37 Sri Ayutthaya Soi 16 (behind National Library), Bangkok T: (02) 281 2497 , (02) 628 7626
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The longstanding Shanti Lodge was among the first Bangkok guesthouses to go “cool” with lattes, Vivaldi, vegetarian food and no smoking back in the ’80s. It remains popular with earthy-crunchy backpackers, even if some will find the “coolness” contrived. Shanti has enjoyed a long and successful run, but has it become a fading star?
Though Shanti has undergone a recent sprucing up, its decor is still straight out of the Kabul-Kathmandu-Khao San hippie-backpacker trail of yesteryear. The dark blue-green-gold-crimson scheme somehow reminds us of Nepal, while yoga-inspired art, countless Buddha statues and bamboo furniture would fit seamlessly into some of Ko Pha Ngan‘s trendier bungalow joints.
A large ground-floor restaurant features dimly lit red lanterns to go with stone-cement floors that help keep the place cool but also give it a cave-like feel despite large open-air entrances on two sides. Chunky tables are placed relatively far apart, making it more of a “keep-to-yourself” atmosphere. The food has received good reports over the years, and a couple of shared computers are available for guests.
Accommodation is a real hotchpotch, ranging from ’80s Khao San-era hardboard walls and not enough room to swing a cockroach type rooms, to fairly plush superior editions, and some oddly decorated doubles in between. A few don’t have windows and can get musty, so you’ll probably want to take a peek before paying.
The cheapest “traditional” rooms are set on the first floor towards the rear of the property and rely on a few reasonably clean shared hot-water bathrooms. The rooms have one tiny window each, with air-con or fan available. Next in line are the “small doubles”, which come with decent beds squished between three walls punctuated by fake flowers and looming Buddhas. Bathrooms have swing-open “saloon-style” doors with openings at the top and bottom; hopefully you’re nice and comfortable with that roommate.
“Large doubles” bag you a lot more space, several more windows and the brightly painted furnishings that don’t fit into small doubles. Outfitted with bunk beds in addition to regular double beds, the larger family rooms can sleep up to four people. The guesthouse occupies a large old house with lots of little nooks and crannies, so the exact size, decor and setup varies from room to room.
While the rooms are generally pleasant in an “exotic-Asian” sort of way, Shanti is milking those decades of guidebook praise by overpricing them. Value is questionable across the board. Neighbouring Sawatdee’s cheapest rooms are better and considerably cheaper than Shanti’s low-end digs, while Tavee boasts much bigger and more inviting doubles for less than Shanti’s small doubles.
On the plus side, Shanti’s decor is a lot more unique than any of the neighbours, and facilities include a private yoga area and relaxing Thai massage lounge. Many reviews have complained of surly, bored and unhelpful staff. We found them a tad apathetic, though no worse than at the majority of budget guesthouses in the Khao San area.
Shanti is the most noticeable of a cluster of budget guesthouses on a leafy and quiet side street near the National Library. Backpackers have been staying around here for about as long as backpacking has existed. Thewet market and the same-named express boat pier are a five-minute walk to the south, while Khao San Road will take around 15 minutes on foot. The immediate area’s low-key vibe is one of the main reasons to stay here, though party animals should look further south.
Shanti is part of an endangered club of old-style guesthouses that still rely mainly on the walk in trade. Those wanting to book online will need to inquire through the official website and then call a week in advance to confirm. Shanti Lodge’s long-running success is evidenced by its younger sister properties in Chumphon, Ranong, Phuket and Kanchanaburi, some of which offer yoga retreats and organic farming.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 17th May, 2014.