phraya River.
Over at the east end of Silom Road around Sala Daeng BTS skytrain station, the Patpong red-light district bleeds into a Japanese enclave at Soi Thaniya and some swanky nightclubs on Silom Soi 4. Most of the real sleaziness unfolds behind closed doors and, these days, it’s not uncommon to see families perusing the touristic Patpong night market. Over on the south side of Silom Road you’ll find abundant street food on Soi Convent and a host of trendy cafes and eateries on Soi Sala Daeng.
With a full ten lanes built over what was once a wide canal, Sathorn Road arguably has the most modern feel of anywhere in Bangkok. Here you’ll see major bank headquarters and diplomats on their way to the French, Portuguese, Burmese, Australian, Singaporean or Japanese embassies. While Sathorn Road lacks the colourful character of nearby Silom or Charoen Krung, it can be refreshing to unwind at a garden cafe, take in the impressive cityscapes from a rooftop bar, or splash out for dinner at an acclaimed fine-dining restaurant.
Accommodation-wise, Silom and Sathorn are best known for high-end hotels like the long-running Mandarin Oriental, Shangri La and Dusit Thani, and newer stars like The Sukhothai, Banyan Tree and Metropolitan. But budget travellers should not be deterred: the area plays host to several of Bangkok’s best hostels, and a handful of dirt-cheap guesthouses can still be found in the old backpacker hood of Soi Ngam Duphli. Flashpackers are also well served by a strong selection of B&Bs and boutique hotels.
Silom is exceptionally well served by public transport. Next to Saphan Taksin BTS station at the west end of Sathorn Road, the central Chao Phraya express boat pier provides upriver access to historic Chinatown and Rattanakosin, and downriver to the Asiatique night bazaar. From Saphan Taksin, the Silom skytrain line shoots west into Thonburi and east over Sathorn and Silom roads, passing an interchange between Si Lom MRT subway station and Sala Daeng BTS station, before continuing past Lumpini Park and onto Siam Square, where you can link up to the Sukhumvit line.