Bangkok is a huge city, but most of its expat community is centered around a few notable areas – Sukhumvit, Silom, Sathorn, Ari, and a few other small burghs. It’s no coincidence that most of the hotels, restaurants, and nightlife is located here too. What some people overlook is that every single one of these areas is on the east side of the Chao Phraya River, which roughly bisects Bangkok – but what about the west side?
The Chao Phraya River represents somewhat of a psychological barrier to most Bangkokians…
Much like New York, Bangkok has its ‘cool’ areas and its ‘uncool’ areas, and generally speaking, the west side of the river is uncool. Why do I bother writing about it? Well, it’s just an interesting fact about Bangkok that isn’t often acknowledged, and also, I live on the west side of the river, which is broadly called Thonburi. But thankfully, things are starting to change. One day, I might even end up living on the cool side of the river.
When we moved over here from Ari, where we had lived for 3 years previously, my wife’s mother showed a lot of concern. “But it’s all the way on the other side of the river…!” she bemoaned. I had to explain to her that I’d already moved 12,064km from where I grew up…another 5 across the river wasn’t going to kill me.
The Chao Phraya River represents somewhat of a psychological barrier to most Bangkokians – Thais and expats alike – who consider anything on “that side” too far out of the way to be of use. When I tell people where I live, it’s almost always followed by an interested “Oh, really?” Even my buddy John, a lifelong New Yorker before he moved to the Big Mango, tells me he doesn’t visit friends when they move to ‘Bangkok’s Brooklyn.’ “You are dead to me,” he joked. At least I think it was a joke…he hasn’t visited in a while…
But he’s not that far off, and it’s easy to see why Thonburi gets saddled with the Brooklyn label. Expats have long seen it as kind of a far-out place to live, and if you did make your home here, there was a good chance you were unusually familiar with the city, or had somewhat of an artistic or hipster-y temperament. Perhaps a jewellery designer or a photographer, or someone with a manufacturing business of some kind. Rents are cheaper, the pace of life is slower, English isn’t as widely spoken, and the number of tourist buses are almost zero.
Now, that being said – over the next few years Thonburi is going to get a major dose of adrenaline. I know at least ten people who live in Thonburi, and more are starting to see it as an attractive alternative to the saturated east side. The extension of the BTS has been a huge factor in that, and the eventual (we hope) completion of the full rail route will really bring Thonburi into the spotlight (see a previous blog here where I detail the planned rail routes). There’s an expected building boom coming, and several huge developments are planned, from condos to shopping malls, to – finally – a movie theater.
So as it stands now, I still live in the ‘not cool’ part of the city, but things are changing fast. I imagine in another 5 or 6 years there will be a lot of tall new hotels on the riverfront, and sprawling malls and packed restaurants to cater to the new condos that will inevitably spring up. For once in my life, cool might happen around me rather than me trying to jump in the middle of it.