I have been wanting to visit Bangkok’s “Little India” for a while so, a few weeks ago I arranged to meet my good friend, Mark, for a spot of exploring.
We met at Saphan Taksin BTS station and, from there, took a boat to Memorial Bridge. The boat actually stops a little further on, at Yodpiman Pier, but we weren’t worried. I had the map in my hand and I kind of knew the direction we wanted to go.
From the pier we walked towards Triphet Road. Then up Triphet Road until we got to Thanon Phahurat where we turned right. This is the beginning of Little India and we found ourselves walking amongst stalls and shops selling everything from cheap jewellery to fabrics and costumes.
Originally a district for Vietnamese immigrants, who came to Siam in the 18th century, Phahurat is now home to many South Asian Hindus and Muslims. More than a century ago a Sikh community settled there and launched a textile trading centre which is still in operation today.
We were making our way to a restaurant I had found called the Royal India. It is located on Chakphet Road and we would have walked right passed it had I not seen the sign above our heads directing us down a little alleyway. We didn’t have to walk far. It is a very small, rather shabby looking place. We thought it was closed. It certainly looked closed from the outside and it didn’t exactly look like a place which had won awards, which is why I wanted to go and check it out.
I tried the door, it opened. It opened into, what must be, the smallest restaurant I have ever been to. It had 7 tables and the kitchen was so small, stacked high with all manner of kitchen utensils, and not enough room for more than one person.
Our first impressions weren’t great, to be honest, but we thought we would give it a go. After all, there were framed certificates on the walls, evidence that the food is exceptional.
We were the only customers when we arrived. But not long after, the place filled up with an Indian family and a group of Indian guys- seriously it was that small! And you know what they say- if the locals come to eat here then it must be good. And we were not disappointed.
We each ordered a vegetarian thali and a couple of vegetarian samosas washed down with a cool Singha beer. Rather than made with fila pastry, the samosas were made of a thicker pastry dipped in ghee. And with the soft potato inside, the texture and the taste was absolutely delicious. The thali as well was scrumptious. Little dishes of rice, dal, vegetable, and yoghurt, accompanied by a popadom and the best nan bread I have had in a while. It took us ages to eat it, we were savouring every bite. After that we were given a couple of traditional Indian desserts. I had a couple of mouthfuls of those but we were seriously stuffed.
I can honestly say, and Mark will agree with me, that this was the best Indian food I have ever had in Thailand. And it was so cheap. The total bill came to 810 baht. Less than £20. It was so good I went back the following week for more of the same.
I totally recommend the Royal India restaurant. Wherever you are in Bangkok it is worth the effort of getting there. And to top it off, Mark wanted to buy some spices so he asked the lady at the restaurant where he could buy them. She, literally, took us by the hand around the corner to the nearest spice shop. Now that is what you call service.
Afterwards we had a wander through Sampeng Market to work off all that food. The market is located down a small alley, on Chakphet Road, and there are stalls on either side selling jewellery, fabrics, souvenirs, snacks, and toys. Most of the stalls sell the same sort of stuff but at a considerably cheaper price than the more touristy areas of Sukhumvit and Banglamphu. And you won’t find the hordes of foreigners that you do elsewhere either. In fact I think I only saw a handful while we meandered through the alleyways. You could spend all day mooching around this area, and pick yourself up some real bargains while you’re at it.
We eventually found ourselves in Chinatown on Yaowarat Road and, by then, time was ticking on and Mark wanted to make his way back to the pier to catch the boat home. We said our goodbyes and I caught a motorcycle taxi to Hua Lamphong MRT station (Bangkok’s underground train service- like the tube or subway) and went to Hemingways on Sukhumvit 14.
At first I thought that the bar’s building had belonged to Ernest Hemingway. But after some research it appears that the connection with the name and the man lies in his liking for enjoying a drink in the many bars of the world. It was actually home to several foreign ambassadors. In any case, the main building, made of rare golden teak, is over 90 years old and is of European style with a green balustrade overlooking a paved garden with trees and a fountain in the middle. It’s a little oasis and it makes you feel that you could be a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the busy road, just 100 yards away. The crowd is mostly expats-relaxing or working on their laptops, and me enjoying my happy hour wine or three, writing about my enjoyable day out with my friend to share with you.