Words Elspeth Callender
Photos Elspeth Callender, John Borthwick and Belinda Jackson
June 2016 from issue 37
After Dark in Bangkok, Thailand
Head’s hairstyle may have dated dramatically since the 1980s, but his words remain true – you’d be nuts to stay inside participating in longwinded board games for two when Bangkok is your evening’s playground. With the right strategy, you can negotiate your way by foot, ferry, taxi and skytrain back and forth across this great big busy city. Because, as the song goes, “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster...”
Roll the dice and watch it land on WTF in Thong Lor. The moment you arrive at this retro-styled three-storey cafe, bar, restaurant and exhibition space you’ll know you’re off to a good start. There’s a relaxed vibe, delicious cocktails to try, poetry reading nights, upstairs gallery spaces, a dance floor and a screening room. The place was established only a few years ago as a creative social club aimed at exposing art to a broader public audience in an informal environment. The strategically chosen name stands for Wonderful Thai Friendships. You could easily spend a few hours in WTF or the whole evening exploring the bars and restaurants of Sukhumvit Road, but that’s not the aim of the game. On the way to the nearby skytrain, take a detour to Sukhumvit soi 38 for some sublime street food.
WTF Café and Gallery
7 Sukhumvit soi 51, Watthana
A visit to Bangkok without seeing ladyboys is like a game of Uno without wildcards, but it doesn’t have to involve supporting the country’s sex industry. Calypso’s good, cleanish fun cabaret can be found in the south of the city. Bangkok’s evening traffic is at its gridlocked peak between 5pm and 7pm and takes a while to subside, so avoid the roads and travel by skytrain and then free water shuttle down Chao Phraya River. Within a sea of Asian tourists you’ll be shown to your comfy red seat in the pseudo-swanky theatre and given a free drink. The show is cheesy, charming and fun, with everyone from a comic Carman Miranda to an absurdly luscious Marilyn Monroe. The stage is swimming with fishnets for ‘All That Jazz’, while ‘Blossom’s Blues’ is performed solo with nipples-popping-from-bustier gusto. Book ahead to save any unnecessary hanging around in the touristy wastelands of Riverside.
2194 Charoenkrung 72-76 Rd, Prayakrai, Bangor Laem
As soon as the show’s over, jump in a taxi and head back to the Thong Lor area for (fingers crossed) jazz at Iron Fairies. After Calypso, the scene could not be more different. This low-lit bar and burger joint is more a dream space than a drinking hole. Squeeze in past the band, a tableful of mythical metalwork figurines and a spiral metal staircase that winds up to nowhere past shelves full of jars labelled “fairy dust”. Order absinthe at the bar if you dare. Follow the staircase that leads to somewhere and find a secret entrance through a bookshelf into the smoking room. Inside it may be completely deserted, jam-packed and smoky, or you might interrupt a couple in the throes of negotiating the rules of their torrid weekend love affair. From wherever you make yourself comfortable, the Thai singer will sound like Frank Sinatra reincarnated. After the trumpet blows its final note at the stroke of 11, return to the street outside, blink a few times, pinch yourself and hail a cab.
395 Sukhumvit soi 55, Watthana
Skybars are so hot right now in Bangkok and sprouting everywhere like fresh foliage in the city’s towering canopy. On the way to the next destination you will pass the Banyan Tree, where Vertigo offers an open-air oodles-storey-high view of the city. At State Tower whiz 64 flights up and emerge from the lift to be greeted by four smiling faces discretely checking you’re suitably attired. The punishment for attempting to enter a Bangkok skybar in thongs is an evening of wearing the establishment’s heavy Amish-style black clogs and a guarantee of going home alone. Swan, preferably in your own footwear, down the broad staircase towards Sirocco’s neon-lit bar, perched on the side of the building like something from a movie.
The Dome at lebua, 1055 Silom, Bang Rak
Strict drinking laws in Bangkok mean most bars and clubs close around 2am, but we all know the knock-on effects of prohibition. Wong’s Place first opened in 1987 and the bar has changed hands only once. When the original owner, ‘Wongsie’, died in 2003 his brother, Sam, re-opened the joint due to popular demand. Wong’s is open most but not all weekends and can be tricky to find after curfew when it’s pretending to be closed. But it’s worth the search; watching 1980s music videos and talking to washed-up expats and chatty locals under tattered Chinese lanterns in this dingy, smoky, lively little dive until the sun comes up can be a great end to a great game.
27/3 Soi Sri Bamphen, Sathon
AirAsia flies to Bangkok.
Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort and Spa is situated right on the quieter side of Chao Phraya River. Breakfasts are fabulous and the hotel will ferry you for free across the river to town.