If Khao San Road is the budget end of Bangkok, it’s fair to say that Sukhumvit is the exact opposite. This is a suburb of expensive hotels, fancy apartment buildings, up-market restaurants, bounded by the Saen Saeb canal in the north, the Chalerm Maha Nakhon Expressway and Ratchadaphisek Road in the west and Rama IV Road in the south.

Sukhumvit is one of the newer areas of Bangkok, having been developed from farming land in the last 50 years to cope with the rapid growth of the city. It’s now one of the real estate hotspots in Bangkok with soaring property values and easy access to the booming financial district of Silom. It’s also home to many expats living in Bangkok.

Sukhumvit traffic is an attraction in its own right
Sukhumvit traffic is an attraction in its own right

Like Silom and Siam Square, Sukhumvit is a permanent traffic jam most of the day, so the easiest way in is by Bangkok Skytrain on the Sukhumvit line, getting off at Nana, Asok, Phrom Phong, Thong Lo, Ekkamai, Phra Khanong or On Nut stations, all of which are along Sukhumvit Road. If you want to land smack in the middle of the action, get off at Asok station, which can also be reached on the MRT railway system. Alternatively, you can get in from the Chao Phraya River Express by transferring to a Saen Saep Express Boat and getting off at Chit Lom, Nana Nuea or Asok piers.

There’s a lot of culture to see in Sukhumvit, especially museums. There are lots of up-market department stores and shops catering to the wealthy Thais and expats, including the Emporium near Phrom Phong BTS station where the European name-brand watches and bags are mostly the genuine article. At the other end of the scale, the Khlong Toey market (near the corner of Ratcha Road and Rama IV Road) is aimed at poorer Thais with lots of foods and second-hand clothing. In between are lots and lots of street stalls selling the usual souvenirs and fakes.

Cute little cafes are popping up all over Sukhumvit
Cute little cafes are popping up all over Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit Road has probably the broadest range of eateries in the whole of Bangkok, with up-market Thai restaurants intermixed with Japanese, European, Mexican, Indian, Chinese and even Australian food.

Like Silom, Sukhumvit’s wealth has attracted a sleazy counter-side of go-go bars and hostess bars, but also some quite good sports bars, beer gardens, wine bars and nightclubs to suit most tastes – if not all budgets. As a matter of interest though, the Thai business people don’t tend to look to Sukhumvit or Silom for a good night out, but to Ratchada Road.

Patpong Road nightlife

Patpong girly bars
Patpong Road nightlife is a matter of taste, but it doesn’t end at girly bars

Patpong Road is one of the highlights of Sukhumvit for many travellers, although it’s not really our favourite part of Bangkok. Patpong is famous for being the red light district of Bangkok, packed full of strip joints, girly bars, brothels and other seedy establishments designed to attract sex tourists. But there are aspects of Patong that will interest ordinary travellers too.

The Patpong Night Market is one of the more tourist-focused markets in Bangkok with a large range of souvenirs, pirate DVDs and CDs and the usual fake watches, jewellery and t-shirts that fill Thai street markets. But be careful as Patpong Night Market is also full of touts who will try to entice (or even pressure) you into the seedy bars, sex shows and nightclubs that line the market streets.

Patpong wholesale night market in On Nut Square has some great bargains
Patpong wholesale night market in On Nut Square has some great bargains

There are good bargains to be had in the Patpong Night Market, but because it’s so tourist-oriented you do have to be prepared to bargain very aggressively here. Aim for around 25% of the price you are first quoted, and settle for no more than 35%. Be aware that many of the DVDs on sale are porn movies, so best not to take the kids!

The best things to buy in Patpong are the copy watches, which are of a reasonable quality here, and the designer clothing. But to be honest, anything for sale in Patpong, including girls, is probably much cheaper elsewhere in Bangkok.

The easiest way to get to Patpong Market is from Sala Daeng station on the Bangkok Skytrain Sukhumvit line.

It’s probably worth the trip at least once just to see what goes on there and to be able to tell your friends at home you saw the famous Bangkok red light district. If you want to see the action up closer, look for the go-go bars that don’t have a cover charge and you’ll usually get out after 2-3 drinks with a bill of less than $10. The Safari Club is one of the “safer” places to go. The Happy Beer Garden or the Oasis Lounge are both good places to sit and watch the action from a distance. The “lady boy” shows are also supposed to be very entertaining, although we did not bother to see one.

Places to stay in Sukhumvit, Bangkok

Because Sukhumvit is the upmarket accommodation centre of Bangkok, there are literally hundreds of hotels to choose from in the district. But here are a few that consistently get rave reviews from guests.

Chan Cha La 99 Hostel
Chan Cha La 99 Hostel, 6/3 Sukhumvit Soi 99, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok

Chan Cha La 99 Hostel – just a 2-star hostel but a cheap way to stay right in the middle of the Sukhumvit action zone with male and female dorm rooms and a mixed dormitory starting from USD$10 a night. There are also private double rooms from USD$20 per night. One of the cleanest, nicest cheap hostels in Bangkok with an owner (Annie) who treats guests like family.

Maduzi Hotel
Maduzi Hotel, 9/1 Ratchadaphisek Road, Khlongtoey, Bangkok

Maduzi Hotel – a small boutique 5-star hotel in Soi Sukhumvit 16 with just 40 rooms from USD$180 per night. Right next door to the Asok BTS Skytrain station and Terminal 21 shopping centre, the hotel has a very good French restaurant that’s popular with the Bangkok elite.

Cabochon Hotel & Residence
Cabochon Hotel & Residence, 14/29 Sukhumvit 45 Road, Klongton Nua, Wattana, Bangkok

Cabochon Hotel – a modern 4-star boutique hotel popular with business travellers to Bangkok, located close to Phrom Phong and Thong Lor BTS Skytrain stations and in the heart of the city nightlife. A grand European style hotel with a rooftop pool and surprisingly quiet given its busy location.

Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel
Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel, 189 Sukhumvit Road Soi 13-15, Klongtoey Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok

Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit Hotel – a 5-star modern hotel on Sukhumvit Road that’s my brother’s favorite place to stay in Bangkok. Boasting four restaurants, three bars and a rooftop pool, the Sofitel offers a level of comfort and luxury that can be hard to find in Bangkok for less than USD$200 a night.