Posted in Travel on Jan 5th, 2010
I’ve spent a lot of time in Bangkok, Thailand over the last few years and I have to say it’s just about my favorite place in the world. Most folks would question this favored status and a few might even argue that Bangkok isn’t “Thailand” at all. Thailand, to a lot of people, is rice fields and beaches and golden temples and lush jungles. To others it’s the warm hospitality, the endless shopping or the morally ambiguous nighttime fun-park that draws them to Thailand. For me it’s Bangkok. The city itself. I love it.
My favorite activity in Bangkok is to wander around. This is easier said than done and takes a bit of practice. For starters, you have to ignore the heat, the toxic air, the traffic, the horrific architecture, the stumbling tourists, the noise, the partial sidewalks, the rabid dogs, the scam artists, the filthy canals, the maniacs and even your own desire to flee when it gets too be too much. But I think that’s why the rewards of Bangkok, when you do finally find them, are so great: it always feels like you’ve earned them.
So anyway, I spent a few days in the Silom area of Bangkok a couple of weeks ago and here’s a few of my favorite finds from the neighborhood:
I’ve stayed at The Luxx once before, and for the money it’s a pretty great place. Smallish, quiet, modern rooms, wooden bathtubs and a decent breakfast in the café. I should clarify the quiet part: only the rooms facing the back are quiet. The suites–which actually cost more—face the street and are pretty loud up until 2AM or so. We had to switch rooms after just one night of listening to the mighty two-stroke engine orchestra. I will say that The Luxx is starting to look a little rough around the edges from general wear and tear, but it’s still a great place. That said, they are opening a new place over on Lang Suan road called LuxxXL in the location of the old Thang Long restaurant (R.I.P. Thang Long). It looks to be a step up from the regular Luxx and I think I’ll stay there next time.
This is a great place to grab breakfast before embarking on the day’s adventure. The name translates as Kitchen Delicious. It’s small, hole-in-the-wall place with great food and regular Thai prices. It’s tucked away on Thanon Pan directly across from the Hindu Temple (off Silom across from Soi 20). Really good kanom jeen, rich curries and a perfect version of my favorite breakfast: chicken with garlic and a fried egg. Look for the sign with english on the bottom that says: Delicious Delicious Delicious.
A few doors down from Khrua Aroy Aroy is Kathmandu, and I usually stop in here whenever I make it to Bangkok. Kathmandu is the photography studio and gallery space of Manit Sriwanichpoom who is a photographer probably most well-known for his Pink Man series. Kathmandu’s downstairs space has lots of Manit’s work, some great books and postcards while the upstairs gallery space usually has a visiting photography show of some sort. Always worth a look. I hear they do Yoga and meditation here on Sundays as well.
After getting a dose of inspiration from Khun Manit I like to wander around for a few hours shooting photos and finding new side streets to explore. After a while the Nikon starts to weigh me down and as late afternoon approaches a Thai massage is usually in order. Authentic Thai massage can be a pretty amazing thing when you can find it, but if you don’t know where to look you might find yourself in an establishment of questionable skill level and dubious motives. But, even in the questionable establishments you might get a massage that isn’t half bad if you get lucky, and it will probably only cost US$10. On the flip side, you can spend a good chunk of change on the high-end spa experience that has taken over Bangkok in the past few years: foot baths, aroma-therapy, flower petals, the whole shebang. With this route it starts to feel like you are simply paying extra for the fluff, and when it really comes down to it, it’s the massage that matters. Enter Ruen Nuad. Nuad (nu-wut) means massage and Ruen (roo-an) essentially means house, though the usage typically implies a house of an authentic, old-school Thai sort. Ruen Nuad offers the best massage I have ever experienced without question. The space is clean and simple with teak floors, ceiling fans, soft music and your own private shower. It’s staffed by smallish, older Thai women who can seriously kick your ass into shape. (Do not be fooled by their size!) Get the oil massage for an hour and a half and try not too wince too much when she takes apart your calf muscles. It will hurt. It will feel great. You will come back for more. At US$20 there’s no reason not too. Enjoy the tea service before your last half hour and tip your masseuse, she deserves it. Find Ruen Nuad towards the end of Thanon Convent behind Raj restaurant.
This is a great little market soi back near Thanon Pan and the Hindu temple where I had breakfast. There’s fresh fruit, skewered meats, grilled snapper, soups and curries all served street-side. It’s no-frills, but a great place to grab an afternoon snack. Just be careful if you are a foreigner as you might get mobbed and then corralled to a “tourist table” where they have English menus and the prices are triple(!) the going Thai rate. Basically, the middleman (a woman in our case) will sit you down and then take your order and then locate the appropriate street stall to fix you your meal at inflated prices. The menu represents the entire street. They even offer the standard Thai dishes in Small, Medium or Large portions. This is bogus. Just try to duck in to a street-side table quickly and order verbally. The farther down the soi you go toward the Islamic Mosque the better your chances are. The food is good either way, and the inflated prices aren’t that much in the grand scheme of things if you prefer to see a menu. It sort of defeats the purpose of street food dining in general, but it’s not the end of the world.
After a another walk and a quick nap back at the hotel and it’s time for dinner. Silom has a couple of really great, smallish restaurant/bars and Café Ice might be my favorite. Downstairs offers some tables and an art gallery but the the second floor is really what gets me to come back three different times in one week. It’s a great little outdoor roof terrace that becomes the perfect respite from the madness of Bangkok. The staff is great, the cocktails are tasty and they have a really good wine list. But here’s the kicker: really good Thai food. Usually when you increase the the quality of the atmosphere the quality of the food tends to suffer. Not so at Café Ice. The Thai food here really shines. Try the crab spring rolls, the pork sparerib soup and the grilled “Isaan” beef. All excellent. They have a western menu as well with what looks like mostly Italian food, but I haven’t ventured there just yet. There are pictures of Thomas Keller on the walls in the kitchen so maybe it’s worth a try? Either way, this is some of the best al fresco dining I’ve found in the city.
The best way to find it is to locate the Chong Nonsri skytrain station and head east down Narathiwat Ratchanakharin 3 next to the larger of two 7-11s and then take the first right on Soi Phiphat 1. Here’s a map.
Eat Me is fantastic. And for the sake of my narrative I’m coming here for a nightcap because the bar is that good. But really, the food is that good too. Less traditional and less Thai in general, but quite possibly the best modern food I’ve ever had in Bangkok. But let’s focus on the drinks for now. These guys know how to make a cocktail. The Passionfruit Caipiroska is fantastic and they make the best Caipirinha I’ve had in Thailand. Perfect ice, perfect sweetness and at least four Brazilian cachaças to choose from. And really, you haven’t had a Caipirinha until you had one with Thai limes. The flavor is so much more intense than those clumsy lemon-lime hybrids we get in the states. (Granted, I’ve never had a Caipirinha in Sao Paulo, so there’s a chance that Brazilian limes are even better.) The space is simple and modern with both indoor and outdoor seating. The staff at Eat Me is also really fun and I made friends with a couple of guys after my second visit and we traded emails. The owner is pretty cool too, but I didn’t get to talk to him much. From what I can tell he’s an Aussie expat living the dream. (I’ll need to consult with him soon.) The space doubles as an art gallery an there’s usually some pretty cool stuff on the walls. Eat Me is off right off Convent Road, not too far from Ruen Nuad and Café Ice.
There’s a lot more to do in Silom to be sure, but this is how I spent just one of my days there. To me, this is the ideal vacation day: eating, exploring, relaxing and drinking. I would recommend any of the above excursions without hesitation. And next time you are in Bangkok don’t be afraid to wander around. Here’s a few photos from my last stay in Thailand.