Visitors to Bangkok are often surprised to learn that there are two racecourses in the city. I’ve written before about the Royal Turf Club in the Dusit district of Bangkok, but last month I paid a visit to the Royal Bangkok Sports Club (RBSC) for an afternoon of horse racing to see how it compared. I enjoy watching most sports and although I’m far from being a horse racing aficionado, it proved to be a wonderfully entertaining afternoon in the heart of Bangkok. The racing was just a part of the day, with the people watching and atmosphere making it a sanuk afternoon. And at just 100 Baht for entry and no double-pricing for foreigners, horse racing at RBSC is something I’d recommend experiencing if you’re looking to do something a little bit different to the normal tourist activities in Bangkok.
History of Royal Bangkok Sports Club
King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) granted royal permission for the racecourse in the Pathum Wan district of Bangkok in 1902. Royal approval followed a request from Thai and foreign residents in Bangkok with the aim of improving horse breeding and other field sports in the Siamese capital. The Thai name ‘Raj Kreetha Samosorn Krungthep‘ was given to the new venue.
Food, drink, betting and sanuk
You don’t have to fully understand horse racing or the intricacies of betting to enjoy the afternoon. Whilst the RBSC isn’t an ultra-modern sports stadium, it is a wonderfully atmospheric setting for an afternoon of sport. A golf-course sits in the middle of the racetrack and in between races you’ll see golfers and caddies crossing the track together with random people carrying food out to the men and women putting up the results and odds on the old-fashioned manual scoreboards.
Vendors selling rejuvenating ice-cold towels do a steady trade as they weave amongst the punters in the sultry Bangkok heat. The racegoers at RBSC are mainly middle-aged and older men and it was interesting to observe how intently they study the form guides and assess the horses before the start.
There are restrictions on gambling in Thailand, but betting here is legal and tourists can place bets too if they want to. If you are serious about your horse racing, it’s worth buying a programme which are on sale in and around the venue. The Thai version costs 30 Baht but only covers basic details about runners and riders. The English language version of the programme costs 100 Baht but does have more content and includes comprehensive statistics and form guides. It also includes a helpful explanation of the betting system.
The venue is framed by high-rise buildings with the lushness of the green turf providing a stark contrast to the drab concrete of the main grandstand. The stand has seen better days, but still provides welcome shade and sustenance to the spectators with an abundance of refreshment stalls. Although alcohol is on sale, I didn’t notice many racegoers drinking with the focus firmly on the racing and the food. The horse racing isn’t to the highest international standards, but the punters chanting the nickname of their favourite jockeys as the horses gallop down the home straight don’t care about that.
On race days, entrance to the main stand at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club is a standard 100 Baht for all with no dual pricing for non-Thais. Knee-length shorts and flip-flops are acceptable, but men should wear a shirt with a collar (polo shirts are OK) and women should dress casually but conservatively.
A typical meeting will see around 10 races between midday and 6pm. Most races are run over the flat with a set distance of 6 furlongs (1200 metres) so there isn’t much variety between one race and the next. Race meetings in Bangkok are held on Sundays with the venue alternating between the Royal Bangkok Sports Club and the Royal Turf Club.
For full details of race fixtures and schedules check the RBSC website.
How to get to Royal Bangkok Sports Club
Although you can see the Royal Bangkok Sports Club from Ratchadamri BTS station, you can’t access the course from there. The nearest BTS Skytrain station is Siam. After getting off at Siam head to Exit 6 and walk across the footbridge. Walk along Henri Dunant Road in the direction of traffic for approximately 10 minutes and you’ll see the RBSC to your left. If you don’t feel like walking you can take a motorbike taxi for 20/30 Baht from Siam BTS or a standard taxi-meter for 45/50 Baht. Entrances 1 and 2 are reserved for club members with Entrance 3 used for the general public.
The headquarters of the Thai Red Cross is close to the RBSC with the street named in honour of the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant.