Many of you know the delights of Nana: that strip of bars and the huge entertainment complex on Sukhumvit Soi 4, yeah, that place where fellows by the name of Harold go to drown their sorrows in Buffalo Wings and beer, but there’s also another Soi Nana in Bangkok, and one not quite so calorie decadent, but equally as vibrant.
Yes, I’m talking about a small road in Chinatown, off from Phra Ram 4, not far from Hua Lamphong train station and a mere stone’s throw from Charoen Krung Road.
Some of you may know it.
Let’s take a trip there.
We take the bus or the MRT train and head over to the West side of town – you won’t regret it. Forget Google maps and mobile devices, ask a few strangers about Nana and they’ll head you in the right direction.
If you find yourself lost within the labyrinthine back roads of the old city, head to the main roads – Charoen Krung and Rama IV, and Nana should be easy to locate.
Once you find Soi Nana, you’ll spot the lights flickering from an old shophouse, 23 in big lettering on the outside, a couple of tables and chairs lay about outside, you walk inside to be greeted by a warm smile from behind the bar from the manager, Mongkol, who spins 1990s tunes on the turntables like they’re going out of fashion.
Bar 23 is both an art gallery and a live music venue, the staff are friendly and the beers are well priced at a 100 baht a pop.
It’s a little bit rough and ready but that’s the appeal, inventive furniture, great lighting: this arty little venue is excellent for a music feast and a few budget beers before or after exploring the local scene.
Sit at the bar for a while before venturing up the steep staircase and wandering the two rooms full of the work of local contemporary artists who paint traditional images – a mix of the old and new.
You might notice a hatch on the floor, and if you open it you’ll see down in the bar below. This spyhole is where smugglers of yesteryear watched the comings and goings on downstairs during those more felonious times in the old city.
But the night is still young and before you know it your feet are carrying up the road.
A few houses up, a hop skip and a jump, and through a medieval looking door is the TOT (Teens of Thailand) bar.
Once inside the lights are dark, the music is ambient, a piano stands to your right and to the left a chaise longe. The waitress approaches and asks if you have ever been here before and suddenly you know you’ve hit something special.
If the Addams family lived in Bethnal Green and ran a bar it would look something like the TOT. It’s slightly sinister, almost decadent, and every alcoholic concoction here involves gin, yes, mother’s ruin, the fodder for Hogarthian scenes of inner city social destruction with as many variations as one could ever imagine.
This is what Humphrey Bogart would call a high class gin joint.
TOT rumbles with sophistication; you opt for the Gin Absinthe cocktail, and contemplate a Gin Fizz.
But soon, hunger sets in.
Next place that catches your eye is the TEP bar, just off Soi Nana, as live traditional Thai music wafts out onto the street.
The bar restaurant is packed, with a one-out-one-in door policy. Eventually you make it inside and past a mix of upwardly mobile locals and foreigners. Long wooden tables upstairs – the type you might imagine in Victorian boarding schools – encourage cross communications with brothers and sisters from a plethora of nations.
Order Ya Dong and some tapas and listen the traditional Thai upcountry folk music played by live musicians. You could spend the entire night here, but the same goes for all the other venues around Nana.
Life in Bangkok is always vibrant, but as the old places change hands, or are bulldozed, or are turned into hotels, remember the old city still pulses with life. The only difficult part is keeping up with this rapidly evolving metropolis we call Bangkok.
So see Nana while it’s still hot, and you won’t regret it.