Thailand: Bangkok for hipsters

By Emily Gibson

There is a different side to this mad city, one that'd get a tick of approval from even the most hardened hipster. Or aesthete. Or whatever that group with cynical world views and ironic clothing is being called these days.

Bangkok's Talad Rot Fai market. Photo / Supplied
Bangkok's Talad Rot Fai market. Photo / Supplied

If you've ever been to Bangkok, you'll know it's where ruddy-faced tourists drink as much cheap beer as is humanly possible, get their hair braided into scalp-tearing corn rows, and watch Thai "dancers" pop things out of unusual places.

Accordingly, the areas in Bangkok where OE-ers congregate tend to feel like playgrounds for manic, overgrown children every shade of the sunburn-rainbow. Tuk tuks lurch about like decrepit toys, their drivers pleading you to visit their uncle's jewelry store; roadside pubs and bars leak half-pissed foreigners and elegant Thai women (the latter so much more sophisticated than the former it's almost painful to watch); and market stalls with fresh heaps of counterfeit crop up at every corner.

If your own personal idea of hell looks suspiciously like the above, you'd be forgiven for avoiding South East Asia in the high season altogether. Let alone Bangkok, whose huge traveler population is partly thanks to its being the springboard to South East Asia as a whole.

But underneath the tawdry tack lapped up by Gazza from the Gold Coast (there he is, vomiting in the gutter while his friends enjoy a Sangsom Bucket) is an intelligent and stylish city that's world-class in its contemporary cultural and aesthetic offerings.

Here are some recommendations for a different, more grownup sort of Bangkok experience:

Talad Rot Fai market

What: A vintage and collectables market far, far removed from the usual tourist trappings. Hippy dresses, bohemian jewels, old framed prints, vintage boots, crystal jewelry and loads more. This is where Bangkok's scenesters do their thing; a special place with an equally special atmosphere. If there's one thing you leave of this list, don't let it be this.

Where: Secon Square on Sinakarinda. (Get a taxi, it's not easy to find.)

Thonglor Art Village

What: If you're missing coffee culture, head here. It's a hip mini maze of stores and eateries with such delights as vintage menswear store Sun & Co., Hattori Shokudo (a down-home Japanese eatery) and Casa Lapin, a wooden coffee bar offering blueberry cheesecake (B60), banana crumble cupcake (B25), and other amazing treats. Best washed down with their Ethiopian drip coffee (B85).

Where: Between Soi 17 and 19, 353, Sukhumvit Soi 55, Bangkok, 081-257-7920.

Thailand Creative and Design Centre

What: Tucked away on the top floor of the Emporium Mall sits an amazing design centre, exhibition space and resource library. It carries over 25,000 books, a multimedia library and a huge material sampling resource. There's also a creative space for new generation designers to showcase their work for free, a shop, and a restaurant. It's open to anyone to join and use for a small fee, including tourists. Look out for upcoming seminars, lectures, workshops and events - everyone's welcome.

Where: 6th Fl., The Emporium Shopping Complex, 6th Fl, 24 Soi Sukhumvit.

Pla Dib restaurant

What: A renovated modernist house with a slightly industrial vibe and casual atmosphere, serving up stunning Japanese-Thai fusion. Young professional and alternative Thai crowds relax amid minimalist tables lit with candles and good looks.

Where: 1/1 Areesamphan Soi 7, at Thanon Rama VI.

Papaya Vintage

What: Vintage, vintage and more vintage. This huge and bizarre store is miles away and you'll feel like you've made the trip for nothing, until you get there. The memorabilia will drag you kicking and screaming back to your (Western) childhood, and the amazing furniture will have you cursing the overpriced mid-century furniture stores back home. Try and find some gems that will fit inside your suitcase.

Where: Soi Lat Pharo 55/2, Lat Pharo Road Wang Thong Lamg, Bangkok 10310. (Grab a cab, this one's also tricky to do via public transport.)

Tuba

What: A secondhand retro furniture/object gallery by day, and bar/restaurant by night that sells cheap Thai and Italian fare. The crazy combinations of neon signs, old paintings, memorabilia and a pool table make it feel like you're share-housing again - with ultra cool flatmates.

Where: 34 Room 11-12A Soi Ekamai 21

Siam Square

What: It's a tiny bit more mainstream here, but it's also where budding Thai hipsters find themselves before they move on to more alternative pastures. Join the throngs as they shop and eat themselves into oblivion - tiny boutiques abound and the prices, while not market-level, are reasonable.

Where: Siam.

Shades of Retro

What: An artsy bar filled with cool kids, who go to listen to DJs play rare vinyl and drink their fill of the excellently mixed cocktails. The crowd is friendly, so expect to find yourself chatting with locals - and getting recommendations on where to go next.

Where: Soi Thara Rom 2, between Thong Lo soi 16 and 18.

- nzherald.co.nz

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