The Sukhumvit area of Bangkok is essential the capital’s city centre. While it may be somewhat void of traditional tourist and cultural attractions, Sukhumvit and it’s many sub-sois are rich with a colorful mix of shopping, eating, drinking, sleeping and nightlife, catering to just about every taste and budget imaginable.
While being home to some of the country’s most fashionable bars, luxury malls, top end hotels and award winning fine dining, Sukhumvit is perhaps most infamous for its seedy nightlife, with distinct red-light districts found at Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, as well as several smaller pockets of beer bars, hostess bars, karaoke clubs and massage parlous in areas such as Soi 22 and Soi 33 in Phrom Phong.
Sukhumvit really does have a bit of everything, from the sleazy to the sophisticated, from the trashy gogos of Soi 4 to the trendy hi-so hangouts of Thong Lor, from the bustling restaurants and hookah bars of Soi Arab to the cool, quiet cafés of Ekamai, from the late night stalls of Nana, peddling pirated DVDs and cheesy T’s to Terminal 21 of Asoke, selling the latest gadgets and catwalk fashion. The skyline is an orgy of soaring office towers, luxury hotels, modern condo buildings and concept shopping malls, while down below street hawkers sell deep fried insects and noodle soups, tailors and massage shop girls hustle for trade, and neon lights guide the way to a night promising lots of ‘only in Thailand’ moments, amongst the sinful nightlife venues.
Though Sukhumvit is know best for its array hotels, restaurants and electric nightlife, it still has activities to offer during the day, with venues to explore such as the Thailand’s Creative & Design Centre, the Emporium shopping centre, and the Kamthieng House Museum.
Sukhumvit is where many of the city’s expats and well-to-do Thai’s call home, with a number of the residential sois of the area carrying a very cosmopolitan vibe. The area also has its serene spots and peaceful hideaways such as amongst the calming statues of Benjasiri Park, or the peaceful paths of Benchkitti Park, with excellent public transport links throughtout, well served by several BTS and MRT stations, expressway intersections, and with hundreds of taxis day and night.
Drinking & Nightlife on Sukhumvit
The nightlife of Sukhumvit is pulsating, seedy, cosmopolitan, trendy, alternative and constantly evolving. Whether you are looking for a quiet late-night drink with friends, to rock out to a live band, watch the latest sports events, dance to international DJs, or desiring a night of drunken debauchery, Sukhumvit has it all.
Sukhumvit is well known for its seedy beer bars and gogos, with Soi 4 & Nana Plaza best described as sleaze central in Bangkok. Every night around eight in the evening the Nana Entertainment Plaza lights up with a collage of neon signs advertising scantily clad ladies in themed gogo bars such as Angelwitch, Lollipop, Hollywood, and Carnival (the latter popular for its mechanical bull). This three-storey open courtyard of raunchy bars is also well known for its line up of bikini-clad ladyboys, with bars such as Cascade and Obsessions offering the chance to really open your mind and test you gender spotting skills.
Further down Sukhumvit Road you’ll discover Soi Cowboy, open since the early 1970’s, this strip of glitzy gogo bars has a slightly more laidback feel than Nana or Patpong. Popular with both western and Asian tourists, this is a place where fun-hungry middle-aged men bar-hop along venues such as Shark, Baccara and Cockatoo (the streets only ladyboy bar), ogling young locals dressed in bikinis and fantasy outfits. Other notorious raunchy venues of Sukhumvit include the artist bars of Soi 33 and the beer bars of Queens Park Plaza on Soi 22, as well as numerous other racy venues lining many of the odd numbered sois from Nana to Asoke.
Sukhumvit’s network of sois and alleys are also home to a number of respectable clubs that attract top name international DJs. Areas such as Soi 11 and Soi 55 in Thong Lor, are home to venues firmly on Southeast Asia’s clubbing map. The Bed Supperclub is one of the sexiest, sleekest clubbing spots of Bangkok, offering both trendy dining and an imaginative dancing experience, combing art gallery and theatre with a European style super-club. Q Bar, found almost next to Bed Supperclub in Soi 11, is a somewhat darker and trendier experience, with a very urban, cosmopolitan vibe. Q Bar prides itself on having an extensive drinks menu with over 50 different kinds of Vodka, 20 tequilas and 50 whiskey brands, with a few Cuban cigars thrown in to help compliment you choices. Insomnia on Soi 12 is the sister club to Pattaya’s popular late-night venue of the same name. The Bangkok version has an underground feel to it, with strobe lights and large platforms helping to achieve an epic feel, staffed by a team of attractive girls and top DJs.
For those looking for a more relaxed drink or traditional tavern experience, Sukhumvit has a wealth of American sports bars, brit pubs, Irish bars and other popular expat hangouts. Bully’s Bar is one of Soi 4’s quieter venues, but well liked for its homely feel. Gulliver’s Sukhumvit is a laid back pub with excellent pool tables, Bourbon Street, recently relocated to Soi 63, is known for its Creole food and live music, while Brew has one of the best selections of beers and ciders in Thailand, with over 100 different labels and a mission statement to ‘educated people about good beer’.
Where to Eat on Sukhumvit
As with the nightlife, eating around Sukhumvit is totally down to budget and taste, with just about every cuisine and price range available, much a tribute to the wonderful mix of cultures and ethnicities which have been drawn to the area over the years.
From international restaurants to fast food chains, rusty noodles stalls to sophisticated fine dining halls, eateries can be found everywhere along Sukhumvit Road, at the entrances of grand hotels, tucked away quiet sois and on just about every major street corner.
Soi Arab is one of the highlights of the Sukhumvit cuisine scene with a delicious mix of shawarma and kebab stalls dotted amongst fabulous Middle Eastern restaurants.
Al Ferdoss is one of the larger restaurants of the street, serving traditional Arabic food, as well as being one of the few restaurants of the soi that also serves alcohol. Naser Elmassry is one of the most dazzling eateries of Soi Arab, with lots of outdoor seating and a VIP room with hookahs. Other notable restaurants in the soi include Nefertiti Restaurant, serving traditional Egyptian fare, Shahrazad Restaurant, with an outdoor BBQ and waitresses dressed in pink uniforms, and Al-Hussain Restaurant, offering a mix of Indian, Arabic and Thai food.
Sukhumvit is Bangkok’s go-to area for western food, with pub grub available in just about all the numerous taverns and sports bars such as Bully’s Bar and The Robin Hood, and many other international restaurants from takeaways to fine dining. For a real taste of back home, Ronny’s New York Pizza serves slices and pies in the middle of Sukhumvit Soi 4 until the early hours of the morning, while Bangkok Burger Company in Thong Lor offers gourmet burgers in a chic setting. For Mexican, Sunrise Tacos in Asoke is a firm favourite, a somewhat tacky joint popular for serving affordable burritos and tacos 24/7.
Popular European restaurants include Bei Otto, with 20 years experience serving high-end German cuisine, Chez Pape, with a menu of affordable French dishes in a Parisian brassiere style setting, and Tapas Café tucked Soi 11, serving tasty Spanish snacks to a backdrop of flamenco and Spanish guitar tunes.
Thai street food is everywhere, from BBQ sticks of pork and chicken, to bowls of noodle soup and Pad Thai, served all hours of the day and night, some of the areas around the low numbered sois of Sukhumvit are snack heaven, with 10’s of hawkers lining the pavement around the busy bars.
Cabbages & Condoms is one of the more interested Thai restaurants of Sukhumvit, a kitsch and colorful eatery with a moral concept to promote safe sex through its non-profit HIV/AIDS charity. Soul Food Mahanakorn in Thong Lor is a chance to experience the best of Thai street food in a clean, comfortable and sophisticated setting, while The Orient on soi 49 has over 30 years experience serving home-cooked Thai dishes to the Bangkok masses.
Where to Stay & Hotels on Sukhumvit
Sukhumvit accommodation options are as diverse as anywhere in Bangkok, from cheap guesthouses and hostels to luxury five-star inner-city resorts. Budget travelers are attracted by the cheap and easy public transport links, while luxury and business tourists are attracted by the excellent shopping and offices, with all those in-between drawn in by the variety of dining and nightlife.
Sukhumvit isn’t Khoa San Road, there are far fewer super low cost rooms to be found here than the myriad of budget stays at backpacker HQ, but places such as Bed Bangkok Hostel in Soi 1, offer dorm beds and shared rooms, while aging hotels such as Nana City Inn and Nap Inn on Soi 4, and Honey House on Soi 22, have rooms well under the 1000 THB mark.
Sukhumvit is most popular for its boutique and mid-range hotels, with rooms and residences offering comfort, luxury and style at affordable prices. Le Fenix in Soi 11 has already become a landmark of this popular street, with cool interior décor, a somewhat futuristic design, and surprisingly cheap room options. Two streets down in Soi 13 you’ll find Citrus Sukhumvit 13, a hip, contemporary hotel, catering to both business and leisure tourists. For a resort style stay, Livingstone’s Lodge on Soi 33 is set in a former private residence, with 26 unique rooms and a pool, tavern and restaurant, all set around a quaint courtyard. For something a little more classy, the Rembrandt Hotel on Soi 18 has 407 luxury guest rooms in a quiet location, just moments from the all-action spots, while the Bless Residence on Soi 33 offers both spacious studios and lavish one-bedroom suites, with chic décor and an up-market European feel about the place.
Dominating the Sukhumvit skyline is a collection of monumental luxury hotels, not only aimed at VIP guests, but also with rooms affordable to those looking for a treat. The Landmark Hotel has been pleasing business and leisure travelers for over 20 years, also well known for its street-side coffee shop, perfectly situated for some serious people watching. Not far away, The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit is one of Bangkok’s largest and most upscale hotels, close also to the Majestic Grande Sukhumvit, where modern décor and technology is married with traditional Thai hospitality. The JW Marriott Hotel is one of the areas grandest hotels, with all the room and building facilities you could desire, including huge event spaces and an award winning café.
Tourist attractions around Sukhumvit
There are few traditional tourist attractions around Sukhumvit, with only a small number of temples and museums, and even fewer historical buildings and monuments. This hasn’t stopped it becoming one of the busiest tourist destinations in the city, with such a wealth of diverse cultures and exotic Thai street scenes that it acts as a living museum in itself.
With so much frantic activity happening along stretches of Sukhumvit the area’s beautiful parks act as a welcome escape from the Bangkok hustle. Benchakitti Park covers 130 rai of land, with a huge lake and lots of pathways, as well as dedicated cycling and jogging tracks. Benjasiri Park is another serene hideaway, with beautiful gardens and stunning statues to walk amongst, as well as active sports courts and workout areas for keep-fit fanatics.
For art and education the Thailand Creative & Design Centre is a mecca for graphic design and arts, acting both as a fascinating exhibition space and a contemporary education center, with over 16,000 books, films and media on various design related topics, and state-of-the-art equipment and resources. Ardel’s Third Place Gallery has on-going modern art exhibitions, highlighting contemporary and experimental Thai artist in an atmospheric three-storey loft. For those looking for something a little more geeky, the Science Center for Education & Planetarium takes a holistic approach to learning, with exhibitions and shows covering science, technology, and astronomy. Sukhumvit’s only real museum of note is the Kamthieng House Museum, a 160-year old traditional teakwood house and one of the city’s best example of a traditional Northern Thai home, exhibiting indigenous crafts and customs of ancient Thailand.
Shopping on Sukhumvit Road
Though the area has less malls than Siam and Pratunam, Sukhumvit Road could well be considered one giant mall, with street stalls, tailors and department stores filling the large gaps between the air conditioned shopping complexes.
Terminal 21 is Bangkok’s hottest new mall, opened in late 2011 this lifestyle mall is sat at the Asoke intersection, with an array of shops, boutiques and eateries, and each level uniquely themed and fashioned on a famous area of the world, from the Fisherman’s Village of San Francisco to the Istanbul Market Town. A further stop along the Sukhumvit line and you’ll discover The Emporium, a glamorous hi-so mall with a walkway connect it directly to Phrom Phong BTS station. The Emporuim is a luxury shopping paradise, with plenty of international fashion brands and designer stores, selling exclusive lines to the fashion conscious and trendy gear for the young hipsters. Also in Phrom Phong is K Village, a more intimate lifestyle shopping complex with around 50 shops and boutiques and 30 bistros and eateries, set around a tropical garden.
Home to a number of funky fashion shops, sophisticated street stores and a bevy of unique boutiques, Thong Lor has gain a reputation as the ‘Beverley Hills of Asia’, most of which is centered around Soi 55. Standout locations include J Avenue and Penny’s Balcony, both popular for their trendy and alternative clothing stores.
The highlight of the areas street shopping is the Sukhumvit Night Market, a tourist oriented street bazaar running for most of the way between Sukhumvit Soi 3 and Asoke. Here you’ll find all kinds of accessories and knick-knacks, from t-shirts and tazers, to fake sunglasses and counterfeit watches, with lots of street food and beer stalls playing tourist friendly tunes for those looking to burn the midnight oil.