Off-shore Adventures

Soi 81, Bangkok

When I look out my window on to my street in my home town, more often than not, it’s empty of traffic and people. And now, as I’m typing, apart from the tap of my fingers on the keyboard, the only sounds are bird song, Tui mainly, and the quiet rustle of the trees in the southerly breeze.  Often I can hear the sea, and sometimes our neighbour’s lawnmower. But not today – it was raining earlier.

In Bangkok there’s always traffic, always noise. You get that in a city of 14,000,000. Love it or hate it, Bangkok teams with life. My very favourite place is Soi 81 on Sukhumvit Road. It’s near the On Nut BTS – the Sky Train. It’s a perfectly average, ordinary street. And now, after three, no, make that four visits in three years, it feels like home.

We favour a particular Guest House. They greet us by name there. On our most recent visit, it was a stop over, they complained because we were only staying the one night – something we promised to rectify next time!

Soi 81 is the Bangkok not many tourists see. It’s a long way from the popular sights. But not so far as to be impossible to get to – that’s the advantage of being near the Sky Train.

The street has changed since our first trip for Christmas in December 2012. Change is constant in a megacity. The Pad Thai lady at the On Nut night market, which is actually around the corner from Soi 81, who my son and daughter-in-law introduced us to, has gone. People used to queue for half an hour at her food stall. I’d hoped she was just taking a break but I’ve looked for her on our last two visits – no sign of her. I guess that’s how it is in the life of street food vendors. Their circumstances change, they encounter better times, or hard times. I hope it’s the former for her.

Her Pad Thai is part of our collective family memory now. There’ll be no other like her – no matter how good their Pad Thai.

Pad Thai in the making

THE Pad Thai Lady

On our first visit the skyscraper at the junction of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 81, which you can see in the photo below, wasn’t much more than framing.

Soi 81

Soi 81

Early in the morning, and as dark fell, construction workers from that building, clutching pails containing their tools and their lunch, trudged single file to and from their work. They too have gone; to another construction site nearby, I suppose. At this end of town skyscrapers are going up fast.

Now, the traffic, which I thought was pretty crazy back in 2012, is even heavier. There are more motorbike taxis, more cars, and more food stalls.

Motorbike taxis on Soi 81

Motorbike taxis on Soi 81

There’s order in this chaos. No-one rushes. You quickly learn to listen out for the sound of a whistle. It means watch-out.  If you hear it you’ll see a guard, from any one of of the apartment buildings along the Soi, with his hand raised, sometimes he might have a red flag, while he toots shrilly and persistently on the whistle. Cars, motorbikes, pedestrians all make way as the guard waves a car forward and out onto the road and into the traffic.

I have seen drivers complete u-turns on this street. Somehow it all worked. There were no collisions, no-one got hurt. You wouldn’t catch me trying it, though!

In December 2012 I watched with fascination as builders worked on what has turned out to be rather a grand home near our guest house. I’d never seen bamboo framing before. Somehow I don’t think it would withstand the earthquakes that are part of every day life in New Zealand. I was amazed at the way the workers poured the concrete one bucket load at a time. That must be very hard work. By January of this year the house was finished – right down to pretty decent sized palm trees near the front door.

Our visits to Soi 81 have all been during the dry season when rain is a rare occurrence. But at the end of January, during  our stopover, it rained!  The unusual noise of the downpour woke us. But by the time I got outside with my camera it had stopped. Instead of the sharp sting of smog the air had the fresh smell of recent rain on hot asphalt.

The motorbikes along Soi 81 took things a little more slowly – the potential for skids was pretty high! The rain didn’t bring with it the relief from the humidity I expected. It took a long time for the ground to dry and the air, although washed clean of the smog, was as sticky as ever. I’m sure this ice-cream vendor would have had no trouble selling her goods once she got to the main road.

Traffic on Soi 81 after the rain.

Traffic on Soi 81 after the rain.

As soon as the rain stopped this street vendor arrived to set up his noodle stall. He’s got a prime spot – right next to the 7 Eleven.

DSCF5211

I spent most of our stop over visiting our old haunts, wandering along the road, saying hello to familiar sights, noticing the changes. The Soi seems a little more affluent, I remarked to John.

There was no need for him to reply because then we came across this:  the latest tuk tuk on Soi 81.

Tuk tuk on Soi 81

Tuk tuk on Soi 81

I feel kind of sad about some of the changes. But then again, I’m glad for the people who work on the Soi -the street food vendors, the motorbike taxis, the hotel workers – perhaps for them life will be a little easier.

For other interesting walks from all around the world visit Restless Jo.

If you’ve been to Bangkok – what’s your favourite part of the city?

26 replies »

  1. Hi Jill. I was there in 2011 and stayed at Kingston Suites on Soi 15. Lots of flooding north of the city that year making water taxis an adventure. Loved our 3 days there and crammed a lot in. The Sky Train suited us for getting around.

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  2. I hate a press of people, Jill, so I’m really relieved to experience Bangkok through your eyes. 🙂 I would love to visit the temples though, so maybe it’s a necessary evil. You make it look quite agreeable 🙂 Interesting to view the changes down the years. I’m so hoping for a happy outcome for the Pad Thai lady! Many thanks for sharing 🙂

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  3. What a wonderful commentary on Bangkok City, Jill. Wonderful photography as well. Yes, it is kind of sad to see things change but, as you say, hopefully all for the best for the people who work along Soi 81. I”m sure if and when you go back, you’ll see even more changes, hopefully all for the better.

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  4. Jill I have not been to Bangkok but this morning you have transported me there. From the quiet of your home and the birds singing to this chaotic city. I was intrigued that it did not feel rushed. Istanbul comes to mind in the category of crowded and chaotic and it did indeed feel rushed to me. I’m hopeful your special street vendor is safely enjoying retirement. I like that thought.

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    • Thanks Sue. I’ve yet to get to Istanbul – it’s one of my hope to visit places. In Bangkok the whole system seems to rely on no-one making any unexpected moves. On my first trip to visit my son, we were walking down Soi 81 – me for the very first time, he’d just explained this principle to me, and was required to add: that includes waving your arms about, Mum. I’m inclined to gesticulate, maybe a little wildly, especially when excited. And sure enough at that precise moment a car squeezed past us. The road is narrow and there are no footpaths. It was very good advice.

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      • Wow always very handy to know the local ways! Well in Istanbul there are many sudden moves. Travel and Leisure in 2014 named Istanbul worst for traffic in the world. While there we saw two pedestrians run over on a street corner by a car! I like the sound of Bangkok but I will need to tie my hands at my sides. You might imagine I am quite an enthusiastic talker. I usually look like I’m conduscting an orchestra. 🙂

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          • It was awful Jill. My friend and i are both nurses but the crush of people that ensued made it impossible for us to offer assistance. For the ambulance to get there the stretcher had to be carried from many blocks.
            Yes I know hard to believe I would be an arm waver. 🙂

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  5. enjoyed your walk so much J – and at first I thought this was following a prompt because just an hour ago I read another blogger post who had almost identical words with this
    “as I’m typing, apart from the tap of my fingers on the keyboard”
    that is funny –

    anyhow, we used to have a street vendor in our downtown who has been gone since around 2008 – I wish I had a photo of him – I only encountered him around 2004- but my kids knew him and we did not drink a lot of soda – but I would always let them get one form him (to support his business too) and he had two big ol coolers – with ice -and I can still see my kids sifting through his selections – his ankles were swollen and he had bright white sneakers – and was old. I wish I had a photo – anyhow, I could relate to you missing this now gone vendor –
    and the house came out so nice! also like that modern “tuk tuk”

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    • Oh, funny. I guess it’s a bit of a writing cliche isn’t it – the tap of fingers on a keyboard. Street vendors are a very rare sight around my home town. Buskers however, are very common, especially during tourist season.

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      • well it is funny that I would not hear that for the longest time and then almost right in a row – and so for a second I thought it was a prompt – even tho u never really do those –

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  6. What a lovely and loving view of an area in Bangkok. Oddly enough, I feel the same way about Mexico City. It’s another big sprawling city that keeps reinventing itself and at the same time stays familiar.

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