BKK is not known as a particularly walkable city, with plenty of justification. The heat, the crowds, the mopeds roaring up the pavements, the hilarious lack of green space and the vendors sprawling into the road are enough to deter most people from venturing out on foot.
Which is a shame, really, as with just a little planning and by venturing slightly off the beaten track, you can create your very own walking tour (sans umbrellas and implicit expectations of tipping) and explore some of Bangkok’s most venerated landmarks as well as food, drink and the very occasional boat.
Here’s a recent loop we did that is a variation of the classic tourist boat tour – replacing one of the boat legs with an easy walking route that runs through a quiet part of Bangkok before taking in the Flower Market, Wat Arun and Wat Pho.
It pays to start this walk early-ish so it’s not overly hot and everything is at its quietest. Not crack of dawn, obviously, but start by about 10.30am to make the best of it. Also bring water, obviously.
Start off at Saphan Taksin BTS, where you would normally go to get the boat to the temples. Instead of joining the monster queue for the tourist boat, hop straight on the ferry (straight in front of the road as you come out of exit 1) to the other side for 5 baht – they run every few minutes.
Walk up the lane to the main road and turn right. Follow this road – you’ll pass a nice temple on the left and some of Bangkok’s premier riverside hotels to your right, but otherwise it’s a fairly local area and full of small old shops and restaurants.
After 5 or 10 minutes we hit Iconsiam – stopping in to check out the indoor floating market on the ground floor and a quick snack of mystery green pancakes.
Carrying on up Charoen Nakorn for another 10 minutes or so we passed Khlong San market on the right, which is worth a quick peruse for snacks, or trousers, or a TV in classic Thai style. The road dog legs to the left in front of Taksin hospital, follow it straight and to the left over a pedestrian crossing onto Somdet Chao Phraya (so coming from Market Klongsan Plaza and headed towards Walden Home Cafe on the below):
Be sure to look down the little sois and alleys off the main drag for a glimpse of quieter local life and the vibrant coloured houses hat dotted around the area.
Between soi 15 and soi 13, in a row of shops, is Walden Home Cafe, where we stopped for a well earned coffee and a snack. This tiny little cafe seems fairly new and does an excellent range of coffees, teas and brunch items, with bonus points for being simultaneously quite hipster but at the same time great value and delicious. I had sausages and potatoes on toast for 110 baht (£2.50) and it was every bit as filthily good as it sounds.
About 10 more minutes saw us reach more temples on either side. Wat Phitchaya is particularly pretty and not busy at all for those seeking something off the tourist trail.
Hang a right on Phaya Mai road (just before you get to a realllllly big road) and follow it beside a small park and under the bridge to the left – you’ll also be right back on the river now. In front of you will be another bridge with rather grand white steps – take the far set of these (i.e. under the second bridge) so that you cross the green Memorial Bridge on the left hand side.
After the bridge, follow the road round and left into the amazing Pak Khlong Market – Bangkok’s main flower market. It’s fairly self-explanatory but certainly worth a visit for the stall chock full of exotic foliage:
There’s also a huge fresh vegetable section to keep the foodies happy if, like me, you enjoy staring at a huge sack of chillies.
Head back out to the riverside and walk back towards the bridge, to find the Memorial Bridge Pier (Stop N6) on your left. Hop on the Orange flag boat for a short two stops to Wat Arun (N8) and take in one of Bangkok’s finest temples in all its glory (50 THB entry).
We then took the 3 baht ferry over to Tha Tien pier (the furthest pier away from Wat Arun’s ‘main entrance’), the boat jostling for space in a high stakes game of chicken across the crowded river.
From Tha Tien you’re almost at the gates of Wat Pho with its world famous reclining Buddha statue, and the Grand Palace is off to your left. You’re also very much back in the thick of the action – with food vendors, hawkers, tuk tuks and traffic roaring all around you.
Having seen all of the above before in abundance, we headed in search of sustenance and found it at Err, a restaurant which deserves a write up of its own. Walking past Wat Pho down Maha Rat road, past the smoking satay stands and street carts which will make a great meal in themselves, head right on the soi after Elefin coffee and find Err on your left towards the river.
You’ll pay a lot for the food here by Thai standards but it’s so impressive it’s included in the Michelin guide – just you try and resist this clay pot of braised, melting pork belly bubble away on the table:
Satisfied with our days eating, drinking and culture we headed a few more minutes down the same road to find ourselves at Rajinee Pier (N7) , jumping back on the human zoo that is the express boat to our starting point at Saphan Taksin and the end of our journey.
A lovely day out and a chance to stretch the legs – what more can you ask?