In keeping with this month’s theme of “things I forgot I loved about Bangkok”, I’d like to talk about a place that is representative of the city’s mystique.
Bangkok has a lot of nicknames. “The Big Mango”, “The Big Smoke”, and my favorite … “The Tenth Planet”. For sure there are places you can go and things you can see in Bangkok that are other-worldly. Bangkok puts the “real” in surreal.
In recent years, the city has sprouted its share of gentrified neighborhoods complete with ice cream stores, kids clothing shops and Subway sandwich franchises. But, in Bangkok you’re always only a stone’s throw away from some primordial netherworld. Some down-an-alley and up-some-metal-stairs kind of joint sure to be chockful of questionable people doing questionable stuff.
Bangkok is full of places you read about in Robert Ludlum novels. Places where double agents negotiate terms for trading some state secrets. Places where Jason Bourne goes off and kicks the crap out of ten or twelve CIA guys.
That’s the story this picture is telling. It was taken in the Bamboo Lebanese Restaurant and Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 3, aka, The Arab Quarter.
Bamboo isn’t the kind of place a tourist just trundles into and orders some falafels. It’s one of those intimidating places that draws you in with an overwhelming aroma of good food, but reveals nothing else until you commit to entering. There’s a shwarma and kebab set up outside for the timid. You could grab a handful of greasy goodness and be on your way.
But, for an adventurer like me, a peek behind the mysterious automatic door revealing only brief glimpses of the world inside was a must. If you’re brave enough you’ll find a spy-movie set of a place. The first dining room is an endless hallway of tables jutting out from each wall. The sky-high ceiling and ceramic tiles give the place a din louder than a bowling alley.
What makes Bamboo special is the clientele. Eighteen-to-eighty, blind, crippled and crazy … people drag themselves up that Soi and through the front door to feast on Lebanese and Russian cuisine and smoke shisha. Tons of shisha.
There’s a wider dining room near the kitchen full of shisha smokers. There’s an even bigger separate dining room in the back … full of shisha smokers. There’s a bar hidden behind Old West type swinging doors full of shisha smokers. And the whole place is open 24 hours.
That’s the story this picture is telling. Sorry for the clandestine view, but Bamboo isn’t the kind of place you just start snapping photos in. Creatures of all descriptions from all over this planet (and maybe some others) come here to feed, smoke and be mysterious.
My favorite time to come is at milder times, like noon on Sunday. But, if I’m out on the town with a snoot full of liquor, chances are you’ll see me in this devil’s lair later; eating falafels and looking for Jason Bourne.