Soi 38 Revisited

Today’s text from my friend James:


I lol’ed in a taxi because it is true. There is a certain type of expat in Bangkok, who works hard and is good at his job, but is also unrelentingly miserable, eyes fixed on a future that will inevitably not involve Bangkok. This makes them turn to different outlets into which they can funnel all that energy and desire, and, since many of these expats are also terribly wholesome, those outlets are usually Type A competitive things that involve sports. Like Crossfit.

I know about this, because I was a Lonely Expat in Tokyo. I didn’t want to do the Lonely Tokyo Man ritual, which usually involved pondering life over a cup of coffee and a cigarette at a Jonathan’s on a Friday night. This was also pre-Crossfit, and I could not afford to join a Tokyo gym. So my weekends were spent walking from my place into Shibuya, which would burn up most of my Saturday. It made me feel like part of the city, as disconnected and alone as I was. For those few hours, I was just like everybody else. It was an outlet. It was my Crossfit.

There are different ways to Crossfit. What I mean is, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just because George RR Martin takes 10 years to finish a book and “Game of Thrones” is nearing the home stretch of its television run doesn’t mean I will soon have to do without Jon Snow and Jaime Lannister — there are umpteen fan theory sites, sites dedicated to comparing “Game of Thrones” with real historical events, sites on which wonderful people create alternate universes in which my second boyfriend Rhaegar Targaryen comes back to rule the Iron Throne. If there is a need for something, that need will eventually be met. Sometimes, all one has to do is to simply be patient.

Much was made of the demise of Sukhumvit Soi 38 (by me?) but in reality, it hasn’t really gone anywhere at all. No, really, even though a few buildings have been leveled and Daniel Thaiger has decamped to greener pastures. There is, and will always be, a need for affordable street food in Bangkok, even on Sukhumvit. Many of the usual suspects are still there, like this mango sticky rice vendor — only in slightly different locations:


You can still have this at Sukhumvit Soi 38

(Photo by Karen Blumberg)

Soi 38 has become less of a collection of street food vendors loosely congregated around the mouth of a soi and more like a Singapore-style hawker center, mostly located in the basement of Sutti Mansion (plus a few holdouts — mainly the OG Soi 38 vendors — who are now clumped further along into the soi). The “food court” looks like this:


Here, located in the sub-soi off of 38 which still hosts the fruit shake, mango sticky rice and pad Thai vendors, you can get: khao soy, Isaan food, Japanese favorites like ramen and curry rice, Chinese specialties, pork noodles, fish porridge, Chinese pork noodles (guay jab), chicken rice and egg noodles. Across from the pad Thai guy, Isaan-style salt-encrusted fish still grill on rotating skewers, pork satay still smoke over an open flame, and a new roti stall has set up shop. The seating is easy to get and it’s relatively cooler than out in the street. It’s also an altogether more manufactured, touristy experience. Beggars can’t be choosers, though, can they, especially when it comes to that mango sticky rice? (Longtime customers advise getting the mangos here and buying the sticky rice across the street at Khun Mae Varee.)

Old guard holdouts still cling to the main road, mostly along the left side of Soi 38. Beyond the other mango sticky rice vendor, there are still the yum (spicy salad), chicken rice, egg noodle, and Thai shaved ice dessert stands, plus pork trotter on rice (khao kha moo), more guay jab, more fish porridge (khao thom pla), fish noodles, and what are still my parents’ favorite Chinese-style egg noodles (bamee) in town. The only glaring omission is the Chinese-style congee (jok) place, which has moved to a sub-soi between sois 38 and 36. My advice: get to Soi 38 before stuff somehow reconfigures again and you are left searching for another Crossfit with which to sate your Sukhumvit street food needs.

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