Old Town Bangkok Renaissance

Old Town Bangkok Renaissance

If you wander around Bangkok’s Wong Wian 22 neighborhood during the day, you can buy engine degreaser, coffins, industrial-strength rope, Chinese herbal medicine, and bulk paper, among many other things. But after the sun sets and the shops close, the neighborhood becomes one of the city’s top destinations for discerning fans of cocktails, music, art, and idiosyncratic everything, all centered on a small sidestreet called Soi Nana.

And no – it’s not that Soi Nana, with the red lights and wide-eyed tourists and a female-to-male ratio of about 5:1, but rather, a street with the same name and a far funkier, more welcoming vibe, just a few minutes’ walk from Hua Lamphong train station.

It never used to be like this. Just a few short years ago it was another dusty soi (alley) in a greasy ‘hood with old, uninhabited and – so the locals say – haunted buildings. But that all changed when the descendants – grandchildren, usually – of the owners of the townhouses that line the street began to realize the inherent value in something that most saw as nearly worthless.

Returning to Thailand after years working or studying overseas, they were brimming with new ideas – not only about making old new again, but how to make it interesting. Important. Introspective. And most of all, fun. The renovations – or rather, reinventions – began.

If someone invited you out for drinks at a place called Teens of Thailand, you’d probably raise an eyebrow – but we actually think that’s part of the chaotic charm of this now-legendary place. Push open the small but heavy-looking double doors – ripped right from a Terry Pratchett novel – and you’re suddenly inside a dim and funky establishment that boasts one of the largest selections of gin in the country. We’d recommend a drink, but the extensive menu changes weekly.

The whimsical persona of this place has sort of oozed into the soi itself (or perhaps the whimsical persona of the soi oozes into the buildings, who knows). Just across the soi is Asia Today, which has a pink neon sign behind the bar saying, “This bar is better than Teens of Thailand.” They have the same owner, but still – a bit cheeky, don’t you think?

Beautiful Ba Hao is just up the street, with lights so dim and expertly placed that the bright red paint on the walls seems to glow from the inside. For an intimate music performance, you can stroll down a little sub-soi (even smaller alley) to Tep Bar, past the signs asking for quiet, because, you know, this is still a residential neighborhood, after all. How intimate will the show be? Well, you’ll likely be close enough to rest your drink on the ranat ek, but don’t; traditional rosewood percussion instruments don’t react well to that.

There’s more. Craft beer at Pijiu, contemporary art and photo exhibitions at Cho Why, Spanish tapas and Sangria at El Chiringuito, homegrown herbal alcoholic kombucha tea at Pure Luck, and bottles of bubbly or 17-year-old scotch on the rooftop of Wallflowers. An evening spent on Soi Nana is a veritable Venn diagram of learning, drinking, and cultural growth.

Finally, if you’re one of those funny people who get tired of whimsy, you can class things up by visiting Ban Maitrichit, just around the corner from Soi Nana proper. It’s a gorgeous restored mansion in Chinese style, with a wonderful little rooftop that overlooks the buzzing Hua Lamphong intersection.

Peering out from this vantage point is like looking at the world’s biggest metaphor: the musty classicism of Hua Lamphong train station anchors the area, but just out of site, underneath the road, construction is nearly finished on the extension of the blue line subway.

And that’s Bangkok for you – always changing, but not always obviously. New and old, gritty and sleek, staid and funky, one big happy family. Just like Soi Nana.

Here at Smiling Albino, we have our finger on the pulse. If you’d like us to show you around Bangkok, contact us!

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