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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?