Soi 38 has always held a place in many a Bangkokian’s heart for simply being “the soi with all the street food.”
From Pad Thai to Mango Sticky Rice to Bimimbap to Congee: whatever you could think of, they had it – with bargain prices and a collegiate atmosphere to match. From around 6pm every day, chrome tables would pop up and the smell of fried noodles, lime and chilli would permeate the air like nothing else.
But the eviction notice posted last year in a bid to make way for another new, gleaming development has seen the stallholders gradually shut up shop and foot traffic to the once-popular Thonglor night hang-out decline. Stalls officially have until the end of February to relocate their businesses, but the area is already a poor imitation of what it was mere months ago.
We visited during the day to try and get to the bottom of what is actually left on Soi 38 and what will remain once the last vestiges of street food stalls have vanished.
One thing’s for sure: it’s pretty quiet.
You can still spot the remaining dregs of the street stalls – closed shutters covered in maps showing new locations while a few empty chairs sit at empty tables. There’s a handful of smaller stalls still plying their wares, but they’ve already expressed concerns that their businesses will be affected now the majority of other shops have been forced to leave.
The patch of wasteland towards the bottom of the soi is already armed with yellow diggers to clear the way for new development.
Closer to the BTS, however, all is well: beautiful houses with sweeping gardens can be found scattered along both sides, along with stand-out structures like the Norwegian Embassy, a somewhat gaudy replica of what looks like the White House, and the huge, Chinese fortress-esque compound that reportedly belongs to Paiboon Damrongchaitham, one of the richest men in Thailand and owner of the GMM Grammy media conglomerate.
Alongside these custom-built mansions loom the imposing buildings of new, luxury condominiums including the 34-storey Siri development.
This is definitely a soi that HiSo families and wealthy expats will feel at home in: there’s the Melodies International Kindergarten and Little Chef Cooking Studio for the little ones while yummy mummies can hang out at No 38 Infinite Natural Spa or the Healing Hands physiotherapy centre, if they’re so inclined.
Need some spiritual enlightenment? The Phrakanong Baptist Church has you covered.
As far as eating and drinking goes, there’s the brilliant Toby’s for cafe food and brunch, as well as the popular Hands and Heart and Cargofe coffee shops. We stopped outside the periwinkle-blue Third Place Art Cafe but it appeared to be shut – whether that’s a long-term situation, we just don’t know.
‘Proper’ restaurants are in short supply along Sukhumvit 38 – obviously because the street food stalls dominated for so long with little room for other culinary players to join the party. There is a Japanese restaurant – Oyaji – about halfway down the street, however.
If you’re going higher end, the Face complex has established itself as an upscale one-stop-shop for your entertainment; it’s home to Thai, Indian and Japanese restaurants, as well as a cocktail bar, spa, cookery classroom and function hall.
You can find the quirky Bookshop Bar within the Morph 38 condo development halfway down the soi – it’s got a charming Harry Potter vibe and visitors won’t be surprised that it’s been developed by the man behind the similarly kooky outposts of Iron Fairies and Fat Gut’z.
Although Sukhumvit 38 is certainly very quiet right now – and may continue to be in the near future – the fact that luxury developments are planned for the soi suggests that small businesses like restaurants, bars, cafes and shops will follow once more residents are in situ.
Sure, they may not have the same character as the beloved street stalls once did, but the times they are a-changing – let’s just hope Soi 38 isn’t forgotten.
What would you like to see move into Soi 38?
What’s your favourite thing about Soi 38?