Rajadamri – As Downtown as You Can Get

When friends coming to Bangkok for the first time tell me they want to stay downtown, they feel puzzled when I tell them that the Big Mango doesn’t really have one. Yes, Sathorn is the Central Business District, but that’s miles from Sukhumvit, Siam is pretty darn central, but hey, other than the shopping malls, that’s just young folks paradise. While the BTS station is pretty much the center of the Bangkok public transport universe, I guess I consider the Rajaprasong intersection and Rajadamri Road about the closest thing we have to the heart of the city.

Credit: Teerarat Yaemngamluea

Rajadamri somewhat provides pretty much everything that visitors and locals here might be looking for, or at least is adjacent to the rest of them. The BTS runs through here, you’ll find the densest of the city traffic, and you’re in shopping Ground Zero, with CentralWorld and Gaysorn Village at your feet, and Siam Paragon just down the road.

Ganesha Shrine at CentralWorld, Rajadamri

Ganesha Shrine at CentralWorld, Rajadamri | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

While probably considered more of a shopping and embassy neighborhood, there’s still a host of interesting sights to check out in the area. It’s worth doing a shrine tour to see how the spiritual and material meet in the heart of the city’s best shopping and commercial district. Not only is Bangkok’s most famous shrine, Erawan, is found here, but the exquisite Lakshmi Shrine, hidden up on a terrace on the fourth level of Gaysorn Village, is one of Thailand’s most beautiful statues. The neighboring Trimurti and Ganesha shrines, which are prayer sites for the lovelorn and creative artists respectively, are an excellent insight into Thai culture as well as the fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism here.

Lumpini Park

Lumpini Park | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

Rajadamri’s southern end is home to Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s largest central urban green space, and a complete escape from the chaos of the city. There are jogging and bicycle tracks here, a lake to go boating on, picnic areas, and if you’re looking for some cool season fun, make sure to check out the Bangkok Symphony’s free concerts in the park on Sunday afternoons.

VIU, The St. Regis Bangkok

VIU, The St. Regis Bangkok | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

In terms of staying, there are some really opulent options in this high rent district. The St. Regis Bangkok leads the field, with elegant suites that feature private butlers and even views of the weekend horse races at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club across the way. Come here to enjoy one of the city’s most exquisite brunches at VIU, where you can feast on lobster sashimi, foie gras, king crab, Beijing duck, and just about any other gastronomic luxury you can imagine. It’s also worth catching a sunset in the The St. Regis Bar, where they serve signature Siam Mary drinks (a Bangkok take on the hotel’s famed Bloody Mary) and continue a worldwide St. Regis tradition of champagne sabering each night as the sun goes down.

Zuma, Bangkok

Zuma, Bangkok | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

There is no end to the number of delectable eating options in this neighborhood. For some creative and sophisticated Japanese, it’s hard to top Zuma, which is a cross between an izakaya (Japanese for “informal gastropub”) and a fine dining establishment, with a range of Nippon foodie creations from sashimi platters to robatayaki (Japanese for “fireside-cooking”). Make sure to sample their cocktails as well, as Zuma has long been host to some of the city’s best bartenders, and their novel signature drink, the Rhubabu, blends rhubarb-infused sake with -42° iced vodka, and gets served as a martini.

Madison, Bangkok | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

For meat lovers, Madison, in the Anantara Siam, is a laid-back steak-lovers’ paradise. Master Kobe rib-eye and Darling Downs Australian Wagyu feature prominently, and the roast rack of lamb, served medium-rare and on the bone, gets served up with jars of fine French mustards and mint jelly. As opposed to a lot of other restaurants in town, which tend to over-sauce their meats, Madison sticks to minimal accoutrements and lets the perfect cuts speak for themselves. There is also a wine cellar here consisting of well over 100 bottles of fine vineyard offerings from a vast selection of countries to complement the choices of meat.

Din Tai Fung’s famous xialongbao dumplings

Din Tai Fung’s famous xialongbao dumplings | Credit: Dave Stamboulis

The ethnic eats craze continues back up at Rajaprasong, with some of the city’s best dim sum and dumplings at the famed Din Tai Fung, located upstairs in CentralWorld on the seventh floor. The Taiwanese-origin restaurant, with branches around the globe now, has been named as one of the world’s ten best restaurants, and has even received a Michelin star, mainly due to its xiaolongbao dumplings, which are painstakingly handmade in the open kitchen, with expert workers pleating exactly 18 folds by hand, and the succulent dumplings are filled with a delectable pork broth that simply explodes when you bite into them.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood post lunch and predinner, and are both shopped out and exhausted from trekking around to see the shrines and the park, drop in for afternoon tea at the old school Erawan Tea Room. This fine establishment has afternoon tea sets with scones and pastries, the decor is lovely, with silk and porcelain pieces surrounding comfy sofas and chairs, and it all overlooks the Erawan Shrine and busy junction outside, yet is the perfect place to unwind.

For something a bit stronger in your glass, head up to Bangkok’s now highest rooftop bar, CRU, a champagne bar above Red Sky on top of the Centara Grand Hotel at CentralWorld. You’ve got a 360° panorama of Bangkok from up here, and the bar has partnered up with GM Mumm to serve up fine bubbly along with other hard and soft drinks.

And remember, if you need to go elsewhere, well, you are about as centrally located as you can get, smack in the heart of “downtown.”

The St. Regis Bangkok – 159 Rajadamri Rd., Tel. 02 207 7777
Zuma – 159 Rajadamri Rd. (at The St. Regis Bangkok), Tel. 02 252 4707
Madison –155 Rajadamri Rd., Tel. 02 126 8866
Din Tai Fung – 999/9 Rama 1 Rd., 7th Fl., CentralWorld, Tel. 02 646-1282
Erawan Tea Room – 494 Rajadamri Rd., Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok, Tel. 02 254-6250
CRU Champagne Bar – 999/9 Rama 1 Rd., Centara Grand at CentralWorld, Tel. 02 100-6255

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer and photographer based in Bangkok, Thailand. His photos, represented by Alamy and Getty Images, have appeared in publications around the world. He is the author of Odysseus’ Last Stand, which received the Silver Medal for Travel Book of the Year in 2006 from the Society of American Travel Writers. In addition to working as the updating writer for Fodor’s Guidebook to Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, he is the "Bangkok expert" for USA Today's 10Best website, and a regular contributor for publications throughout Southeast Asia such as Silver Kris (Singapore Airlines), Asian Geographic, International Traveller (Australia), Virgin Voyeur, Tiger Tales (Tiger Air), Bangkok 101, Look East, Tropical Magazine, Get Lost (Australia), Sawasdee Thai Air, and Bangkok Post among others.