You hardly find a mention of Soi 22, where I usually stay in Bangkok, in the travel guides. Interesting. Not anything here for sightseers really. But good if you live here long term.
The well-dressed tourists in the high end hotels and serviced apartments here must just head off in a taxi because you don’t often see them on the street. The men in the high end hotels are mainly businessmen…many of them Korean or Japanese. Most of the farang (westerners) that live around here and are married to Thais or farangs. Some of them have lived and worked here for 30 years and just retire here. Hardly ever see female farang tourists by themselves, although on this trip I did meet a young Frenchwoman who missed her flight on a layover and was stranded. So here I am with the “boys” and the Thais.
The guesthouse is small and they keep good track of me. If you stay a month they give you 25% off the room rate so I am paying 1000 baht (about $31) a night with free breakfast. Most of the people frequenting the restaurant are the male guests upstairs who are here on business (I’m the only woman) or farangs and Thais who live around here. The restaurant serves great Thai and western food including a whole menu of Canjun, Creole and BBQ dishes. Last night I splurged on one-half kilo of the biggest crawfish I’ve ever seen.
However, when I was looking for an inexpensive room for Doug and Luk, I found several in the small sub-sois off soi 22. Som’s Guesthouse has nice rooms with free WiFi, free breakfast and air/con. Then there’s House By The Pond…both well under 1000 baht ($31) a night.
There is one short stretch on one side of Soi 22 with lady bars but the rest of the street is crammed full of street food vendors, great little Thai (including Northern style) air con restaurants with very reasonable prices, various western restaurants and legit Thai massage places (1 hr for about $10) mixed in with high end hotels, serviced apartments and condos. I used to stay at the Admiral Serviced Apartments or the Bally Serviced Apartments, both owned by an Indian family, but they are now out of my price range. The Queen’s Park Hotel, with mostly Korean and Japanese businessmen attending a conference (often with their families along) on an expense account is out of the question. Further down 22 is a private Thai secondary school…vendors with snacks waiting for the uniformed kids taking taxis or tuk tuks home after school.
Behind the Queen’s Park Hotel, between the QP and Sukhumvit Rd., next to the Emporium, is Benjasiri Park built in 1992 to celebrate the Queen’s 60th birthday. Here in the early mornings and in the evenings you can watch Asians and a few westerners doing Tai Chi and other exotic exercises to music. It is a wooded peaceful place that belies the frantic traffic just over the fence on Sukhumvit Road. Through the park, almost behind the Emporium, is the World Fellowship of Buddhists Center in a lovely Thai style building.
There is a neighborhood feel here and some of the lady vendors remembered me from two years ago! The lady who serves Khao Soy, a northern specialty soup, welcomed me back the first day. Incidently, I did notice that she used to use bits of beef but the soup now seems to have mostly beef parts suggesting that the effects of inflation has hit the street. At my first visit this time to an almost hidden sushi restaurant (set dinner of 8 pieces of sushi with big bowl of saba soup for $4) tucked behind the Admiral Apartments, the Thai waiter greeted me with open arms…remembering me from previous visits…showing off his two little girls who were at work with their father. And it’s been two years since I’ve been here!
From Sukhumvit Rd., at the end of Soi 22, turning left at the dead end, the street becomes soi 24 where my dentist is and more high end hotels like the President Park and the Davis, restaurants, a Starbucks and a Tops Market. Soi 24 is probably the most expensive soi off Suk. Rd. I usually take a motorcycle taxi to my dentist for 20 baht…about 60 cents. Two years ago I paid 10 baht. Inflation. By law the cyclist has to wear a helmet. Heck with the rider.
And then there’s the Emporium vertical mall at the top of Suk 24 on Sukhumvit Rd. for shopping. Two English language bookstores are on the 3rd floor. The 5th floor is full of Thai food stalls, a great cheap Thai Food Court with every kind of Thai food you can think of, an upscale food market with things like peanut butter and maple syrup or bread, bologna, mayonaise and mustard for sandwiches, ethnic (Italian, Chinese, Japanese etc) restaurants, a Starbucks, a bakery, pharmacy etc etc. On the Sixth floor is a plush movie theater with more western movies in English than other Thai malls. The infrastructure around here definitely caters to Westerners…a welcome respite for people living here or staying long term…after braving the hot noisy city.
Up on the corner of Sukhumvit Rd. is a great Irish Pub with Irish fare like Sherpherd’s Pie and is filled mostly in the late afternoons with Western businessmen on their way home after work. Down Sukhumvit toward the Emporium is a great 2111 Pizza delivery place.
Further down Sukhumvit is an English language used book store. The Dasa Book Café opened in Bangkok in 2004 and boasts a stock of 10,000 secondhand books, both paperback and hardcover, on two floors of a shop on Sukhumvit Road between Suk 26 and 28 about a 5-minute walk from the Emporium Shopping Center. Dasa will pay cash for those used books you have been lugging around or accept titles for trade credit. Customers can also enjoy a downstairs coffee shop which, in addition to fresh brewed coffee and tea, also sells homemade cakes and cookies. Dasa Book Cafe has also begun a book club and all are welcome to participate. All books are kept on the store database, which can be downloaded online at: www.dasabookcafe.com.
If you risk your life to run across Sukhumvit Rd. to the other side you will find similar sois with similar neighborhoods.
To go to the Bumrungrad Hospital where I have all my medical care done, I get on the BTS Phrom Phong stop at the Emporium Mall and zip down Sukhumvit in the elevated air conditioned sky train to the Phloen Chit stop, cross an expressway and take a motorcylcle taxi for 10 baht which takes me into the back of the hospital. I could get off at the Nana exit and wait for the hospital van to pick me up but the street is frantic with vendors and pedestrians and in the heat I just want to get into the air-con hospital. Besides I don’t like the whole Nana area full of sight-seeing tourists and young guys on the prowl. There is a big Indian and Muslim population here so this is the place to come for Indian and Muslim food although these kinds of restaurants are in my neighborhood too.
When I come back to Bangkok however, I think I’ll pick another neighborhood to stay in…and get to know. At the Ari sky train stop the leafy neighborhoods are full of single old style Thai houses with large and small condos mixed in…and a Mac store in an upscale plaza!
Bangkok and New York…two of the most diverse cities in the world…two of my favorite. Guess growing up on a sheep ranch in southern Oregon cured me of the isolated life.
Why am I suddenly posting so much? I’m avoiding the heat. And April is the hottest month of the year.