Soi Thong Lo, Bangkok
First published 22nd September, 2005
Soi Thong Lo is quickly becoming one of the more interesting areas in Bangkok, with high-rise condos and funky stores, enticing restaurants and eclectic art galleries flinging open their doors. An afternoon stroll here will leave you highly caffeinated, very full and possibly even a little bit cultured.
Starting about 300m from the Sukhumvit end of the soi (for information on that area, see the Thong Lo Skytrain entry), the first place of note is 55th Plaza, a large building where you can grab some sushi at Zen or a steak at Sizzler. Work it off with a class of yoga - Justin Herold runs the only Iyengar yoga studio in Thailand and welcomes beginners or fully-fledged yogis. Checkout www.iyengar-yoga-bangkok.com for class times. In the same building is the more faddish Absolute Yoga, where you can sign up for either the Bikram or Power styles. Prices and schedules can be found at www.absoluteyogabangkok.com.
Down the soi a bit and on the opposite side is the Pridi Banomyang Institute, a small and usually deserted art gallery worth checking out for something a tad different.
If a wallet-emptying, stomach-stuffing feast is what you're after, head to Beccofino across from soi 5. Or for a fast food hit, try Burger King or Pizza Company inside the Market Place shopping area. Several more upmarket restaurants are nestled here, the biggest being Pola-Pola, which serves mid price Thai-Italian food. For dessert, visit Iberry downstairs for gourmet ice cream or Thong Lo Starbucks #1 for an overpriced muffin. If you happen to need groceries, the Tops Supermarket here is well stocked. Drop into the small post office outside, next to the water fountain, to send a snail-mail postcard.
On the ninth floor of the nearby Panjit Tower you'll find SMAC Boxing Club, where you can take classes in everything from Muay Thai to Jeet Kun Do. The instructors are mostly Western and have years of experience. Check out schedules and pricing at www.smacboxingclub.com.
The strangely named Next Station is about 30m into soi 7, where you can get a good meal and a wide selection of drinks - buy 2, get one free. If you're in the mood to get your hair cut at a celebrity joint, head into Chalachol, between sois 7 and 9. It's a full-service salon, where you can get everything from a simple blow dry (180B) to chemical treatment and setting (5,000B).
Some of the best burgers and pies in Bangkok can be found at Big John's Guesthouse, a decent place to dine, drink and sleep. The smaller original shop is just before soi 9, while the newer and now main location is around the corner, 20m inside soi 9.
Across the street is The Witch's Tavern, a Thong Lo mainstay. If sushi is your thing, you won't find a better place than Oishi, on the corner of soi 10. For 500B, you can partake of the buffet which has probably every type of fish ever pulled out of the ocean, as well as other non-fish selections.
When you think you can't possibly eat another bite, head across the street for some ice cream at either Baskin Robbins or the local and more imaginative and local Tuscanini's (their white chocolate ice cream is to die for). Thong Lo Starbucks #2 - yes, the American mega-chains have definitely invaded this corner of Bangkok - is beside (surprise!) a 7-11. The small food stall outside does great red pork with rice (khao moo daeng).
The next part of Thong Lo is crammed with little shops and food stalls, most of which are quite good - exploring, smiling and pointing at what looks promising is your best bet. Try Mango Tango between soi 10 and 12, and a bit further up, Shades of Retro. This is a crazy little coffee shop decorated like an attic, with bizarre furniture and decorations and a small gold mine of old and hard-to-find vinyl lying around in messy piles. Everything here is for sale, the coffee is very good (but slow to come) and if you ask nicely, the owner will play the record of your choice.
Across from Shades of Retro is the monstrous Villa Complex that houses everything from a huge supermarket to an Apple store and a bowling alley. The third Greyhound restaurant is here and the Villa supermarket is a great place to find imported treats from home. Au Bon Pain serves up great sandwiches and doesn't skimp on quality.
Just down from soi 17 you'll find a late-night noodle shop that does them fast and good - the sign is in Thai, but it's shaped like an artist's palette with the number '24' on it. This is a top choice after a night of clubbing - and this end of Thong Lo has many clubs to choose from. They mostly cater to 20-something Thais, but if you're keen, just follow the crowds on the weekends.
Between soi 18 and 20, you'll find the monolith-like Playground, an upscale shopping area that's so hip it hurts. With two restaurants (Vanilla and Kuppa) and Thong Lo Starbucks #3, you can fill yourself up before taking a look around. It also houses a CD store, well-stocked book and magazine stores, an art gallery, art supply store and a few overpriced clothing stores. Stylishly designed and pleasant for a break from the heat outside.
Beyond this point, a glut of light shops and wedding dress stores begins. If you feel adventurous, you can cross over the bridge at this end of the soi and catch a khlong boat back to the Pratunam Pier at Central World Plaza (about 10B) or all the way to Pan Fish Bridge Pier if you want to head to Khaosan Road (about 16B). Just make sure to keep your mouth closed - that khlong water ain't Evian.
Story by Greg Jorgensen
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