Hop in a tuk tuk and tell the driver you want to go to “Thailand Route 3” and see how far you get. Bangkokians have no idea where that is, but tell him “Sukhumvit Road” and you’ll be puttering loudly through the streets to your destination in no time — assuming that Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams don’t slow you down. And they will.
Sukhumvit Road, or Thailand Route 3, branches off with hundreds of small streets and alleyways on either side of the wide 400-kilometer long [248 miles] avenue. Each soi [side street] has its own distinct special flavor:one of the seedier sois is located between Soi 21 and Soi 23 but is not known as Soi 22. Rather, it goes by its nickname Soi Cowboy, but we’re definitely not going there. Nor are we heading to the newly chic shopping area Soi 26.
Today I’m taking you to one of my favorite neighborhoods: Soi 11 — a perfect place to get a real taste of the city; one that evenly mixes the spices of both the locals and farangs [foreigners].
1. 11 Gallery Restaurant
Finding Thai food in Thailand is obviously easy, but to dine in an historically authentic restaurant that feels as if you stepped into a history book is something special. At 11 Gallery Restaurant waitresses dressed in old-fashioned traditional flair with dhoti and sabai greet you in old Thai. The food is the real thing so be careful when you say you want something spicy: “American spicy” is as hot as toothpaste and “Thai spicy” is closer to pepper spray, so order at your own risk. Don’t be surprised if your soup comes in a coconut, your jasmine rice is delivered under a coned banana leaf, or your gin and tonic is topped with an orchid. You may be seated on the old wooden floors on pillows next to a Thai family celebrating a special occasion or a backpacker blogging away on her laptop. Reservations are recommended. (11-gallery.com)
2. Drink Wagons and Cocktail Vans
As a restaurant critic who is usually dining in swankier digs during the week, I like to make time to take in the city’s famous street-food stalls and drinks on the weekend. Saturday morning usually begins with me hunting down drink wagons like a predator just to guzzle down a glass of Thai iced tea. You can find these wagons on almost every Bangkok street, selling all kinds of non-alcoholic beverages from coffee to sodas. If you’re homesick, you can swig back a hot Americano coffee for 15 Baht [.50 USD], or better yet, don’t miss out on the orange Thai teas, or iced chocolates.
It wouldn’t be right to leave out the cocktail vans. Just like the drink wagon, you can find these vans parked on the streets covered with Christmas lights and playing techno music (a bit of warning, the bartenders don’t hold back on the alcohol, so make sure to pace yourself). If techno music and white boys with dreadlocks aren’t your thing, just grab your cocktail and stat walking — or stumbling — farther down the soi and sub-sois.
3. Raintree Spa
After a long day of shopping and walking around the town, nothing beats a great foot massage. At Raintree Spa they have variety massages from Swedish to Thai, but I personally love Thai-style foot massages where the masseuses press your feet with a special stick. A full-hour foot massage for only 440 bahts [$14 USD] simply cannot be beat. (raintreespa.net)
4. Bed Supper Club Thailand
Walk to the end of Sukhumvit 11 and you can’t miss it. It’s the big white tubular building that looks entirely out of place. The all-white interior is lined with, of course, giant beds and scattered with the softest pillows that I dream of stealing every night. International deejays spin nightly, and each evening has a different party theme; my favorite is “model night,” which is definitely the dressiest night of the week (And you don’t have to be skinny. Plus-size models are also appreciated — trust me, I am one). Sundays are also a terrific time to visit Bed Supper Club as complimentary prosecco flows freely with any set menu (with an interior this stunning you wouldn’t expect the cuisine to be spectacular but it is). This is a great place for men to gawk at the girls and for me to check out the club owner, who’s without a doubt, the hottest thing on the soi. (BedSupperClub.com)
5. Suk 11 Hostel
There is no better place for the budget-conscious traveler around Sukhumvit. Not just for westerners, many Thai families stay here as well, comforted in the fact that the proprietors have a strict “no ‘sexpat’ policy.” The décor, with its chipped brick walls, antique statues, rustic wooden furniture, all surrounded by plants creates an authentically cozy atmosphere of a rural Thai village — once inside you’ll actually forget you’re ten feet behind a 7-Eleven. Prices range from 500 to 2,000 bahts [$16.00 USD — $62.00 USD] a night, including breakfast. (suk11.com — video tour)
You can also find international restaurants and cool clubs on Sukhumvit 11 like Oskar Bistro where they
serve a really mean salmon with garlic rice (oskar-bistro.com) or check out the tunes at Q Bar (qbarbangkok.com).