By Kevin Cain
Bankok or as some people call it The Big Mango, is one of the most electric cities in Asia, if not the whole world. It is a thriving cacophony of scintillating smells, strange sounds, gridlocked traffic, stifling heat and exotic people. This cornucopia of life is crammed into a city of nearly 9 million souls.
As with any major large metropolis it is divided into sub-districts / neighbourhoods. There are over 50 of them and each have their own identity, some a little more unique than others. Among the most renown are: Silom, Khao San Road, Sukhumvit, Saphan Lueng and Chinatown.
When I first came to Thailand to live I settled in Bangkok’s Silom district. It was here that my love affair with the most wonderful city in the world began and has grown immeasurably over the subsequent years.Silom in Thai actually means Windmill, which is a reflection of the area's humble origins. It has grown to be the financial hub and beating monetary heart of the city and indeed the whole country.
In the nineteenth century Bangkok grew rich profiting from trade with Europe and as such the Chaophraya River with it's tributaries and canals became the main areas of the city’s urban development. However, Silom was not part of this basically remaining an urban backwater. It was a place where fruit and rice were grown and wind power used to irrigate the orchards.
Nowadays banks, large corporates, insurance houses and prestigious finance houses have their flagship headquarters in Silom. But against this modern landscape with impressive skyscrapers and large public areas there is another side to Silom. It is home to Patpong Night market, which is infamous for other less savory reasons. Perhaps Patpong is only rivaled in unadulterated sleaze by Soi Cowboy in Sukhumvit and Nana Plaza.
However, explore the area a little more deeply and you can find some of the best street- food in the whole of Bangkok. Together with boutique cafes, wine bars, pubs, restaurants, street vendors, chic shopping and some of the best hotels in the city. Also the area is one of the most accessible in the whole of Bangkok being serviced by the underground MRT service with Silom and Lumphini stations as well as the Sky Train stops of Ratchadamri, Sala Daeng and Chong Nonsi. Bangkok is not the easiest of cities to get around and if your destination is not on the MRT or BTS service then it can take hours by road to get anywhere.
I was fortunate enough to have an apartment adjacent to the Chong Nonsi BTS stop on Nardhiwat Rajanagarindra Road. It afforded me great flexibility for either getting around the city whilst also being central to the Silom / Sathorn area where there were many good places to explore just minutes away by foot.
For example : The magical Lumphini Park ,only as stroll away, where one could relax and take a break from the incessant drone of the traffic. Also the small Sois off and between Silom Road and Thanon Surawong were magical to explore housing an eclectic mix of hostelries and commercial outlets.
The Sois heading from Silom Road to Thanon Surawong Road are crowded with neon lights and GoGo Bars of all sexual persuasions. But the So's heading in the opposite direction parallel to Convent Road offer completely different sorts of attractions. Here there are bijou restaurants and enclaves of street vendors purveying a wide range of goods and foods far cheaper than what can be found at Patpong night-market.
This exciting, steaming world is set amongst the backdrop of towering buildings and the Skytrain rumbling above your head. Silom is not the area for the timid sightseer as Silom Road comes alive after dark when the pavements around Sala Daeng station are crowded with vendors selling everything from clothing, DVDs, food, sex toys, shoes, Buddha statues and much much more.
The stalls eat up pavement space and electric wires are ominously strung at head height just waiting to garrote the unaware shopper. Dodgy figures lurk in dark corners waiting to lure you away to a place where heaven can be obtained on earth.But this is the exciting mix that makes Silom buzz with a highly charged atmosphere, crackling with temptation. Amongst all this chaos are some of my favourite hangouts and places to spend a hour or two relaxing.
Patty's Fiesta Cantina is on the corner of Silom and Patpong and serves some of the best Iced Margaritas in Bangkok. I always love basement bars as there seems something opulent about drinking below the pedestrians walking above your head.
A motorbike taxi will take you to the opposite end of Silom Road to the Novotel hotel. There is a small innocuous door to the right of the hotel and there you will find Maggie Choo's. Do not be mistaken by thinking you have stumbled into a Chinese Noodle House, make your way to the back curtain in the corner and you will enter into the subterranean land of Maggie Choo's. It is one of the most atmospheric lounges in Bangkok and really has to be visited to be believed.Back up on Convent Road is Molly Malone's and as the name suggests it is an Irish themed pub. Back in my old stomping days it was one of my regular haunts, only five minutes walk from my apartment. A lot of expats frequent the place for good pub-grub and a great pint of Guinness.
As well as the bars and restaurants, Silom has some great massage parlours and there is even a stupendous Hindu temple founded in 1827 by a Tamil immigrant.
Silom has a unique identity that embraces the modern, the nefarious as well as the religious. This makes it one of the most interesting areas of Bangkok and in some ways Silom is a microcosm of the city as a whole.
So next time you are in Thailand's capital take some time out to explore the real Silom. Ignore Patpong and try out Little Japan in Soi Thaniya and all the other off beat hangouts that adorn the whole area. I am convinced you will love the alternative side of Silom where the locals frequent and have fun on a daily basis.