Maha Chai Road in Bangkok is a great street food destination on it’s own. The street food vendor Jay Fai with a Michelin star, the most famous Pad Thai spot in town, one of the absolutely best and innovative bowls of yen ta fo (fish ball noodles) in Bangkok and plenty of other vendors to search out. It all takes place with the old Bangkok as a background, what Central Bangkok once was before the government decided to start building into Gods own territory. A great bonus is the Buddhist temple complex where you find Loha Prasat, known as the «metal castle» for its 37 iron spires.
It’s a lot easer to get to Maha Chai Road than most people think, and there is no better way to beat the Bangkok traffic then the Express boat system. So, a few times a year I enter the express boat from the Hua Chang pier close to BTS Ratchatewi. I pay my 8 bath for the ticket, Miles Davis release some dopamine in my brain and I’m ready to enjoy the canal view.
A few minutes later I arrive at the end station Phanfa Bridge. I cross the small bridge with the old watch tower (Pom Mahakan) to my left. A five minutes walk away from where the food action takes place. I only have one thing on my mind, to visit one or two of the great spots that I already know and to test a couple of new once. Eat, walk and talk. It’s a good life. I turn Miles off, find a seat and is ready to beat the screaming hunger deep down in my belly.
It’s just after 1 pm. It’s Tuesday, but it could have been any day of the week except Monday (cleaning the streets day). Is the pad thai at Leung Pha Pad Thai any good today. The service can be a bit slow here, but their pad thai with shrimp fat is normally very good. And today is no exception. More shrimp fat and smaller batches when making it are two reasons why I prefer them to Pad Thai Thip Samai just next door.
Opening hours, price and the cuing of tourists in front of Thip Samai are other reasons. (see more on Thip Samai below).
Name: Leung Pha Pad Thai (Also go under the name Pad Thai Loong Pha)
Food: Pad Thai.
Price: B45 for standard version with tofu. The version with shrimp and shrimp fat wrapped in an omelete (pad thai sen chan mun goong) is B80. Most options between 40 and 80-Bath. Extra egg is B10.
Open: Daily 10 am – midnight
Address: 315/1 Thanon Maha Chai, near the corner of Soi Samran Rat
The next on your list after Leung Pha Pad Thai should be Thi Yen Ta Fo, also open lunch time. Yen Ta Fo is normally not a spicy dish, but at Thi Yen Ta Fo it certainly is. Not unbearable in any way, but certainly hot. Thai’s are famous for adding their bellowed chilies to pimp a dish, and that’s exactly what they do here. It certainly separate themselves from any other bowl of Yen Ta Fo I have tasted on my journey to eat my way through Bangkok. To add chilies might be a simple trick, but I have no hesitation in calling it innovation.
It’s a difficult dish to balance and most bowls around town are sweat and flat and tastes like shit. But then you have the wonderful spots around town, serving superb Yen Ta Fo with a fantastic balance of sweat and sour, often with an outspoken garlicky touch from the bitter and deep-fried garlic. You risk fucking up that beautiful balance when adding chopped chilies, but to my surprise it didn’t. It makes the red sauce less outspoken, and with less sweetness, but you do taste it for a second or two. Then it’s tart and spicy and with the garlicky touch to it. Just irresistible.
Name: Thi Yen Ta Fo
Food: Yen Ta Fo
Price: 50 -60 Bath a bowl
Open: Tue – Sun 11 am – 10 pm. Closed Monday.
Address: Its’ a few meters away from Tim House at 337 Maha Chai Road.
This is a good time to take a break from eating, and to stroll around the area. Plenty of temples and other attractions is nearby. I would have prioritized Wat Ratchanaddaram with Loha Prasat and the Giant Swing (Sao Ching Cha) – see more below under Cultural Corner. Don’t forget your water when walking around.
Hopefully, you start to feeling hungry again after some cultural activity. And hopefully, you have booked a table at the famous Jay Fai, the Mozart of the wok. Jay Fai is something you should not miss out on despite her high prices. Jay Fai is acclaimed by food critics. Long before that she was acclaimed by her local patriots who came regularly to appreciate the tasty and fresh seafood served.
Today, you still find food critics here, together with Bangkokiens in their Ferraris and top notch cars occasinally parked street side. And of course expatriates. But the ordinary local working woman and lad has disappeared from the scene, long time ago. Part of that explanation is the prices. But the crab omelet (800+ bath) and the drunken noodles (400+ bath) are worth every bath if you can afford it. And she uses coal and not gas. I wrote, long before she got the Michelin Star, that it would be a crime to not give her one when it was clear that the red guide would start to cover Bangkok.
Name: Jay Fai
Food: Crab omelet, drunken noodles, seafood Rad na, ++
Opening Hours: Sun-Fri 3pm-2am
Address: 327 Maha Chai Rd
Then you should be in for another plate of Pad Thai, and this time it is the famous Thip Samai that should be your choice. They deliver their plates much more efficient than any fast food burger chain I have visited. That said, the cuing starts before opening hours. The original tofu version is my preference here. And to accompany it you should order the bottle of orange juice. Expensive as hell – 150 bath for 1/2 litre. The price of the orange juice can be discussed as it cost three times the price of the pad thai, but the quality is extraordinary. You’ll also realize that orange juice and Pad Thai is a fantastic combo. As always, it’s up to you to dress your pad thai with the condiments on the table. Personally some flakes of chili and a couple of drops of fish sauce is always welcome. It is by no means ready when you get it on your table.
Food wise, both Leung Pha and Thip Samai are good ambassadors for this famous Thai dish, and 25 minutes of cuing will normally get you to a seat at Thip Samai as well. Be aware that the orange juice at Thip Samai can be brought to Leung Pha, and you can skip the cue when buying it at Thip Samai.
While cuing at Thip Samai you should take the opportunity to buy a bag of kanom sai sai from the cart just outside Thip Samai. The meaning of sai sai is put inside. It is made up of coconut and palm sugar and the filling is covered with steamed flour mixed with coconut cream. It is a very traditional dessert used at Thai wedding and ceremonies in ancient times. It is packed by wrapping a banana leaf around it. It set you back 20 bath and is worth all of them, slightly addictive to be honest.
Name: Thip Samai
Food: Pad Thai. Don’t forget to buy their fantastic orange juice
Price: B50 for the original. The version with another protein than tofu will bring the price a bit up. The wrapped omelets version with shrimps is B80.
Open: Daily 5 p.m. – 3 a.m.
Address: 313 Thanon Maha chai, Phra Nakorn
But of course, you need to end your long meal with something sweet. You only need to walk 5 meters to accomplish that as you have a good kanom bueang vendor next to Thip Samai, a thin and crispy snack or dessert. Kanom bueang can be translated as crispy pancakes. It dates back to the Buddha era, but was nearly lost as part of the Thai cuisine. It was rediscovered during the Ayutthaya period of King Narai’s rule mid 17th century. Lady Witchayen, a Japanese lady married to a foreign diplomat, introduced eggs into the cuisine of the Court. Despite the popularly held belief, the filling in the khanom bueang is quite often not coconut cream, but a meringue filling. Fresh coconut is spread on top. There are variations to the crispy pancake as they come in sweet or savoury fillings/toppings such as shredded coconut, chopped scallions or fried eggs / egg yolks etc.
If you’re still hungry after what I would call an extensive food ride, you have the famous Sao Ching Cha area with Dinso road, Mahannop road and Tanao road a short five minutes walk away from Thip Samai. See more details in my article great street food around Sao Ching Cha (Giant Swing).
Click on the fork and knife symbol or the green circles with number 2 inside to get more information.
Loha Prasat and Wat Ratchanaddaram
Meaning Temple of the Royal Niece, the temple was built on request by King Nangklao (Rama III) for the princess granddaughter, Somanass Waddhanawathy, in 1846. The temple is best known for the Loha Prasat (โลหะปราสาท), a multi-tiered structure 36 m high with 37 metal spires, representing the 37 virtues toward enlightenment. It’s the third Loha Prasada (brazen palace) in existence, and is inspired by two similar temples in India and Sri Lanka. Loha Prasat was at some point hidden behind an old movie theatre named Chaloem Thai, but the theatre was demolished in 1989 to improve the scenery along Ratchanatdaram Road.
Bangkok doesn’t really miss majestic temples, but some of them really stand out with their unique architectural identity. Despite being quite near Khaosan Road and next to the well known Wat Saket, the superb Loha Prasat is not to often talked about. But it should be. In 2005, the temple was submitted to UNESCO for consideration as a future World Heritage Site, highlighting the historical importance of the temple. It’s located on the grounds of Wat Ratchanaddaram and is often referred to as the «Metal Case».
The temple is erected in a very unusual way with multiples concentric square levels built on geometrically aligned pillars. A relic of lord Buddha is kept at the highest level.
Loha Prasat is by the way the Indian name dating from the time of Buddha, and is referring to a multi-storey and square based construction with metal spires originally used as Monk’s quarters. The two temples in India and Sri Lanka is not existing anymore, so the one in Bangkok is the only one still standing.
Name: Wat Ratchanatdaram and Loha Prasat
Open: 8 am – 5 pm. Be aware that Loha Prasat open 9 am.
Phone: +66 2 221 0903
Admission: 20 Bath
Address: Maha Chai Road
The Giant Swing (or Sao Ching Cha) is not only a marker on the map when it comes to delicious food. It’s also a religious structure were teams of young men was swung 15 meters up in the air to catch a bag filled with gold or coins with their teeth. Due to the high number of fatal accidents, the ceremony was banned in 1935. But until then, a bench was suspended between the two wooden red pillars during an annual Brahmin ceremony in Honor of the Hindu god Shiva.
Sao Ching Cha is to be found in the Phra Nakhon district in Bangkok, located in front of Wat Suthat temple. It was constructed back in 1784, in front of the Devasathan shrine by King Rama I. During the reign of Rama II, the swing ceremony was put on hold as the swing had become structurally damaged by lightning. But in 1920 the swing was renovated and moved to its current location in order to make space for a gas plant, and the ceremony was started again until it was permanently banned in 1935.
Wat Suthat just behind the Giant Swing is one of the oldest and also most impressive temples in Bangkok. It features an elegant chapel with sweeping roof, magnificent wall murals and exquisite hand-carved teakwood door panels.
It was commissioned by King Rama I (1782-1809), to shelter the 13th Century bronze Buddha image transported from Sukhotai. The completion was done during King Rama III’s reign (1824-51). It’s located in the Old City area, meaning it’s easy to combine a visit here with the Emerald Buddha, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
The Golden Mount at Wat Saket is built on an artificial man-made hill, and is also the temple’s most well-known landmark. It’s also a sacred pilgrimage site during the weeklong worshipping period in November. You need to climb the 344 steps that encircle the chedi to get to the top. The mount has a somewhat unusual history. King Rama III started to build it in the early nineteenth century, with a purpose of building a large chedi on the site to mark the entrance to the city. But the soil couldn’t support the large structure and it collapsed before completion.
The next Rama in line, number IV, decided to build a much smaller chedi, housing a Buddha relic, on top of the mud and brick mound from the collapse. But it doesn’t stop there as Rama V decided to participate in building the structure. He rebuilt the pagoda towards the end of the nineteenth century. A relic of the Buddha was brought from Sri Lanka and placed in the chedi. The surrounding concrete walls were added in the 1940s to stop the hill from eroding. The modern Wat Saket you see today was built in the early 20th century of Carrara marble. Although the top of the mount has been encased in concrete, the base is still a jumble of bricks and plaster overgrown with trees and bushes. You will see numerous plaques and shrines with Buddha images to pay respect to departed people from vegetarians living in the area. The reason might be that in the late 18th century, Wat Saket served as the capital’s crematorium and the dumping ground for some 60,000 plague victims.
Anyway, when approaching the top, don’t forget to take note of the wall of bells and panoramas of historic Bangkok. Also, don’t forget the 360 degree panoramic view of the city from the rooftop terrace. You see the Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the old Grand Palace to the west. You will also see the tips of the Democracy Monument and the peaks of Wat Ratchanadda. The Rama VI bridge with its golden threads of suspension cables can be seen to the northeast. The tall towers of the business district is to your east.
Admission: 20 Bath for foreigners to enter the building and to access the roof top terrace. Free entrance for Thai people.
Open: 8 am – 5 pm
Best time to visit: In November during the blooming of the frangipani trees. November is also the time for the enormous annual temple fair, Loy Krathong, at Wat Saket, featuring a candlelight procession up Phu Khao Thong to the chedi. During this week it’s open until midnight.