Bangkok today is a thriving, modern metropolis, but have you explored the origins of this capital city, which began about 240 years ago on the east bank of the Chaophraya River?
During the early Rattanakosin period, Bangkok’s prosperity began around the Grand Palace. King Rama V then commissioned the construction of Ratchadamnoen Avenue, inspired by the boulevards of Europe. This encouraged the city’s development, including shops, hotels, and cinemas, as well as a wide range of groceries, food and produce suppliers, and restaurants. Banglumphu became one of the largest Thai food centres, while Tha Tian was the focus for dried fish and seafood traders. Pak Khlong Talad was and remains a major trading centre for fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers from across the country.
Although often called an “island city”, Rattanakosin is not a naturally formed island in the middle of the river. It was formed during the reign of King Rama I, who ruled from 1782 to 1809. To fortify the capital, a series of canals and moats created the inner, middle, and outer sectors of the city; taken together, from the Grand Palace to the outer canals, these form Rattanakosin Island.
Today, Rattanakosin is ideal for anyone who wants to walk through Bangkok’s heritage while discovering tasty dishes around every corner. Here are some scrumptious spots where you can grab a bite as you explore Rattanakosin Island, from Tha Tian to Ratchadamnoen, Tha Phra Athit to Banglumpu, or the Ghost Gate to the Giant Swing.
Jay Fai is easy to find as you walk around the old capital’s streets. (© Shutterstock)
Jay Fai (One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
You haven’t truly experienced Rattanakosin Island until you’ve visited an iconic street vendor like Jay Fai. The aromas from her traditional charcoal-fired stoves have been enticing foodies to her stall since 1977. Jay Fai, with her signature goggles and hat protecting her from that heat, became the face of Bangkok’s famous street food scene, serving crab omelettes for 800 to 1,000 THB. Foreigners and Thais alike queue for hours to sample her wares, and not just the crab omelettes. The menu extends to drunken seafood noodles, tom yam seafood, and dry congee.
Location: 327 Mahachai Road, Samran Rat, Bangkok.
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday, 9 am to 8 pm.
K. Panich (Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
Mango and sticky rice is a favourite summertime dessert in Thailand. It’s a delicious combination, where the seasonal ripe mango is the star, its lightly tart sweetness perfectly complemented by the sweet and salty richness of the sticky rice. K. Panich has been serving sweet tooths for since 1927 and is one of the few places that sells mango and sticky rice all year. They also offer sticky rice topped with custard, dried fish, or shrimp, as well as khao tom mud (sticky rice with filling steamed in banana leaf) and, when it’s in season, durian and sticky rice. The restaurant uses “snake fang” glutinous rice from Mae Chan in Chiang Rai and coconuts straight from the seaside regions such as Chumphon for the delectable coconut cream that is the heart of their sticky rice.
Location: 431-433 Tanao Road, Sao Ching Cha, Bangkok.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 7 am to 6 pm.
Methavalai Sorndaeng, a classic at the Democracy Monument. (© Methavalai Sorndaeng)
Methavalai Sorndaeng (One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide 2022)
Methavalai Sorndaeng is located opposite the historic Democracy Monument along the roundabout. The historic feel of the neighbourhood extends into the restaurant, with its classic furnishings, staff in traditional Thai outfits, and live Thai music from the 80s. But it’s the authentic Thai food, recognised with one MICHELIN Star four years in a row, that has been attracting diners for some 60 years. Pomelo salad, mi grob, khanom chin nam prik, krathong thong, and crab curry with climbing wattle are a few signature dishes you won’t want to miss.
Location: 78/2 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, Bowon Niwet, Bangkok.
Hours: Daily, 10:30 am to 10 pm.
Phad thai with shrimp on banana leaves harkens back to how food was served in the past. (© Pad Thai Fai Talu)
Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu (Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
Those looking for a little extra something in their phad thai should head straight for Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu. At the front is a food cart where you can see the flames shooting up around the pan as the phad thai is being prepared, hence its name (fai ta lu translates loosely to “piercing flame”). Inside, this traditional shophouse is lit up by flashy neon, presenting the phad thai dishes under a new light, literally and figuratively. Phad thai aficionados will discover interesting and delicious variations on this classic dish, like Pad Thai Fai Ta Lu Khod, with grilled Berkshire pork collar. Then there’s the phad thai topped with crispy pork, served with sauces including mustard, dark soy, and chilli. Or you could go with the phad thai with large, succulent prawns that have been marinated in plum sauce. All are served old-school, on banana leaves.
Location: 115/5 Dinso Road, Bowon Niwet, Bangkok.
Hours: Daily, 10 am to 8 pm.
Full of history and tales of Prince Chakrabongse, this reservations-only restaurant is worth at least one visit. (© Chakrabongse Villa)
Chakrabongse Dining (Recommended, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
Chakrabongse Dining offers delicious food and incredible river views of the Temple of Dawn, or Wat Arun. The restaurant is located within the Chakrabongse Palace (or Tha Tian Palace) complex, the residence of His Royal Highness Field Marshal Prince Chakrabongse Bhuvanadh, Prince of Phitsanulok, or Prince Chakrabongse. The restaurant serves royal Thai food from Prince Chakrabongse’s era, like crab meat curry with betel leaves, premium beef massaman curry, winged bean salad with egg, and deep-fried sea bass fillets with Thai herbs. Lunch service is open for groups of 10 or more, while dinner starts for parties of two. Both services have a limit of 20 guests.
Location: 396/1 Maha Rat Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Bangkok.
Hours: Advanced bookings only
Rongros (Recommended, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
This converted garage is now a bastion of Thai flavours, with comfortable seating inside as well as rooftop dining for food with a fantastic river view. Home-style Thai cooking featuring locally sourced ingredients, such as Rongros shrimp fried rice, green curry with roti, dried fish (from Saraburi) over watermelon, spicy fried morning glory salad, and Si Racha pineapple fried rice.
Location: 392/16 Maha Rat Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Bangkok.
Hours: Monday to Sunday, 11 am to 10 pm.
A simply delicious chicken and rice. (© Sae Phun)
Sae Phun (Bib Gourmand, MICHELIN Guide Thailand 2022)
This chicken and rice restaurant has been serving its classic flavours along Mahannop Road for 95 years. Locally, it’s known as Lok Nga Tin’s Chicken Rice, as it was started when Lok Sae Phun emigrated from Guangdong to Chinatown and brought his recipes with him. He would take his food cart and sell chicken rice from Chinatown to Saladaeng. You may also want to try the chicken rice with Chinese sausage and fried egg, another popular choice among patrons.
Location: 112 Mahannop Road, Sao Ching Cha, Bangkok.
Hours: Thursday to Tuesday, 8 am to 2 pm.
Food walk, anyone? (© Sunantha Maidee/ MICHELIN Guide Thailand)
MICHELIN invites you to explore Rattanakosin Island
The Rattanakosin Island area has plenty to keep your appetite satisfied, day or night. This includes an appetite for learning about Thai history and heritage. The National Museum Phra Nakhonhas a Rattanakosin exhibit, featuring interactive displays that provide a self-guided journey through the city’s history. Not far from the museum is Wat Ratchanatdaram (home to the one-of-a-kind Loha Prasat, or metal castle), the Giant Swing, Wat Suthat, and Wat Bowon.
There’s also the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, home to the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, one of the best collections of Thai textiles and fabrics. Stop by the Wat Pho and Museum Siam. For a more up-close and personal experience, as well as some local shopping opportunities, you could visit the communities around Tha Tian and Pak Khlong Talad. Anyone with a checklist of iconic locations in Thailand will find themselves here at Rattanakosin Island.
Hero image: © Shutterstock