Sukhumvit Road (pronounced Sookoomvit) is one of Bangkok’s main arteries, running generally east-west before turning south to connect to towns southeast of the capitol. Sidestreets running of Sukhumvit Road are called Sois and are numbered, although the road signs also show their old, seldom used proper names. Odd numbered sois run north off Sukhumvit and even numbered sois run south. I lived on Sukhumvit Soi 11 when I worked in Bangkok and always return to that area because of the concentration of good hotels, restaurants and shopping.
Traffic on Sukhumvit Road is awful except from about 2:00 to 5:00 AM. Of course it’s bad everywhere else in Bangkok too. Bad enough that if you flag down a cab and ask the driver to take you across town at the wrong time of day they will turn you down and drive off. It doesn’t pay for them to sit in traffic. Another time, a taxi driver picked Mai and I up, then changed his mind part way, dropped us off at the next Skytrain station and drove off!
Getting From Point A to Point B
Many times, even driving a short distance on Sukhumvit Road can be a challenge. For example, I like to stay at the Boulevard Hotel on Soi 5, which is a very narrow 1-way street running north from Sukhumvit Road (see photo below, a Google Streetview shot).
My hotel (Point A on the map below) is less than 50 metres from Sukhumvit Road. I had to make several taxi trips that required getting on one of the main highways (Point B on the map). The trick is that Sukhumvit road is 3 lanes in each direction, and because they drive on the other side of the road from us, going straight onto Sukhumvit gets you going in the wrong direction.
There are places to make U-turns, but you don’t want to do that because Sukhumvit has a median that divides the two directions and you can’t make a right turn from the westbound lanes onto the highway entrance ramp. What do people do?
Two of the eastbound lanes have been designated as westbound lanes! However, this only occurs for a few hundred metres, and you can only get onto those special lanes by making a right hand turn from Soi 3. I haven’t mentioned what a nightmare Soi 3 is. It’s 3 or 4 lanes, I’m not sure. If the shoulder lanes aren’t being used for parking then it’s 5 or 6 lanes wide, and that situation changes constantly.
So, with all those complications, how does one get from Point A to Point B. Easy, you do The Sukhumvit Shuffle! Follow along on the map. You start by driving north on Soi 5 from the hotel. Follow the road as it curves and meets Soi 7, which is 1-way southbound (it’s the only [legal] way people living on Soi 5 can get back to Sukhumvit Road), then drive south on Soi 7 to Sukhumvit. Remember, you can’t turn right on Sukhumvit here. You’re forced to turn left, which takes you to Soi 11, the only way to get over to Soi 3. Follow Soi 11 north and then make a left, a right and another left through the network of alleys until you meet Soi 3.
You now have 400 metres to cross however many lanes of traffic there are on Soi 3 at the time in preparation for the right turn onto Sukhumvit Road. During rush hour, The Sukhumvit shuffle alone can take 30 to 40 minutes, assuming you can find a cab who will want to do that for you!
You’re wondering about the short roads that connect Soi 5 directly to Soi 3. Those roads are extremely narrow and are basically used only for foot traffic. One more knowledgeable driver I had said that for 30 baht (Cdn $1.20) the guy who operates a parking lot that blocks the road I have indicated with a red arrow, will let you drive through his lot and straight onto Soi 3. I’ve only had one driver who knew of the shortcut and I haven’t been able to spot the entrance amid all the clutter on the street to show other drivers the shortcut. So, I just sit back and enjoy doing The Sukhumvit Shuffle!