One Night in Bangkok: Discovering Thai Street Food Through a Helpful Host

Eating like a local in Soi 38. Powered by Airbnb.  
The neighbourhood of Soi 38 in Bangkok is beloved by the locals—and revellers on Sukhumvit Road—for dishing out Thai street food from sunset until early morning. Photo: Madeleine Deaton/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The neighbourhood of Soi 38 in Bangkok is beloved by the locals—and revellers on Sukhumvit Road—for dishing out Thai street food from sunset until early morning. Photo: Madeleine Deaton/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

One evening, one mission: to eat my way through Bangkok’s wondrous street food markets. Seems simple enough, except we had just one evening in the bustling city.

Bangkok was a stopover on our flight from Cambodia to India, a halt we’d made just so I could have my fill of coconut curries and sweet chilli sauce. I needed to plan this properly to make the most of our time.

Exhausted from a week in Cambodia, our party did not want to venture too far that evening. We would arrive in Bangkok at 6.30p.m., in time for dinner. We needed to be close to a BTS train station to facilitate shopping the next morning, and close to the airport to make it for our flight that afternoon. With all these considerations, narrowing down on a place to stay was going to be our biggest challenge. Add to that, the weather forecast predicted rain.

I started by scrolling through rentals on Airbnb located along Bangkok’s arterial Sukhumvit Road and quickly stumbled upon a charming two-bedroom apartment just off the main road. A five-minute walk from the Thong Lo BTS station, 30 minutes from the airport, a 7-Eleven convenience store just around the corner—it seemed to meet all our needs. I had just once concern: The rental was in an upmarket residential area and I wondered if I’d find street food options nearby. Our host, Nate Su, promptly recommended Soi 38, a bustling lane just a few minutes away.

Entering the apartment felt straight out of a spy flick. Nate didn’t live at the house, so we collected the keys from a locker in the lobby using a secret code he shared with us. (When checking out, we were to return the keys using the same code, which would be reset for the next occupants.) The flat sat on the 20th floor of a high-rise condo, its airy balcony overlooking twinkling city lights. On the pale wood dining table lay a list of Nate’s recommendations: nightclubs and sky bars frequented by Thai celebrities and politicians; high-end restaurants with Thai, Japanese, and Indian fare; chic coffee shops favoured by the locals; and Soi 38, for authentic Thai street food.

Our choice was obvious. Armed with umbrellas and an appetite, we arrived at a spectacular scene on Soi 38. Through the downpour, the sizzle of woks and the scent of lemongrass percolated the air. Industrious vendors wearing rainbow-striped umbrella hats—the kind I coveted as a child—rushed about serving diners at lightning speed. Covered carts with bright signboards displayed ingredients on beds of ice: pale pink shrimp and fat yellow mangoes, heaps of greens, rotating spits of meat, and bags of noodles.

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    Malavika Bhattacharya is a freelance journalist who writes about travel, culture, and food. She travels for the outdoors: to dive deep in the Indian Ocean, crawl through caves in Meghalaya, and hike through the Norwegian fjords.

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