Most Bangkok visitors heading north on the Skytrain make a beeline for the Weekend Market at the end of the line, but next time, stop two stations before at Ari. Also known by the Thais as “Millionaire’s Lane”, the sois of this quiet residential district hide some of the most opulent mansions in the capital — and some of the quirkiest hotels, restaurants and boutiques in town.
At the Skytrain station, take exit 3 and turn at the first left into Phahonyothin Soi 7, better known as Soi Ari. The first block is taken up by the frenetic Ari Market, a veritable gallery of street eats worth an article in itself, but today we’ll just plow straight through the often crowded sidewalks. Soon, shortly after you cross past Soi Ari 1 (just keep going straight), the bustle disappears and, after a few upmarket boutiques selling Thai handicrafts and antiques, you’ll arrive at the unmistakable neon pink monolith of Reflections. Without a doubt the most famous Ari landmark, this wacky hotel-restaurant-bar-shop complex only opened in 2004, but it has already been written up in the New York Times and Newsweek, and regularly stages fashion shoots where Thailand’s top models strut their stuff. Every room in the hotel has been designed by a different artist, with over-the-top themes ranging from disco balls (room 201) and a maharajah’s harem (407) to a day at the beach, complete with sand, hammock and a palm tree (404), and they can be yours for a night starting from 2850 baht. PR Manager Kanchana Pimthon says, “We hope to inspire some ideas for guests to add more colors for their lives, such as hanging more paintings in their house for a better, more creative look and more artistic surroundings.” Next to the hotel is the equally zany Reflections restaurant, which serves up a wide menu of Thai, Chinese and Japanese favorites and, at night, often hosts live bands and other performances to draw in Ari’s fashionista set. In fact, the restaurant predates the hotel by a year, and its runaway success was what inspired the Reflections team to expand. If you fall in love with a particular piece of pop art — say, a fuzzy purple Buddha statue or their trademark mutant teddy bears — you can probably bring it home from the gift shop.
Across the street from Reflections are a few more interesting shops. Ari Bar, or maybe that should be “Aaari babar” like the sign says, is a quiet neighborhood bar with an eclectic selection of music and drinks. Deli House, a few doors down, serves freshly baked European-style pastries as well as a daily selection of German meals like sausages with mashed potatoes and beer sauce. But perhaps the best eating option lurks just behind Reflections in Soi Ari 2, where behind a thicket of greenery you’ll find a small white house hosting Som Tum Bangkok. True to the name, the first page of this little restaurant’s menu is dedicated to the papaya salad som tum in its many versions, but there is a wide range of northeastern Thai (Isaan) favorites like minced pork salad (larb) and grilled chicken to go alone with it. Complete your order with a little handwoven basket of sticky rice and a cooling glass of sweet, milky, orange Thai iced tea, and dig in — but remember to ask for less spicy if you can’t handle the heat! You don’t need to be a millionaire to order either: they have an English menu, and a full meal here won’t cost you more than 300 baht for two.
From here on, the shops peter out and Ari shows its residential colors. The tall, elaborate wrought-iron fences painted with gold lining the road on both sides often hide gigantic houses with Romanesque columns and Mercedeses parked in the driveway, but some gates are so high that you can only wonder at the splendour that lurks within. If you’re not in a hurry, walk along the soi past hip nightspot dbaa until you reach the next main road, then turn left twice to double back into Ari Soi 1. Halfway down the road you’ll find the oddly named Banana Family Park, which is not a fruit-themed playground, but a hip spa and restaurant complex. The leafy Coffee Garden here provides some welcome air-conditioned relief from the heat, not to mention a variety of caffeinated beverages (from 35 baht) that puts Starbucks to shame.
A few more steps brings you back into the Ari Market and to your right, you’ll see the Skytrain station beckoning on the other side of a narrow passageway. Stop by the row of stalls lining the way to pick up a few bags of munchies to bring home. “The rich, they’re not like you and me”, said F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at least in Bangkok they seem to like the same things the rest of us do.
Originally written/photographed for and separately licensed to JetAway, the inflight magazine of JetStar Asia.