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Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel

Living history

What we say: 3.5 stars

A classy spot with a long name, Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel occupies a 140-year-old house in the heart of Bangkok’s historic district. If you prefer creaky teak wood to polished concrete, the hostel’s vintage design just might be for you. Throw in a great location and a very friendly staff and we reckon this is one of the more interesting hostels in town.

No shortage of class.

No shortage of class.

First, what’s up with the name? A niras (also nirat) is a distinctly Thai type of story that’s written in poetic prose and usually involves travel, nostalgia, love and loss. The form was made famous by Sunthorn Phu, an 18th to 19th century writer who is considered the literary giant of Thai history. Bankoc might seem like a simple misspelling, but in fact it’s an intentional throw-back to how the city’s name appeared on a French map in the late 1600s. It was around that time that the verbal predecessor to “Bangkok” was coined after the small village, or ban, that grew an abundance of a certain plum-like fruit, known locally as koc.

The “Cultural” part is a little more obvious. Niras is set at the corner of Mahachai and Bamrung Muang roads, where giant Buddha images sold by temple supply shops sit nonchalantly on the footpaths, and locals still craft monks’ alms bowls by hand. Fourth generation families sell medicines, groceries, wood furniture and roast duck with rice — just as they did when their Chinese shophouses were built over a century ago. This is one of those rare places where the history lives and breathes.

The hostel is also within walking distance of some of Bangkok’s most prominent cultural sites. Wat Suthat, the Giant Swing and Wat Saket are all a five minute walk away, while the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Khao San Road can be reached in 15 to 20 minutes on foot. The nearest skytrain station is a few kilometres away, but a khlong boat pier is nearby. Delicious inexpensive food abounds in this area.

Not your average shared bathrooms.

Not your average shared bathrooms.

First built in 1869, the two-storey shophouse has been in the same family since 1905, and their dedication to preserving its classic spirit is commendable. Long before it was carefully touched up and transformed into a hostel, it had more humble existences as grocery and hardware stores. Faded black-and-white photos decorating the walls throughout the hostel hint at what the area was like in bygone eras.

The hostel has preserved many of the building’s original teak wood floors and stairs along with more modern glossy hardwood floors. Dark wood cabinets and doors, dangling glass lanterns, archways and French vanilla paint on the original walls all project the feel of a historic house-turned-museum. An inviting ground floor lobby/cafe with several low-lying tables serves quality coffee, cake and Western-style breakfasts — complimentary if you book a private room.

The lounge is a bit spartan.

The lounge is a bit spartan.

A narrow doorway takes you to an air-conditioned shared living room of sorts, with a flatscreen TV, modest collection of books and DVDs, fridge and love seat. Though comfortable enough, it doesn’t seem to get much use. From there, a steep stairway leads up to a landing where two wider stairwells begin. In another quirky old house feature, these confusingly loop around before meeting near the shared bathrooms.

Simple and airy, a single six-bed mixed dorm room offers a fair amount of space, with massive lockable wood bureaus placed between each bunk. Fresh white sheets and fluffy yet not-too-thick pillows adorn comfy mattresses that fall somewhere between firm and soft. Each bed comes with soft reading lamp, electrical outlet, small wood shelf and towel. At 400 baht per bed, this is decent value.

A peek in the dorm.

A peek in the dorm.

With a roof of bleached white glass to allow in sunlight, shared bathroom facilities include two toilet rooms, two shower rooms and two stained glass basin sinks. Just like the rest of the building, the bathrooms appear exceptionally well kept, and showers are partitioned by the same dark wood swing-open doors that are featured throughout the hostel.

Three lovingly decorated private rooms are reminiscent of a late 19th century travellers’ lodge. The smaller one relies on shared facilities and goes for 1,300 baht while the other two with gorgeous ensuite bathrooms cost 1,600. All of them boast hardwood floors to go with vintage furnishings that include make-up desks and old oval mirrors with faded dark wood frames. Soft pink walls in the “Bankoc Yai” room are lovely, but the tasteful mint green theme of “Bankoc Noi” borders on the exquisite. Though they clash with the classic decor, TVs in the pricier privates will be a welcome addition on a rainy day.

All rooms are air-conditioned and WiFi is free throughout. The hostel does not offer communal computers, but a cheap internet cafe is located next door if you’re gadget-less. In terms of security, a lack of key-cards is offset by video cameras in all of the hallways, a watchful staff and a policy that requires all guests to check in by signing their name and presenting their room key every time they return. If only to avoid that rather tedious task, key-cards would be nice.

The lobby is really more of a coffee shop.

The lobby is really more of a coffee shop.

Niras does have one major disadvantage: street noise. The constant hum of traffic seeps in through the old building’s thin walls, and we could hear neighbourhood conversations (arguments, actually) when we passed through the dorm. Unless you sleep like a log in noisy surrounds, earplugs are a good idea. The hostel doesn’t support the social scene of NapPark, for example, but it’s not a bad spot to make friends with young, cultured travellers.

Staff are friendly, almost overbearingly so, and we noticed that they were on a first-name basis with several of the guests. They provide guests with maps of the area and go out of their way to offer advice and directions to nearby sites. A far cry from the apathetic/rude staffs you’ll find at many guesthouses in this area, they seem to take great pride in their hostel.

A chance to stay in one of Bangkok's oldest buildings.

A chance to stay in one of Bangkok’s oldest buildings.

If you like the location but would prefer something more modern, the very different but also excellent Chern Boutique Hostel is right around the corner. Closer to Khao San, Suneta‘s old Thai house theme doesn’t hold a candle to Niras, but it offers a wider selection of comfy dorms. Similarly cosy but even more homely, Rang Kha Mhin and Baan Bovorn are also very good. If you’re set on a private room with an old school ambiance and have a bit more cash to spend, Phra Nakorn Norn Len and Baan Tepa are also worth checking out.

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Contact details:

204-206 Mahachai Rd, Bangkok.  T: (022) 214 442 
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What we were quoted

Type of room Low season High season Notes
Dorm air-con 400 baht 400 baht
Dbl air-con share b'room 1,300 baht 1,300 baht
Dbl air-con private b'room 1,600 baht 1,600 baht

Added to Travelfish on: 4th November, 2013
Last visited or updated on: 15th January, 2014

Last reviewed by:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel
204-206 Mahachai Rd, Bangkok. 
T: (022) 214 442

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