We have a bit of a thing for rivers. I realise that’s a slightly weird opening gambit, but bear with me.
It’s not an active thing, we just always seem to end up hanging out by rivers by happy accident. In London, we lived by the river. In Bangkok, we’re going to live by the river. We’ve also found ourselves hanging out a lot in Bang Rak, which is as you might guess, by the river.
Bang Rak is a quirky little area of Bangkok. The name does literally translate to ‘village of love’, purportedly due to the mix of cultures and people living harmoniously side by side here. The most visible upshot of this melting pot is the amazing range of food available in such a condensed area – even by Bangkok standards the choice and quality is great. Come here hungry.
We were helped in exploring Bang Rak’s food scene initially by signing up for a tour through Bangkok Food Tours. Whilst I’m not here to shamelessly plug businesses (yet), this is a great way to gain a bit of confidence in the sometimes bewildering art of food in Bangkok. A few places I’ll mention were on the tour and they were all great.
The Saphan Taksin BTS station is a good place to start. Exit 3 (to your right from the platform stairs) takes you into the thick of Bang Rak. To your left and in front of you from this exit is a road lined with food and market stalls. A lot of the swankier looking stands seem to cater almost exclusively to tourists so probably expect to pay a bit more from here. We’ve not really given this a go but it’s a decent bet that you can eat better just around the corner.
Decidedly more fun is to be had on the Charoen Krung road, the main road in front of you from the BTS station. It is always heaving and the street vendors clog the pavements rather effectively, selling various combinations of fruit, meat skewers and soups. These smell delicious but it’s not an idyllic spot for a sit down meal. For that, head further down the road, and on the other side under a red awning is Prachak Roasted Duck.
They have been serving roasted Chinese-style duck and pork here since 56 BC (possibly not accurate but it’s been a long time) in a cosy shophouse restaurant. The child-sized plastic chairs and slightly cramped surroundings don’t necessarily scream luxury, but a plate of soft, perfectly roasted duck with crispy skin, doused with a delicious gravy on a bed of rice with a few greens, is a little plate of heaven. Yours, with a drink, for 70 baht (£1.70).
A little further down the same road is Jok Prince, a stand stuffed into an alleyway which it has commandeered for al fresco dining. For film aficionados, Jok is referred to in the seminal Thai documentary, The Hangover 2 as a food for babies and the elderly, and also a description of the main character, who then confounds this stereotype with hilarious consequences. A true classic of the genre. In real life, there is never not a large queue of locals at Jok Prince for their legendary rice porridge with pork, cooked over charcoal and eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By this point you’re in the shadow of the enormous State Tower. The rooftop bar, Sirocco, is featured in the seminal Thai Documentary, The Hangover 2 and is worth a visit for the view, the wildly lavish setting and the cocktails which cost 10 times the price of your duck dinner.
Up is generally a good place to look in Bang Rak. Whereas a lot of central Bangkok is hyper modern, Bang Rak has a real mix of older buildings, including the insta-famous ghost tower beloved by parkour types and daredevils (i.e. not us).
For more architectural fun (wait, come back!), head towards the river and check out the particularly shiny temple, the Assumption cathedral and the mosque all within about three sidestreets of each other. If you follow the cathedral school round to the left you’ll come across one of the exhibits of the Bangkok Art Bienniale in an abandoned port building. There’s also a large golden dog which can only be a good thing.
Carrying on up the Charoen Krung road, after the junction with Silom Road, you’ll see more Thai Muslim places emerge. The rather unimaginatively named Muslim restaurant is a great example (although I’m convinced Google Maps has it in the wrong place – it’s blue and open fronted and right on the main road, easy to spot), serving up a range of curries and treats. Our pick was the quite dreamy chicken massaman:
Expect a bowl to set you back around 40baht (£1).
Apparently Muslim has been going for something like 90 years through the same family. This seems to be a good benchmark in Bangkok in general: old equals good. If a place has survived among the endless carts, restaurants and shophouses of Bangkok for many years they must be doing something right.
Another example of this is found at Home Cuisine, a little further down and opposite the French Embassy . Again this is an amazing little street for old houses – all dilapidated shutters and peeling plaster. A fair few look like they were originally on stilts, a sensible precaution for a flood-prone city.
Home cuisine is another ancient establishment that may have last seen a lick of paint in the 50s. The food is spectacular though. Biryani is the highlight – layers of spice and flavour with a mild heat. It’s closer to what we would see as Indian food but with a definite Thai twist. I dream of this biryani. We splashed out on the mutton version at 160 baht and enough for two to share, as well as a delicious tarka dhal and – that rarest of things in Thailand – bread in the form of an excellent roti for dipping and devouring. Dinner and drinks for two at a whopping 300 baht (£7).
If you have any room left after spending the day feasting, head for Panlee Bakery on your way back to the BTS. Drop in for a warm pandan bun and delight as you bite into a soft, sweet dough, before recoiling at the lurid green custard within. While it looks a bit weird, the creamy coconut and pandan flavour should overcome your doubts.
I’m sure there are tons of great places to eat in Bang Rak – these are just a few to whet the appetite. Let us know any of your top places to eat, drink and be merry!