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Thread: Exploring Phahurat
29-03-08, 11:02 PM #1
Popularly known as Little India, the neighbourhood offers a wide variety of cuisines and other delights
March 29, 2008
Bangkok's Phahurat district, with its century-plus history as one of the city's focal points, is a choice destination for wandering around and exploring. It is bustling with street life, and every part of it contains evidence of its history and development.
Actually, Phahurat is the name of only a single, short street in the neighbourhood. But since one of the city's original commercial districts was located at one end, people began using the name of the street to refer to the entire surrounding area.
The area from the end of Phahurat Road to Ong Ang Canal, called Saphan Han, got its name from a local feature that is long gone. During the reign of King Rama IV there was a wooden bridge across the canal that was supported at its midpoint by a pole that allowed it to rotate to let boats pass. The Thai word for "turn" is han and saphan han is Thai for turning bridge.
Around the time of King Rama VII's reign, Saphan Han was the centre for the sale of imported fruits like apples and pears. They were extremely expensive, so only the very wealthy could afford them. Today the vendors in the area specialise in preserved fruits and Thai-style toffee made from sweetened milk and food colouring.
Running along the other bank of the canal is a narrow lane that was the site of Thailand's first tobacco factories. Tobacco leaves would be delivered to a row of shophouses there where they would be cut into fine shreds and wrapped in banana leaves, packaged and sent all over the country for sale. Today only two or three shops remain that process tobacco this old-fashioned way.
Adjoining this area is Bangkok's biggest cloth market. In the past, Bangkok residents would go there to select fabrics and then take them to a tailor or dressmaker. It remains a centre for the sale of fabrics and textiles today, and the cloth market forms the heart of the Phahurat neighbourhood.
In the old days on Phahurat Road there was a huge market called Talat Ming Mueang. It took the form of a large square bordered on all sides by shophouses. The open area in the middle was covered by a roof. The shops there were occupied by families offering various kinds of services like tailoring and barbering. The market was demolished years ago to be replaced by the Old Siam Plaza.
On one side of Phahurat is Chakkraphet Road, which is the location of Wang Burapha, one of the most fashionable parts of the city half a century ago. Its three cinemas, the King, the Grand and the Queen, showed only the latest Hollywood films, and surrounding them were clothing shops that specialised in imported brands like McGregor, Esquire and GQ. There were also numerous bookshops and a shop that sold electric lights and lamps in the latest styles. Wang Burapha was the place were young people walked around showing off their clothes and meeting friends during the 1950s and early 1960s.
At the end of Phahurat Road farthest from Ong Ang canal is Tri Phet Road, where the city's oldest school, Suan Kularb Wittayalai, is located. Originally the school was built as decreed by King Rama V, and was constructed at the back of the royal palace as a place where the children of civil servants could study.
In 1910, the final year of King Rama V's reign, it was moved to Tri Phet Road. The king visited it during its construction. When it was completed, it became the first school in the Kingdom open to boys from the general public. Before that, they would study at Buddhist temples.
Next to Suan Kularb School, King Rama VI ordered the construction of Phor Chang Wittayalai, Thailand's first arts school. Its opening ceremony was held on January 7, 1913. Both schools are still flourishing.
Across the road from Phor Chang Wittayalai is the Phahurat fresh market. The rear of the market is occupied by Indians (Sikhs), who operate a row of low shophouses. In front of each of them is a low, wooden table at which the Indian housewife might be seen sitting and peeling shallots or sorting legumes.
It is traditional to have a wooden panel inside the entrance to the house that blocks the inside view for passers-by. Hanging on the inside of the panel will be cooking pots, with the bottoms facing out. They are all burnished to a high shine, testifying to the cleanliness of the household and inviting comparison with the lustre of the pots in other homes.
Nearby is a Sikh temple, located above the district's commercial buildings. Because so many Indians live in the neighbourhood, and there is a temple, a cloth market and shops that sell Indian goods, it came to be called Little India. In later years, all of the private homes became shops.
Phahurat still contains many of the old features and attractions. In Saphan Han there is the cloth market, gemstone dealers and shops selling all kinds of sweets and preserved fruits.
Wang Burapha is no longer a showplace of the new and fashionable, but the area near Tri Phet Road, which used to be full of shops selling goods of all kinds, is now the city's major centre for audio equipment and parts, with many shops offering repair services.
Wherever there is so much activity there are bound to be food shops and restaurants, and these make up one of the district's attractions.
The first thing to try is khao kaeng, or curry and rice. On Ban Maw Road, about 80 metres from the Ban Maw intersection heading in the direction of Pak Khlong Talat, is the Mae Seng food shop, which offers many delicious accompaniments to rice. Among them are phat pla chon kap khrueang kaeng (a local fish fried with curry spices), kaeng mu kap phak (pork curry with vegetables) and kaeng khio wan mu (a spicy, coconut cream-based pork curry). The shop opens at noon on the dot, and even if you arrive slightly before you won't be served. It's closed on weekends.
There is a shop that specialises in ba-mee pet toon (wheat-flour noodles with Chinese-style stewed duck) called Jee Jang Waw across from the old Queen Theatre in Wang Burapha. The duck is stewed to perfect tenderness and is very tasty. In addition to the duck noodles, the shop also offers koy sim mee (crisp-fried noodles topped with chicken in gravy) and kui tio rad na nuea (rice noodles topped with beef in sauce).
Not far from this shop is a narrow alley that runs from Wang Burapha to New Road. A short distance in, on the right, is the Khao Mu Daeng Nai Hui shop, which sells pork with crisp crackling, roast pork, the sweet Chinese sausage called kun chieng, boiled pork liver and the excellent sauce they serve on their red pork with rice dish.
A fine Indian restaurant called Royal India is set in a small alley branching off from Chakkraphet Road, roughly across from the India Emporium, a department shop that was damaged by fire some time ago and is now about to reopen. They serve excellent tandoori chicken, chicken masala, dal and flatbreads, including nan stuffed with cheese, garlic or onions.
In addition to the savoury dishes, this restaurant also makes and sells many kinds of Indian sweets, all on display in a glass case in front of the entrance.
This is only a small sampling of Phahurat's dining possibilities.
Although time as taken away some of the neighbourhood's old glamour, there are many attractive things that have come in to replace it. Whatever time of day you visit, there will be plenty to fascinate and tempt you.
30-03-08, 03:45 PM #2
Re: Exploring Phahurat
A friend of mine lived in her family’s bookshop (4-story shophouse) in Wang Burapha, around 100 meters far from Phahurat, staying overnight in her place was our fun time during 1970’s. Plenty of delicious food, and to complete our fun activities in this area we liked to see Indian movies and Kung Fu movies in the theater which located close to Central Department Store (the first store). After the movies we had late night meal (a large variety of food, old-styled ice cream, fresh and preserved fruits, Thai and Chinese desserts), then walked back with food take home, we liked to say “eat and shop until we drop whenever wandering around in this area”.
Those days, quality and taste of food were great with acceptable prices, later many famous food vendors had moved out, when I went back I couldn’t find many tasty foods I used to eat. Currently, these areas seem to have more street vendors and so crowded, not enough space to walk comfortably, well... just complaining, it might be tiresome of this adventurous shopping due to my age .
Anyway, this area is still the center of a wide variety of merchandises and food, also I pay less compared to the other areas and get cheaper if I find the right shop.
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