Basic digs, Chao Phraya views
Near Rama VIII pier, Samsen Soi 5, Bangkok T: (087) 597 0609 , (085) 931 7160
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Hidden in a back-alley location near Khao San Road, Phiman Riverview Guesthouse is a good choice for artsy backpackers looking to meet and chill. In a city where most riverside rooms are reserved only for the well-heeled, Phiman offers fantastic Chao Phraya views to go with basic digs for under 200 baht a night. While not for everyone, it certainly is one of a kind.
Near the dead-end of Samsen Soi 5, a ramshackle muay Thai ring and ancient banyan tree make it clear that you’re not in tourist-land anymore. A left down a narrow alley — then the first right, then another right, then a left — leads you to a thin turquoise door. A smiling sun and a pair of stone baby statues signal that you’ve arrived at one of Bangkok’s most unusual places to stay.
Each secured by a padlock, fairly spacious private rooms are set in two old wooden houses perched over a waterlily pond. Some rely on shared cold-water facilities that are reasonably clean, while others come with seriously tiny private bathrooms. Expect very firm beds, mosquito nets, fans, hardwood floors, thin wooden walls painted in pastel colours and a few screened windows with white cotton drapes. The rooms are not exactly spotless, but sheets smelled fresh.
Phiman also offers a mixed dorm that’s unlike any other in Bangkok. Thin mattresses are set on raised wooden platforms that line either side of a bungalow-style longhouse with creaky bamboo floors and walls/ceilings made entirely of thatch. Each bed comes with its own mosquito net, electrical outlet and locker, though rotating fans and lights are shared.
You’ll also find a tiny A-frame hut wedged between the river and pond. It’s suitable for a solo traveller seeking a memorable place to stay, the disadvantage being a longer walk to the facilities.
All of the accommodation is reasonably priced, especially given the river views, but the funky atmosphere is Phiman’s main selling point. Have a few beers with other travellers (and the staff), get a feel for local-style Bangkok life and maybe work on your poetry or guitar skills.
You’ll find no shortage of quirky wall murals, gargoyles and mannequins with loud pink hair in spaces that can feel like a manic old actress’s overflowing closet. Yet the abundant potted plants, fountains and a persistent river breeze also make this a relaxing spot to escape the urban chaos; the atmosphere seems to have been transported straight from the islands.
Along with floor cushions and a small bar on a roofed wooden deck, Phiman’s cosy hangout area includes a handful of tables set right next to the water. River views are splendid, especially during sunset and when the impressive Rama VIII suspension bridge lights up after dark. The relaxed but helpful staff often whip up shared meals in a communal open-air kitchen. Impromptu cooking classes are known to happen.
Those who prefer to keep to themselves or require any semblance of comfort should look elsewhere. The place is also not suitable for young kids due to the surrounding water and minimal fences. It might seem like an “anything goes” atmosphere, but party animals should be warned that Phiman has a strict policy to keep quiet after midnight.
Phiman puts you in the middle of a simple urban village where locals dwell in dilapidated tin-roofed structures that some might call “shanty houses”. It may feel like you’ve intruded on a place where travellers were never supposed to go; some might feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. But the friendly locals were quick to offer a smile while leading us straight to the guesthouse.
Signage is minimal and arriving late at night means wandering into a dark maze of narrow lanes — getting here during the day will make things a lot easier. Taxis are not able to take you straight to the front door, so you’re best off being dropped at Samsen Soi 5 and walking all the way to the end of the of the street. You’ll see the alley on the left, just before the river. The locals know Phiman by name and are accustomed to showing lost-looking backpackers the way.
While the immediate area has a hidden-away feel, Phiman is an easy 10-minute stroll from both Khao San Road and Phra Arthit express boat pier. Traveller-oriented cafes, bars and several other guesthouses are found on nearby Samsen Soi 3 and surrounds.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 3rd February, 2016.