* Bangkok by Night: three lively neighborhoods

It’s a shame that Bangkok’s “notorious nightlife” has been so profusely publicized. Many visitors probably confine themselves to their hotels in the evening and then flee the city the next day. Actually, Bangkok nightlife is so extensive that prostitution and sex shows occupy only a dreary corner.

From all walks of life, Thais take their food, fun, music, drinking, dancing and conviviality very seriously. Nightlife venues run into the thousands. So don’t conclude that the following glimpse of three very different neighborhoods is in any way exhaustive. The surface has been barely nicked. What can be said is that these are three long-running neighborhoods that will deliver sanuk (fun) wanderings and meetings with ordinary, chatty Thai people.

Upper Silom Road

It’s impossible to pinpoint Bangkok’s coolest neighborhood. The trendsetters are just too fickle. But Silom Soi 4 and Silom Soi 2–two lanes jutting off the east end of Silom Road–somehow endure while more fabulous spots are fuzzy memories. These two small lanes are great for people-watching and gender-guessing until the wee hours. But, please, leave the shorts, flip-flops and bum bags at your hotel. Affect some style.

The DJs’ themes at Speed Hip Hop R&B, on Soi 4, are self-explanatory. Om is strictly trance. DJ Station is the mother of all gay dance clubs and The Balcony a stepchild. The nightly four-hour happy hour might explain two-storied Tapas’ long run. The idle, jewelry-laden children of the most rich are among those dancing there to house, Latin, and garage. Stylish, cozy Home competes for the same crowd.

Nearby, Noriega’s is less pretentious. An upmarket pub with live blues and jazz, it attracts a relaxed mix of old and young, Thais and foreigners. Art at Play is mostly an art gallery, even if it does serve drinks. Soi 4 can also boast Souvlaki, the first, but surely not the last, Greek bistro in Bangkok.

Branching off the opposite side of Silom Road is the more sedate Soi Convent. One of the landmarks of this lane is Irish Exchange, a pub with a lock on the after-work expat crowd and their white-collar Thai colleagues. Even a single woman can be sure of a relaxed friendly welcome.

If you can’t stomach Irish food, Convent and its parallel partner, Soi Saladaeng, host plenty of trendy little Thai and Mediterranean restaurants. Several are lodged in old wooden high-ceilinged colonial-era houses. Exhibit number one: airy Anna’s Cafe on Saladaeng. It has proved so popular that it has sprouted a second branch on the same lane. Repair to Boulangerie for French pastry.

Phra Athit Road

If you prefer more laid-back and very cheap, head for the funky artsy pubs and cafes lining the east side of Phra Athit Road. Although the riverside street is only a block from the budget tourist enclave of Kaosan Road, it still attracts more Thais than backpackers. Most of the proprietors and many of the customers have ties to the two nearby universities. The art for sale on many walls was created by current Silpakorn University students.

Hemlock, the first shabby shophouse to be transformed more than a decade ago, still boasts excellent, inexpensive and so-called ancient Thai dishes as well as a refined sound system. Walk northward and you’ll come to the cozy haunts of Suntana, ToSit, Indy, Dog Days (post your dog’s photo!), Apostrophe S and Roti Mataba (Malay Muslim basics).

As Phra Athit morphs into Phra Sumen Road, there’s the reliable pink-toned Joy Luck Club. But some of the Bohos are going bourgeois. Note Pla’zzz (with a tree-shaded terrace), Primavera (hardwood floors, Austrian baker), and Ricky’s Coffee Shop (Ching Dynasty trappings).

The west side of Phra Athit is occupied by a park and an old fort. But there’s a single seafood restaurant there that old-timers swear can’t be beaten by the upstarts. This is Ton Pho, which comprises 60 tables on a rickety deck leaning over the Chao Phraya River. The catfish salad and snakehead fish with curry paste …

This was written for a travel trade magazine and is now sorely outdated. Nonetheless, it’s still fresher than this 2008 story in the New York Times. The writer seems to have pasted together scraps from guidebooks, very old paper guidebooks at that. He also thinks the National Museum is the same thing as the National Gallery, a very large error. Has he ever been to Bangkok?

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