With a boundary described by backpacker bilge and regal charm, it’s easy to see how Soi Samsen could get stuck in no-man’s-land. The not even two-kilometre stretch of concrete connecting the Krung Kasem and Banglamphu Canals is something of a channel for those passing through, but those in-the-know see it for what it truly is—a neighbourhood on the rise, chock-a-block with as many cultural attractions as hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems for the tourist, expat, and local alike.
Looking for a decent place to rest your head? There’s no shortage of boutique options here. Casa Nithra is the belle of the ball, and rightly so. This portmanteau of Spanish and Thai tongues fortunately leaves linguistics out of the design—50 well-appointed rooms, limo service, and a rooftop pool add a splash of luxury to this hardscrabble urban location, and with reasonable prices.
The so-called “flashpacking” crowd—and couples, too—will enjoy Lamphu Tree House, with its sumptuous silks, Buddhist-inspired hanging art, and dark teak setting. Not to mention the pocket-friendly rates. Perennial favourite Phra Nakorn Norn Len earns abundant style points for its worn pastel wood and vintage mystique, as well as its in-house arts and crafts classes run under the equally twee name Phra Nakorn Tam Len (tie-dying, sewing, soap-making, and more). Phra Nakorn Norn Len is just one of a group of small, independent hotels that have united to share the best aspects of their neighbourhood. Small Hotels of Bangkok offer news and advice about Bangkok, as well as meet-ups, including free night-time bike tours for guests staying at their hotels. Pretty cool.
When hunger strikes—and it will—you won’t have to look hard for a good meal. Vegetarians, in particular. The inestimable May Kaidee has a branch just beyond the bridge that crosses the Banglamphu canal, and CHOMP on Samsen Soi 1 offers soul food for meat-eaters and veggies alike, as well as monthly art exhibitions and frequent community-minded classes (check page 80 for a more detailed review). And, further afield, near the Thewet Pier, Cook Chom serves food inspired by his years of work in five-star hotels, but for a fraction of the prize. Still, sometimes nothing beats a taste of home (even if it isn’t a taste of “home,” per se, but rather a taste of the West). Poutine, the not so picturesque concoction of cheese curds, chips, and gravy so popular in Canada makes a rare Bangkok sighting at aptly named Poutine Sans Frontiere, very much tucked away on Samsen Soi 2.
At night, deny the urge for brown-ish liquid in plastic buckets, put on a shirt with sleeves (a.k.a. a T-shirt), and mosey on over to Cinema Winehouse. The name says it all: movies and wine in an old shophouse. But if you love music, go directly to Adhere the 13th, known colloquially as the Blues Bar. This extremely cramped, wingspan-wide bar is an institution, with some of the best live blues in the city. Grab a Beer Lao and settle in for a long night. You won’t be going far. You won’t have to.