Saphan Taksin is a cacophony of bright colors, busy people, noises, smells, and sheer humanity that is indicative of old neighborhoods in Southeast Asian cities. There is a beautiful (though slightly dated architecturally) hotel at the edge of the Chao Phraya river, but it is when walking around the old neighborhood that surrounds the hotel on the other three sides when you can really feel immersed in a part of Bangkok that is both old and new, boisterously alive, and yours for the taking in. Spend an hour or so around here and soak it up.
Descend from the train in the sky
Canvassing Bangkok from the slightly suburban to the chic shopping areas, business ones and bawdy ones too, is the BTS Skytrain. Hop on this mobile refrigerator in the sky, and zip over to Saphan Thaksin Station. Walking down the stairs of the exit 3, you are likely to see chicken and fish being grilled, fresh juices being squeezed, hear a blind woman singing karaoke for tips, and everything from lighters to Rolex-like watches for sale. Grab a bottle of slightly astringent juice made of a fruit redolent of tangerines for about 20 THB (less than 1 USD).
Now grab a bunch of bananas
Turn left at the corner and you’re on Charoen Krung, the main drag. It’s never a bad idea to have a bunch of bananas at the ready (right?), so grab one for around 30 THB (less than 1 USD) and have a stroll. On both sides of the street you’ll find a variety of stores and restaurants, big and small. The Robinson’s at left is a dependable department store, and below it is a well-stocked, air-conditioned supermarket. Eschew these things (or, if you are embarrassed about caving to Western creature comforts, visit them but don’t tell your friends you did) and head out back behind the Robinson’s complex.
Everyone’s got a Pad Thai opinion
Behind Robinsons, in a very large shed of a building is a Thai style food court. Pad Thai is a good standby, since it is one Thai dish (well, probably some Chinese pedigree in there, but that’s a contentious issue) that is not spicy. Unless you want it to be. Or do you want to make it sweeter? A little sour? Saltier? How about a dash or two of fermented fish sauce? The condiments set provided allows you to fine tune at will. Figure around 45 THB (1.50 USD) for a Pad Thai with Chicken, Pork, or Shrimp, less for a vegetarian version.
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Find the beauty between the power lines
Back on the main drag, as distracting as all the vendors (and if it’s after 5pm, the night market too) are, do take the time to look up. You can see colossal buildings on either end. The gold-domed one’s rooftop bar made an appearance in the movie “Hangover 2”. Also check out the smaller buildings right in front of you for some interesting East-West architectural elements. Cross over to be on the side opposite the Robinsons and a bit towards the gold-domed building. From here, find a way to slip into the warren of back streets that back the east side of Charoen Krung for some authentic, old style Thai household landscapes.
Take the time to enjoy the seemingly mundane
The big spots tourist spots are easy to find, and fairly easy to understand as well. Go and see them, but also take the time to wander a bit and see how much the street scenes reveal about Bangkok life. Sometimes you can learn more by standing still than trying to find something.
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