Ten years ago, the area surrounding the Phra Khanong and Ekkamai BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) skytrain stations was a somewhat sleepy local neighborhood situated at the outskirts of Bangkok’s downtown core. Now it’s a thriving hub of activity, with cool cafés, shops, bars and restaurants of every kind.
For Didi Wiboonma, who was born and raised here, the transformation has been inspiring. The young professional runs public-relations consultancy QC Communications, and she’s also involved in organizing some of Thailand’s best electronic music festivals, including Kolour in the Park, Thaibreak and Transmission Festival Asia. But today, she’s our trusty and discerning guide in the hip areas of Ekkamai and Phra Khanong, in a fast-growing part of the city.
9AM: Make merit at Wat That Thong
Mainly a residential district, the Ekkamai-Phra Khanong BTS corridor is representative of many modern neighborhoods finding their place in Bangkok — it’s not an overrun tourist hub, but it also doesn’t have many historic landmarks. However, Wat That Thong — located right outside the Ekkamai BTS station — built in 1937, is the area’s most well-known temple. “It feels serene here,” says Didi. “It’s a beautiful place to calm the mind.” 1325 Sukhumvit Rd
9.45AM: Perk up at Ekkamai Macchiato Home Brewer
Located on a side street that runs off Sukhumvit Soi 63, this bright and airy café still remains a bit of a neighborhood secret even though it’s been open since 2016. We start the day with a cold chocolate-orange affogato and a delicious rice bowl with spicy pork belly. “The portions are huge, and the price is reasonable,” says Didi. Ekkamai Soi 12; fb.com/ekkamaimac
11AM: Get pampered at Healthland
There are countless massage shops in Bangkok, but Healthland Spa & Massage is a chain that offers a genuine spa experience administered by expertly trained masseurs. Treatments run the gamut from traditional Thai massage to lavish Ayurvedic wellness packages. “I’ve been coming here for more than 12 years,” Didi says. 96/1 Sukhumvit Soi 63; healthlandspa.com
1PM: Chow down at Krua Klai Bhan
“I have such a bond with this place,” Didi gushes as we enter Krua Klai Ban, located on a tiny side street running off Sukhumvit Soi 71. “Because I grew up just on the street over, I remember the day this eatery opened. It was one of the few places around here that had airconditioning, way back in the ’90s.” The restaurant’s colorful, narrow interiors are wonderfully retro, and the menu — in Thai and English — is extensive. “It’s like street food, but presented in a nice restaurant, with consistency and quality.” Our meal, which includes three main dishes plus a bowl of spicy seafood tom yum soup to share, comes to less than 500 baht (Php853). 984/83 Pridi Banomyong 40 Alley
2PM: Pay your respects at Mae Nak Shrine
To see a different side of Thai spiritual life, cross the Phra Khanong Canal and visit Wat Mahabut. The temple itself has some interesting history behind it, but the main draw here is the shrine next door built to commemorate Mae Nak Phra Khanong, Thailand’s most famous ghost. It’s said that while her soldier-husband was off fighting in Burma, the beautiful young Mae Nak and her child both perished during a difficult childbirth. However, when the husband returned, he found his loving wife and child waiting, and neighbors who warned him that he was living with a ghost were mysteriously killed. A statue of Mae Nak and her baby form the centerpiece of the altar where devotees make offerings, usually accompanied by requests for easy childbirth or exemption from military conscription. On Nut Soi 7
3.30PM: Snap that IG-ready shot at Featherstone
Although Featherstone Bistro Cafe & Lifestyle Shop has been open for a while now, our guide admits, “I only just discovered this place recently.” The interior of this mansion is sumptuously decorated, with plenty of antiques and curios and a large, imported stained glass window. Try a signature Sparkling Apothecary lemonade — the ice cubes contain edible flowers — and a slice of chocolate banoffee or coconut cream pie. “It feels like you’ve been transported to another time and space here,” muses Didi. “The drinks are well crafted, and a lot of thought has gone into the dishes. I also like the fact that there are souvenirs and knick-knacks on sale.” Tip: Get to it via Sukhumvit Soi 71 to avoid the heavy traffic in Ekkamai. 60 Ekkamai Soi 12; fb.com/featherstonecafe
5PM: Find something for everyone at Gateway Mall
For a little pre-dinner retail therapy head to Gateway Ekkamai shopping mall. From the Ekkamai BTS station find a skywalk leading right into the second floor of this multi-level Japanese-style shopping complex. “This mall is a gem,” says Didi. “It has pop-up markets, a 24- hour grocery store, locally made clothing, and a great selection of eateries, from street food to upscale Japanese.” If the mood strikes you — work out at Fitfac MuayThai, play games in the fourth-floor arcade, or earn your wings at Flight Experience Bangkok, a high-tech flight simulator on the second floor. 982/22 Sukhumvit Rd
6PM: Dinner with a view at Nowhere
There are so many excellent places to dine along Ekkamai Road, but for Didi there’s nowhere like Nowhere, a slick eatery that offers an international menu and creative cocktails, which was opened in 2017 by her friend Prare. Located on the sixth floor of the THA City Loft Hotel, it’s one of the few rooftop venues in the neighborhood. Over a delicious dinner of watermelon salad, Japanese grilled black cod, salmon and shrimp ceviche, plus a rose lychee panna cotta for dessert, Didi tells us: “This place really brings people together. Even my mom loves it!” Ekkamai Soi 6; fb.com/nowherebkk
8PM: Groove at Goja, near the W District
W District (also known as W Market) is a popular, open-air nightlife spot, consisting of no-frills outdoor table seating ringed by food stalls. The vibe is laid-back and casual, and there’s usually some interesting art installation on display. For Didi, the attraction here is Goja Gallery Cafe, where the city’s music and art community congregate. “[Owner] Toru really supports locally based talent,” Didi says. Sukhumvit 71, Pridi Soi 3; fb.com/gojaphrakanong
This article first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Smile magazine.