From Wat Phra Kaew, this afternoon I jumped on a ferry down the river, and explored the looming skyscrapers and the bloated shopping malls that comprise central Bangkok. The place is nothing like the chaos and squalor of Khao San Road; and yet, it's also vastly different to what you'd expect from the downtown area of a Western city. The river ferry service from Khao San down to the Central Pier is great fun: fast, cheap, breezy and very scenic — great way to see the city.
Looking out the side of the river ferry.
From the river ferry's Central Pier, I caught the famous Bangkok Skytrain up to the Silom district. The Skytrain is a sleek, modern train service — and in contrast to virtually all the rest of Bangkok's transport, it's surprisingly not-too-crowded (could be due to the relatively high price of the tickets). Purchasing a Skytrain ticket is a somewhat bizarre ritual. The electronic ticket machines at the stations only accept 5B and 10B coins; and when you walk up to the woman at the ticket desk, and hand her a 100B note, she refuses to give you a ticket. Instead, she gives you back a stack of 10B coins (of which she's armed with an arsenal of several thousand), and points you over to the machines. Why she can't just sell you a ticket is beyond me — such are the mysteries of Thailand.
Silom is one of the largest business and commercial districts in Bangkok: it's characterised by soaring skyscrapers, large shopping malls, and elegantly-dressed Thai (and ex-pat) professionals. From Silom, I walked north up to the Siam district — since "Siam" is literally the old name for "Thailand", I guess it's a logical name for the city centre. Siam is like Silom, only on an even larger scale: bigger shopping malls, bigger skyscrapers, and worse-still traffic and street noise. Just walking around made me realise that this is one hell of a massive old megalopolis! The downtown area's shopping malls are also quite elegant (and pleasantly air-conditioned), which made wandering around them quite a pleasant excursion for a time.
Main street of Silom.
Silom district’s soaring skyscrapers.
Expansive shopping centres near Siam.
I wandered around the downtown area for most of the afternoon; then I caught the Skytrain and a local bus up to Bangkok's faraway northern bus terminal, in order to peruse the offerings regarding buses up to Chiang Mai. The northern bus terminal is incredibly inconvenient to get to — it takes about an hour to reach it from the city centre — and I barely saw another farang while I was there. It seems to be all locals: perhaps my tourist brethren prefer to exclusively catch the train, or to book their buses directly from Khao San Road? Anyway, there are plenty of buses to Chiang Mai, so I have nothing to worry about. I caught the bus, the train and the river ferry all the way back to Khao San after that: it was a long trip; but once the sun went down, it was pleasantly dark and cool.