Bangkok Streets Glossary
Thanon = Avenue
Soi = Street
Sub Soi = Smaller Street off a Soi
Trok = Alley
Klong = Canal
When I was about to have our baby in Bangkok four years ago, my mom sent an email asking for our home address to send a care package. I also had to fill out forms and such in the hospital and had to look at my little written note with our address, over and over. It took me about two weeks to finally memorize it. And then I realized it was so long because it had double denominations, numbers in the Thai address manner and also in the Farang (slang term for foreigner in Thailand) manner. Making it all quite confusing.
Thankfully we lived in a condo on a pretty busy street not far from the main avenue so our address had low numbers and it wasn’t not so difficult to find. But when we looked for places to go or for restaurants to eat at, the addresses were insanely complicated. Big avenues do tend to be straight and go on for many kilometers, but some streets or sois and subs sois are so hidden and tiny and hard to find that not even a map will help, you just have to ask around.
Chinatown for example, is ridiculous. Dusit is a bit better since it has a more organized development with the klongs (canals) that enter and exit at the river and separate de areas in half moon shapes. The Sukhumvit area is a mess because the sois were created around existing rice paddies and farmhouses, so even the straight streets have tributaries going off in every direction.
Our street for example was busy on the block where we lived but not on the entire stretch. After thoroughly examining the map and getting into fights with taxis we realized that our street was actually “h” shaped. Yes, h-shaped. Talk about confusing. Our street was called, Soi Prasanmitr or better known as Sukhumvit Soi 23. Sukhumvit is one of Bangkok’s most famous avenues, the BTS Skytrain runs through a big section of it, there are easily six or seven shopping centers on it, there are shops, restaurants, anything you can imagine.
Off Thanon Av, Sukhumvit, and all big roads, are the sois (streets), on one side are the even numbered sois and on the other side are the odd numbered sois. Don’t be fooled, if you are let’s say, on soi 11, the other side is probably not 10, it could be anything between 3 and 18. The blocks are not all the same length, there are sois that were created after the original sois were numbered so for example if its between sois 8 and 10, the new number would be 8/1.
Thankfully like anywhere in the world, the first number of any Thai address is the one that denominates the actual dwelling or business. For example you are looking for a place with an address that looks like this; 234/18 Thanon LadPrao Soi 52/1. This means that the lot of land where the house is on, is number 234 and 18 is the actual house. But don’t start thinking that the group of houses numbered 234 is next to or even close to the group of houses numbered 233 or 235!
The number for the lot is given chronologically so the next number over could be kilometers away. And also don’t expect the houses inside the lot to be numbered in order either because those are also numbered chronologically so 234/18 might be next to 234/5. 52/1 means that the soi you are looking for is on the even side of Lad Prao, one after soi 52. This is a pretty straightforward address, I´m not even going to start explaining addresses in small towns and villages. I can only sort of master addresses in the city.
For buildings it´s similar, but that’s where it gets complicated for receiving post.
A building is lets say, lot 13 and it has 56 apartments. The numbers range from 13/1 to 13/56, but you also have to say what floor, and then you have a “room number” which is basically a western style number like 8B, eighth floor apartment B. My post address was ridiculously long, not only with all the numbers but I also had to put the name of the Condo (building), and the sub district and the district and Bangkok and then finally the post-code. But, when someone comes to visit there wasn’t any point giving him or her the actual address, it was best to tell them to go down soi 23, past Soi Cowboy, in front of the post office.
That takes me to how I started to become obsessed at taking photos of the soi signs.
All sois of course do have names, sometimes included in the address! Some have funny sounding names and some have names in English that are just amusing. When reading the soi names in Spanish its sometimes really interesting since soi, sounds like “soy”, which means “I am”. Soi Nana (I am nanny) is famous for the red light district, as is Soi cowboy (I am cowboy). Soi cowboy has no proper street sign, just a big huge banner hanging over the entrance, I think its still a nicknamed soi even though it´s on all the maps.
There´s another funny one that leads off from Thanon Surawong, that’s called Soi Jesus (I am Jesus), or in Thai Soi Pramot. I tried googleing it to see why its called Soi Jesus but I could find no explanation. On google maps it looks like a doodle shaped street, and I though my h shaped street was complicated. If you want to learn more about Thai addresses, specially in smaller towns, like not in Bangkok, go to the Thailand Guru´s page, he really is the best at explaining it all.
Photo by Andy Kaye