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Thonglor, Bangkok

1 March 2018

Thonglor-Bangkok’s Lower East Side

Much like the New York Lower East Side neighbourhood, Thonglor thrives on late nights and eclectic food. This once unremarkable area of car dealerships and wedding showrooms has been transformed into a playground for entrepreneurs and experimental cuisine, thanks to an influx of investment at the turn of the millennium.

It also served as a military base for the Japanese in the 1930s, making this a favourite for Japanese expats, and spawning some superb izakaya and sashimi joints in the process. Nicknamed “Nihonmura”, or “Japantown”, Thonglor is the place to soak up Japanese culture in Bangkok – whether that’s dining in low-rent ramen bars such as Ramen Nanase, or taking a dip in one of its traditional onsen bathhouses.

A good place to get your bearings is Thonglor’s main artery, Sukhumvit Soi 55, which runs from Sukhumvit Road to Saen Saep canal – marking its north-to-south boundaries. The area spills out from here into a labyrinth of sois side streets, hiding shophouse-converted boutiques and concept stores like Black Amber, a barbershop-slash-gentlemen’s club.

Pleasingly, for every hipster roaster and New York restobar, there is a street side satay stall or a hawker. To mingle with the locals, head to Saen Saep canal at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 55, where market life unfolds and fresh produce is hauled in on rickety long-tails. From there you can hop on one of the khlong boat taxis for just US30c – a cheap way to beat the standstill traffic.

Back on Sukhumvit Soi 55 you’ll find a slew of multilevel community malls like Arena 10 (boasting a football pitch), J Avenue and The Commons, which you can navigate between on the street’s dedicated fleet of retro-looking red buses.

If you can push through ‘til sundown, Thonglor will reward you with 360-degree city views at Octave Bar on the Marriott’s 45th floor, and (for night owls), underground music at De Commune club. Its craft drinks scene is also evolving, with cocktail-cum-live jazz bars such as Evil Man Blues and a handful of speakeasies such as Rabbit Hole. The biggest challenge you’ll have is fitting it all into 24 hours.

1. The Commons

Bringing the Thonglor community a little bit closer to nature (and each other) is this lively neighbourhood hub, where you can eat poke and churros, practise yoga, and attend a leather-making workshop – all under one industrial-styled roof. The indoor-outdoor venue marries steel and glass with ample pockets of green that are laid out over four fluid floors: Market, Village, Play Yard and Top Yard. An eclectic crowd of students, families and cats (really) gravitate between the ground floor’s homegrown market-style eateries (all 18 of them), the Play Yard’s child-friendly lawns (with real grass), and the suntrap top floor – home to the best beans in Bangkok at Roast. Come here for its Covent Garden-style vibe and community.

335 (Thonglor 17), 55 Sukhumvit Rd, Klongtan Nue, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 | +66 89 152 2677 | thecommonsbkk.com

2. Statement

Shop for luxe swimwear, quirky jewellery and party frocks with a cold-pressed juice in hand, at this stylish boutique-slash-health conscious cafe, run by three fashion designer friends.

141 Soi Sukhumvit 49, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 | +66 2 003 6973

3. Thonglor Market

In Bangkok you don’t even need to leave the sidewalk to indulge in some of the city’s best eats. For a quintessential local market experience, follow your nose to where Sukhumvit Soi 55 crosses the Saen Saep canal, but stay this side of the bridge. There you’ll find a throng of animated noodle vendors, skillful wok cooks and overburdened trestle tables stacked with boiled blood cockles (hoi klang). There are a couple of bug stalls for adventurous epicureans, along with Bangkok’s answer to the dessert trolley – crudely wheeled carts of khanom krok (coconut griddle cakes) and khao neow dam sang kaya (black sticky rice with custard).

Between Thong Lo Boat Station and Chan Issara Pier on Saen Khlong (Daily)

4. Let’s relax onsen and spa

Avoid the multitude of Thai spas in favour of a Japanese onsen – you are in Bangkok’s Japantown after all. This state-of-the-art bathhouse is Bangkok’s largest, occupying the entire fifth floor of the Grande Centre Point Hotel. For US$20 of unlimited soak time, you can dip in and out of five mineral-enriched tubs, starting with the milky-textured silk bath (40 degrees) and concluding with a bracing, metabolism-boosting, 18-degree cold bath. Collapse in the hot stonebed room, before de-robing (with just a small towel to protect your modesty) to do it all over again.

Grande Centre Point Hotel 304, 55 Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110 | +66 2 042 8045 | letsrelaxspa.com

5. Paintbar Bangkok

At this industrial-cool paint-and-sip loft studio, you can unleash your inner Monet over fine wines and homemade tapas, in a two- to three-hour instructor-led class. As part of the themed sessions, groups of up to 24 people paint one subject, ranging from Picasso’s Starry Night to the nation’s famous tom yum goong dish.

13.73204, 100.57631 | Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110 | www.paintbarbangkok.com

6. Bo.Lan

Ranked 19 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017, Michelin-starred Bo.Lan is the brainchild of Thai-Aussie power couple Chef Duangporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava and Dylan ‘Lan’ Jones. As well as being loyal to indigenous Thai ingredients, the duo are impassioned environmentalists. Their 90 per cent organic fare, which honours age-old rituals of traditional Thai cooking, is made with veggies grown onsite and a close-to-zero carbon footprint. Set aside three hours for the five-part ‘Bo.lan Balance’ tasting menu of Thai salad, a chilli relish, soup, stir-fry and curry, served family-style. Devouring an amuse-bouche in the kitchen is a novel start to a culinary journey that crisscrosses the country, grazing on dishes like smoked Chiang Mai river trout salad and quail curry from Chachoengsao province.

24 Sukhumvit 53 Alley, Khwaeng Khlong Tan Nuea, Khet Watthana, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10110 | +66 2 260 2962 | bolan.co.th

7. The Iron Fairies

If you like your jazz dens dark and Dickensian, this place is right up your alley. Part blacksmith workshop, part gothic Victorian boudoir, timeworn shelves of fairy dust vials line the crumbling walls, spiral staircases lead to nowhere, and tiny winged creatures shower the bar. The man behind the fantasy décor is Australian designer Ashley Sutton, a former iron-ore miner with a penchant for fairies, whose trilogy of popular children’s books inspired the venue. There’s a live band every night from 9pm, and an innovative cocktail menu curated by mixologist extraordinaire Joseph Boroski. For one of their more theatrical libations we can recommend the Smoke in a Bottle.

55 Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 | +66 99 918 1600 | theironfairies.com

Words and images: Sarah Freeman

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