In a city as chaotic as the Thai capital, finding areas to explore beyond traffic jams and high-rise buildings may seem impossible. However, the leafy suburb of Ari (also called Aree) in Bangkok’s north is an up-and-coming district with some cool eating, drinking and shopping spots to discover.
This once quiet neighbourhood has seen an influx in hip housing with a clientele to match. Home to a number of government offices, it’s buzzy with a local feel, a mix of old and edgy that represents ‘new’ Bangkok. This is where you can sample a true taste of Bangkok life, with street stalls next to chic cafes and contemporary galleries to boot.
Street scenes on Phahon Yothin 7, the backbone of the Ari neighbourhood © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
First things first – how to get there? On the BTS Sukhumvit line heading north towards Mo Chit (home to one of the world’s largest weekend markets, Chatuchak), Ari station makes arriving in the neighbourhood a breeze. Take exit 3 that leads to Phahon Yothin 7, essentially the backbone of the ’burb, where the best venues are neatly positioned in quiet soi (small lane) that runs off this main road. Lined with street food stalls, seamstresses and cobblers, Phahon Yothin 7 has some great nighttime dining options. But first, explore the quirky cafes, art galleries and fashion stores this part of Bangkok has to offer.
Fashion and beauty products at Gloc fashion store © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
Take a left down Soi Ari 2 to Dice! Café, named after its affection for board games, with hundreds on offer to play during your stay. The 1st floor is dedicated to caffeine consumption – try their signature ‘drink’, coffee affogato with coconut ice cream – with Thai dishes, salads and burgers on the food menu. The second floor is the game zone (they even have Game Masters on hand, should you need a playing partner), while the third floor hosts events including film nights, improv classes, music and art shows weekly. The top two floors are a co-working space popular with locals and expats alike.
Next door, pop into tokyobike, a hip cycle store with retro-styled two-wheelers on display and for sale. Founded in the Tokyo suburb of Yanaka, these city bikes were designed for the streets of a busy city like Bangkok – if you’re game enough to share its streets with the city’s collection of cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks at every turn. A few doors down, fashion store Gloc has racks of clothing, jewellery and accessories on offer from both Thai and international labels plus beauty brands including Glossier, Anese and Mario Badescu. Opened by indie-movie actress and fashion writer Patcha Poonpiriya, who updates products on a weekly basis, Gloc is a must-stop for the fashionista.
Flowers and cakes are both on offer at Flower in hand by P florist and cake cafe © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
‘Happiness is to hold flowers in both hands’ is the motto at Flower in hand by P, and it also applies to your taste buds. Both florist and cake cafe under one roof, it’s ideal for an Ari pit stop between exploring. Buy a pre-made flower bouquet or arrange your own, before enjoying a drip coffee and a lavender scone. Other sweet treats include edible flower cookies.
On the other (northern) side of Phahon Yothin 7 is Numthong Gallery at Aree (Soi Ari 5). Established in 1997 by Numthong Sae Tang, it quickly developed a reputation as one of the leading commercial galleries in Southeast Asia. Showcasing both emerging and internationally recognised talent, with a focus on contemporary art including short films, photography and mixed media, this light and airy exhibition space is over 130 sq metres large and plays host to cultural events where curators, art collectors, writers and critics mingle with local art appreciators.
Eclectic collection of curiosities inside Puritan dessert cafe © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
Post exhibition, dive into the whitewashed interior at Porcupine Café (Soi Ari 4), a popular coffee hub within a small single-storey shop filled with locals, many accompanied by their trusty laptops utilising the free wi-fi. Tuck into their cakes-only menu over a White Iced Cube Latte at one of the exposed-wood tables. Or perhaps you’d prefer the wonderland surrounds at Puritan (Soi Ari 5), set within a greenhouse-style shack filled with antiquities more suited to a European manor house than bustling Bangkok. With vintage velvet sofas next to stone statuettes and taxidermy, it’s like entering an antiques store cluttered with curiosities, and that’s part of its charm. Tea time at Puritan, also with a cakes-only menu (baked by owner Purinat Tantinahtana), is a memorable way to while away an afternoon.
Chilling out with beer and books at The Yard hostel © Nardia Plumridge / Lonely Planet
Nightfall is when Ari comes alive, as do many of its hippest venues. Balmy nights are best spent in the garden of Salt where an artsy crowd of drinkers and diners come for the international menu of French, Japanese, and Italian fare including wood-fired-oven pizzas, and live jazz music. A few doors down, Casa Azul with its blue interior inspired by Frida Kahlo’s former home offers some of the most authentic Mexican dishes in Bangkok, from classic quesadillas to tacos washed down with mangosteen margaritas. For a Western menu of steaks, pasta and cocktails, Fatbird’s comfort food and cosy dining room hit the spot. If you prefer a quick but tasty bite, burgers at Paper Butter (attached to The Yard hostel) are a juicy way to end the day exploring Ari under the shadow of its iconic Bangkok Pearl building.