Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok : Traffic, Shopping, Entertainment, Tourism
Video : A walk along Sukhumvit Road, at bottom of this page
Sukhumvit Road is one of the major roads in Bangkok, although strictly speaking it is not part of the so called 'central business center'. It is actually quite difficult to judge where the center of Bangkok actually is : Silom road, for business? ; Siam Square and surroundings, for shopping? ; Sukhumvit, for foreign residents?
Sukhumvit Road has only 3 lanes on both sides. The rather ugly Skytrain pillars occupy the central part of the street.
Many foreigners are residing in this area, Westerners all over the place, Japanese more from soi 21 (Asoke Road) upwards. Sukhumvit road actually stretches, I understand for 10's of kilometers, starting in Bangkok, going all the way East outside of the city. We mostly will concern ourselves with the initial section between its start at Soi 1, up to soi 23. Even and uneven sois (sidestreets) are on opposite sites of Sukhumvit Road. Since the number of sidestreets varies between both sides of the road, soi 32 is not necessarily very close to soi 33.
The major part of the footpath on one side of Sukhumvit Road (with the uneven sois, left when entering Sukhumvit from Bangkok 'center') is occupied by vendor stalls. It is quite difficult to walk at normal speed in between soi 5 and soi 21 (Asoke road). If you go out shopping for cheap goods, this is basically a long-stretch market, all day, and up to around 12 A.M. Lots of shirts, trousers, other textiles, fake watches, fake designer goods etc. are on sale. The fake goods are not plainly in view anymore, but you will see lots of pictures and 'catalogues', where you can order the goods. VCDs and DVDs are also on sale, and unfortunately a lot of pornography is in plain view for sale on this 'family-oriented' walking way.
If you want a faster walk along the road, you have to cross it over one of the footbridges. There are some, but not many vendor stalls on the side with the even soi numbers.
Traffic on Sukhumvit is congested at most times, even sometimes at midnight. Do not cross the street. The risk of getting fined is small. But the risk of getting run over is substantial. Thai people know better on this stretch of Sukhumvit. The only ones crossing the street or even running the red light for pedestrians at the Nana crossing seem to be foreigners. They would almost certainly not take such risks in their home country. Walk along the road a bit and use the pedestrian bridges.
The skytrain runs along Sukhumvit and you can get up to soi 71 by the skytrain. It is a good exercise to negotiate the stairways leading up to the stations. We generally recommend having a hotel, or living close to BTS stations. It has been a major improvement in getting access at least to some central destinations, for those who can do without a car.
You can go easily to Silom Road from Sukhumvit by taking the subway. The entrance to the Sukhumvit station is located around Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection. This so-called Blue Line (the only one) can also take you further up to Hua Lamphong train station. Going in the other direction (north) just two stations down the line is Fortune IT Town (Rama IX station), where you can conveniently shop for computer goods, both hardware and software. Even more computer equipment might be available at infamous Pantip Place (located closest to Rajathewi skytrain station), but Fortune Town is less crowded and better ventilated.
Just to clarify : There are TWO mass transit systems. One is usually called the skytrain and goes above ground. Its structure is easily seen in the middle of the road. The other system (MRTA system or 'subway') is underground. Both systems are available on Sukhumvit road on the Asoke-Sukhumvit intersection. The skytrain station there is called 'Asoke' station, while the subway station is called 'Sukhumvit' station. They are connected by stairs and escalators. Both are a major improvement in public transport. On the other hand, they prove how slowly things move when this type of transport is only handled by private companies. Bangkok is still very poorly equipped with mass transit transport lines, and plans take years to make, and then more years to complete. It is already a wrong concept to have two different systems without even a common payment arrangement. Neither transport system really is making money, and that is of course the reason why things move slowly.
Colorful clothing for sale at one of the many vendor stalls along Sukhumvit Road.
Sukhumvit is also home to some of the famous entertainment venues catering to foreigners. Two a-go-go bar venues are located on the road, although the casual wanderer may not easily notice them, certainly not during the daytime. One is Nana Plaza entertainment venue at soi 4, the other is Soi Cowboy, in between soi 21 and soi 23. These entertainment centers cater only to foreigners. Thai people themselves seem to know not to go there. I do not know actually if there is a law or regulation about it, but bar owners themselves will find ways to discourage Thais (who are not in the company of foreigners), from entering.
The standard feature is a-go-go dancing. Drinks at the bars are at 120-200 baht for a beer. If girls sit with you, you are encouraged to buy them a drink. While prostitution might not officially exist in Thailand, these bars are what it is all about. You can 'buy out' the girl for 500-600 baht from the bar. She will then go with you for further 'time-spending' at at fee usually negociable to around 1,500-2,000 for a 'short-time'. That being said, you can also just go there, enjoy the music (invariable very loud) and the scene. There are also many outside open-air bars.
While these entertainment venues are out of sight, the sad thing is that a large section of the initial part of Sukhumvit road, now has street 'wanderers'. Especially the section between Nana Plaza and over the road to soi 5 (where a Starbucks is now located at the corner) features many prostitutes in the evening hours and at night. Another place where prostitutes are prevalent is in front of the Westin Hotel, at soi 19. Males alone or in group, will invariably be accosted while walking in these areas. This is in a way really bad, not clear why the authorities do not clamp down on this illegal activity. Soi 5 at night seems to be an area where illegal activities take place. A good observer will wonder what the Nigerians and people of Middle Eastern origin, mixed with prostitutes, telephone call peddlers are all up to. Fortunately, these areas are very busy at night, so there is still safety in numbers. Cleaning up this activity would be a piece of cake, just one police officer walking around at night, and asking a few questions left and right, would solve the problem, and get prostitutes off the street (and probably into another area). While there has been a crackdown on the bars scene, street prostitution seems to be condoned.
Times Square, one of the more colorful buildings on Sukhumvit Road (located next to Asoke skytrain station) houses various fashion outlets, Asia Books, handicrafts.
The initial stretch of Sukhumvit does not have major shopping centers. Foodland at soi 5, is by far the best choice for food and daily necessities. Robinson department stores (though smaller than some other department stores) will allow you to shop for perfumes, designer clothes, jewelry etc. The major shopping area of Siam Square (with Mahbunkhroong, Gaysorn Place, Siam Paragon, World Trade Center closeby) is easily reached by the skytrain. Emporium at around Sukhumvit 30, is easily reached (go in the other direction) and has its own skytrain station, connecting to the shopping center.
Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit and Westin hotel, are close to Asoke skytrain station. Landmark Hotel, and Amari Boulevard are close to Nana skytrain station. Ambassador Hotel is a long-established budget hotel (now about 3-stars) located around soi 11-13. Many serviced apartments are available here, mostly down in the sidesteets.
For those who want to exercise, Landmark Hotel houses Fitness First.