Well, well, well... another month in Bangkok has passed. The months have just piled up so quickly, no? And what, just around the freaking corner is 2009?!
Anyway, for my sixteenth month in the Big Mango, I'm going to write about my soi, a topic that I've long wanted to feature here. First things first... what is a soi? A soi - read as soy, as in soy sauce, but definitely not swa - is an alley in a way. However, it's more of a sub-street, but not necessarily an eskinita either. A soi can be as wide as any regular street or can be as narrow as a two-lane road. Also, the length of sois vary a lot so there's really no technical way of classifying them. The sois in Bangkok are numbered, which makes it easier to navigate the city. Odd-numbered sois are one side and the even-numbered ones are on the other. Sukhumvit Road for instance can run all the way to soi number 70-something, I'm not sure really.
The main roads are mostly flanked with commercial buildings whereas the sois are the residential areas. And sois have such diverse characters and looks. Some are quite congested with shop houses and massive apartment buildings, while some are filled with "normal-looking houses". It mainly depends on which area you are in. Unlike in the Philippines where most people live in villages or gated subdivisions, in Bangkok our soi is our small neighborhood. You often hear of people talking about MY soi, YOUR soi, OUR soi. As in, ownership isdatchyu?
So let's talk about moi soi, ok? Why don't I walk you through it?
[Note: I took these pictures yesterday, a Sunday. On regular days the soi is usually crowded with university students and civil servants, which also means that there would be more street peddlers. The point is, the pictures do not speak of the vibrancy of my soi on a normal day.]
This is the entrance to my soi. Mine is relatively wider to other sois, and we have more trees, which I'm very thankful about. The right side of the soi is a big complex of government offices and on the left side is a university and some houses. On regular days, the soi is packed with cars.
Farther down the soi is a cluster of about seven guest houses that cater to backpackers. Unlike the raucous scene in nearby Khao San Road, the guest houses in my soi are very sane and quiet. And because they are covered by huge plants and small trees, I hardly notice the crowd at all, except for an occasional backpacker cutie slurping a bowl of noodle soup.
The pavement in my soi is a bit cramped with food peddlers, especially during lunch time. I usually eat in one of the stalls that serve fried rice and stuff, but my favorite is the grilled chicken just across my building. Aside from food, one can also get a suit made in the neighborhood tailor, have your clothes washed, buy some magazines, or get a haircut. At the end of this pavement is a coffee shop that my housemate and I call the hippy cafe. He and I usually hang out there after office to have a cup of coffee and smoke. There's also a couple of cute boys in this place, which is obviously a plus.
A soi is nothing without the neighborhood Seven Eleven...
... and the resident soi dog.
Walking down the soi, one finds a market. I eat here most of the time and the food is delish despite the unappealing location. The lady of the food stall (akin to a turo-turo) where I eat lunch knows what I regularly have and sometimes she encourages me to try her new dishes. Of course we don't really speak so much to each other (because of language limitations), but a lot of smiling could get you very far in BKK.
The stall in the picture below is for dinner. They serve the regular fare of fried rice, tom yum kung, phad thai, and chicken with basil leaves. They also make the best Thai tea. The ladies manning the stall are very, very friendly, and we do exchange a lot of smiles and nods every time I'm there. I wish I can have some decent conversation with them but my utter incompetence in speaking Thai makes that impossible.
Below are scenes of the market on a Sunday. I hardly venture here except to buy flowers. I pass through the market though when I go to the nearest jetty. The rats here are enormous; and rats and me do not go well together. But the spices sold in the market give this place a pleasant pungent smell. Outside the market, I always find these ladies peeling gazillions of eggs. At the edge of the market is a wide canal that empties into the Chao Phraya River (or is it the other way around?).
On the other side of the soi are stalls and stalls of Isan food. They are mostly open only in the evenings. The grilled pork and somtam (papaya salad) here are to die for. Some stalls also serve dessert. If one walks all the way to the end of the soi you find a temple complex with soaring roofs. Nearby is a small jetty where watching the sunset is a good stress-reliever.
I often complain to my friends that I don't like my building's location because it's freaking far from the BTS line. But quite honestly, I am very fond of my soi and my area in general. It has a community feel to it... everyone knows everyone. Most importantly, the people at the soi seemed to have welcomed me since day one. And certainly it has become my small community of sorts in lovely BangCock.