Fri 3 Feb 2006
Today my office was closed due to Chinese New Year. My girlfriend had to work, so I decided to realize my old plan: walking through Bangkok. In the past, I often saw interesting looking streets while zooming past in a taxi, which made me want to take my time and discover everything up close.
I started from Central Chidlom, my destination was Yaowarat (Chinatown) because I expected to see some kind of New Year’s celebration there. I planned not to take the direct way, but instead to make a detour via the old town center. The route to get there was flexible: if a soi looked interesting, I wanted to follow it, keeping in mind the overall direction.
So, here’s the route I took:
Central Chidlom – New Petchaburi Road – Lan Luang Road – Ratchadamnoen Klang Road – Dinso Road – Mahannop Road – Phraeng Nara Road – Atsadang Road – Ban Mo Road – Chak Road – Tri Phet Road – Pahurat Road – Soi Wanit (Sampeng Lane) – Yaowarat Road – Charoen Road – Kao Lan Road – Soi Sukhon 2 – Traimit Road – Hualamphong
In total, according to Google Earth, I covered 11.52 kilometers on foot. Don’t ask about the condition of my lungs. And besides, I’ve always had suicidal tendencies.
But let’s go into detail.
From Central Chidlom to New Petchaburi Road (ถนนเพชรบุรีตัดไหม่), there’s not too much to see. There’s a McDonald’s, and you cross Khlong Saen Saep. That’s it. Oh, yes, traffic jam, but isn’t that everywhere in Bangkok?
The first part of New Petchaburi Road, roughly between the intersections with Chidlom and Phayathai (ถนนพญาไท), is a shopper’s paradise. Apart from the traditional Pratunam Market, there are Pratunam Center and The Platinum Mall, both of which are “wholesale” malls which aim at the same kind of small clothing shop you find in Pratunam Market. They’re not even wholesale shops, but targeting ordinary consumers. I checked out The Platinum, which is brand new. Looks nice, many shops, pretty busy, but freezing cold.
Further on towards Phayathai Road, you pass the famous (notorious) Pantip Plaza. THE paradise for the geek, you find computer hardware and peripherals, legal software, pirated software, pirated DVDs, digital cameras, MP3 players and generally all geeky toys imaginable. I couldn’t avoid a quick stop there, but then hey, I had a plan and no time to lose.
New Petchaburi Road gets a bit dull between Phayathai Road and Yommarat intersection. Most of the small shops were closed, probably due to Chinese New Year.
At Yommarat/Uruphong (อุรุพงษ์), I passed the elevated expressway and crossed the railway. All trains leaving from Bangkok’s main station (Hualamphong) have to pass this crossing, but still it’s not really busy. All along the railway, there are shanty towns, the huts often seperated from the trains by less the half a meter.
Right after crossing the railway, I turned left into Lan Luang Road (ถนนหลานหลวง), and this is where you gradually make your way into “old” Bangkok. On the left hand side I passed a beautiful villa, which houses some governmental asset management organization.
A few minutes later I reached Phadung Krung Kasem Market (ตลาดพดุงกรุงเกษม). Normally you see a lot of activity there, mostly flowers and fruits being sold, but today it was quiet. Yea, you guessed it: Chinese New Year. At least there was enough “life” around to capture a few impressions.
Paris in Bangkok???
After leaving Phadung Krung Kasem Market, I crossed Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem, entering the Sub-District of Pawm Prub Sattru Phai (ป้อมปราบศัตรูพ่าย). There, the first building on the left hand side is the Department of Social Welfare, another beautiful old villa.
5 minutes later, I saw a nice little park behind an entrance gate and found out that it belongs to the Prince Damrong Royal Library. I have no idea if it’s worth going there, but it sure looks good.
At the end of Lan Luang Road, I reached the bridge that connects Ratchadamnoen Klarng Road (ถนนราชดำเนินกลาง) with Ratchadamnoen Nork Road (ถนนราชดำเนินนอก). This is a nice but busy spot, from here you can see King Chulalongkorn’s Throne Hall at the end of Ratchadamnoen Nok and Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road.
There’s also Mahakarn Fort, Wat Ratchanata and Loha Prasart, the Metal Palace. AND you have a very nice view of Phu Khao Thong, the Golden Mount. This spot is also the final station of the river taxi.
I continued on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road until I reached Democracy Monument. If I had stayed on this road, I would have ended up at Sanam Luang and Grand Palace. I’ve been there many times, so this option was not interesting. I decided to turn left to boldly go where I’d never been before – Dinso Road (ถนนดินสอ).
I soon found out I had been in this area before, because after a few minutes I reached the City Hall and the Giant Swing. Walking straight on would again have taken me to familiar places, so I turned right into Mahannop Road (ถนนมหรรณพ). This was a good choice because I reached a Chinese Temple at the end of this street. A huge crowd of Chinese-Thai people was trying to get inside to pay their respect to the temple.
I didn’t join this fun but continued my mission by turning left into Tanao Road (ถนนตะนาว). After a short distance I found a lovely small street and turned right – Phraeng Nara Road (ถนนแพร่งนรา). Small old townhouses, lots of potted plants, people working in their shops, it was a beautiful scene.
At the end of Phraeng Nara Road, I turned left into Atsadang Road (ถนนอัษฎางค์). I walked past the Ministry of the Interior and Wat Ratchabopit and then reached an area of shops which sold HiFi accessories. Pretty cool shops, I thought, until I discovered a very small market alley full of these shops. I didn’t see the name of this alley but followed it anyway. It is between Charoen Krung (ถนนเจริญกรุง) and Phra Phitak Roads.
At the end of the market, I reached Ban Mo Road (ถนนบ้านหม้อ). There were still lots of HiFi shops here. When I got to the intersection of Ban Mo Road with Phra Phitak Road, I was not entirely sure which way I had to go now: left towards Pahurat Market (ตลาดพาหุรัด), the Indian garment market, or straight on towards Pak Khlong Market, the flower market.
I felt that Pak Khlong would be the bettet choice, and after a few minutes I reached the first couple of flower shops. Actually, I did not get to the central part of the market, but even so, it was pretty busy.
At the end of the road, I realized I had reached Rama I Bridge already, so I knew I had walked the wrong way. Instead of walking all the way back, I chose Tri Phet Road, which passes between Suan Kulab College, a pretty school building, and Wat Ratchaburana temple.
At the following intersection I reached Pahurat Road already, but it did not look very interesting, so I chose to walk right through the garment market.
Around halfway through the market, I was quite surprised to find that I had reached Siri Guru Singh Sabha, the Sikh temple where I had been to attend my friend Bob’s wedding celebration.
Yaowarat Road, which is Chinatown’s main road, begins right at the end of Pahurat Road, so I walked there to check for any signs of New Year’s celebrations. There was nothing, so I decided to walk through Soi Wanit, which is a market alley and runs parallel to Yaowarat Road.
There are tons of fashion, garment and accessories shops and the soi is rather spacious, which makes it more convenient to walk there, compared to Pahurat Market. Whenever I reached an intersection with a connection to Yaowarat Road, I walked there to check for the New Year’s celebrations, but it was not until I reached Ratchawon Road that it really started.
From here on, Yaowarat Road was blocked for traffic and a large number of people were gathered there. Most people were dressed in red, as far as I know, that’s a lucky color for Chinese people. Also the streets were decorated with red Chinese items. There were also the inevitable golden cats waving at you.
Lots of police were patrolling the street, and at the following intersection a huge crowd was gathered. I realized they were trying to get a glance at some VIP some 50 meters from where I was standing, shielded by the police. A golf cart arrived to pick up the VIP, and I tried to take a photo. This was a somewhat unpopular idea, since many people around me started yelling “No!” (right, suddenly they CAN speak English…) and one even pushed me. I can only guess that the VIP belonged to the royal family, maybe princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.
After the VIP had left, there was a little more space for walking. Just for a short while, though, because the police started allowing traffic through again. Okay, Yaowarat is an important road, but with that many people roaming the street, it was not the greatest idea. The situation got really bad at the Y-shaped intersection of Yaowarat and Charoen Krung roads. Here they had set up a stage for a Chinese theater show, complete with a huge dragon, puppeteers playing a lion and musicians.
Here, the street was packed with people, but still traffic was trying to pass through, including buses. Even though traffic was merely crawling, it was not a pleasant situation to have buses pass only 20 cm from you.
The crowd also had one very negative effect for me personally: my mobile phone was stolen. Happy new year… After realizing the loss, I immediately got to a payphone and cancelled my prepaid card.
Having had that bad experience shortly before the end of my little walk, I continued in a slightly depressed mood. My plan was to finish my littel trip by walking the 500 meters from Charoen Krung road to Hualamphong, Bangkok’s central railway station and catch a taxi there. On the way I visited Wat Traimit, which is the home of the largest golden Buddha statue in Thailand. That was the last highlight of the tour.