Thursday, 9 September 2010
Bangkok - Sukhumvit Soi 31: a cultural enclave
For a start, you can't miss it: just look for the huge red, blue and green poles that soar skyward -- some people see these as robots, others as installation art, and others see them just as huge red, blue and green poles, but the reality is that they are birds' legs. Jing jing!
You see they are part of a massive sculpture which envelopes the stylish new S31 Hotel, ending up with its body higher up the building and its head right at the top. Yes, a little abstract I agree, but that's the signature of the architect (just look at The Nation building).
Walking in about 50 metres or so, the fun starts ...
Cafe des Arts on the left is a perennial favourite. Its bright yellow sign attracts patrons like moths to a flame for its moderate priced meals. A little further on is Bella Napoli, a popular Italian eatery.
On your right, tucked behind a wall is the Himali Cha Cha restaurant, one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Bangkok, which was started by a gent who was the cook for some ambassador or another. 'They started out at a place which is now the car park for the Emporium,' laughs Khuned, a Thai of Indian Heritage who grew up in this area.
Himali Cha Cha is housed in a beautiful old wooden home, giving it a very cosy feel. Many consider it the finest Indian food in Bangkok (they also have two other branches now). 'This whole area used to be just little houses like this,' reminisces Khuned. 'This was like my playground. And I remember walking to and from school through here,' he points down the soi. 'So funny, I remember some of the American school kids would hope into a tuk tuk and tell the driver, Hey let me drive. They'd be popping wheelies and everything!'
Further along, the tone is decidedly upmarket with the Attic art gallery beside the Loft wine bar/ wine shop. It's run by Scottish lass Elsie Evans who's lived in Asia 20 years. A delightful combination, as you can attend art classes or an exhibition there, and slip down for some inspiration at the wine bar! Along with two other galleries, La Lanta and Koi, soi 31 has become something of a happening cultural enclave.
And a little bit further down, is the house of the current Thai PM, Abhisit.
So, all in all, an interesting street with lots of upmarket fun and diversity. Yes, tuk tuks still ply the soi and it's tempting to stop one and ask if we can pop a wheelie for old times sake.But times have changed, the street has grown up, and Khuned -- who's also grown up -- now drives a four wheel drive. But in any case, all of this is a fairly short walk from Phrom Pong BTS station.