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.
Point of orientation
Sao Ching Cha is a fascinating area to search out authentic and delicious street food, with plenty of vendors in a rather concentrated area. Dinso road, Mahannop road to the left of the city hall and Tanao road, running in parallel with Dinso road and connected with Mahannop road is where to search for your slurps and bites (see map below).
Dinso road is running from the Democracy Monument to the Giant Swing, linking shady trees and passing by Bangkok’s City Hall. It’s an atmospheric thoroughfares, especially during dinner time. It’s walking distance to hang outs like Khao San Road or Rambuttri Village, but far enough away to shake of the masses of party focused back-packers. You certainly don’t feel like a fish in a steam of tourists, as it’s still a rather Thai dominated spot on the city map. When you get to the Giant Swing, either by foot or by taxi, head for the massive building with a large elephant symbol in the middle of it. That is Bangkok City Hall and your fixed point for orientation.
All of the restaurants below are within walking distance of each other. The best time to visit the area is in the early evening, when the weather is cool and most of the vendors are open.
The food is time tested and approved with chefs who has dished up the same plate or bowl for 20, 30 and even 80 or 90 years. Classic shophouses with an open front towards the street is the most common concept. The food is mostly classic Bangkok style focusing on central Thai cooking, but you find food from most regions of Thailand. The Chinese influence is also present (Sino-Thai).
Let me start out with 188 Dinso road. Most noodle vendors use meatballs from large factories, but Lan Shuan Shim makes her own. What you get is delicious noodle soups, either with homemade pork balls or fish balls, just a few doors down from the Mahannop road sign. Another popular dish is pork stew in red sauce (Moo Toong Namdaeng) and the Duck Khao Tom that is served in the evenings. The name Lan Shuan Shim, indicate that they have the Shell Shuan Shim award (the symbol with the green rice bowl). They are open from 10 a.m – 3:30 p.m, then again 5 p.m – 10:30 p.m.
Few dishes and even fewer soups, if any, are as good as Tom Yam Kung, the famous Thai shrimp soup. Unfortunately there are quite some pitfalls in making it. Mitr Ko Yuan avoids them all. The soup is delicious and tasty with a good acidity base. One of the better versions in town.
Mitr Ko Yuan at 186 Dinso road, and next to Lan Shuan Shim above, opened their doors in 1966. Despite their popularity they have never expanded. And they have never changed. The hand-written menu from the opening year is still posted on the wall. And to be honest the prices haven’t changed that much either. It’s gone from 10-15 Bath a dish to 60-80 Bath a dish in a period of 50 years. That’s really not a lot.
They also have a lovely stir fried kale with crispy pork, but don’t just jump on to it if you’re teethes have been on duty for a life time. But like the Tom Yam Kung, it has distinct flavors, with a bit of saltiness from the soy sauce as a base. The kale is fresh and is only given a quick stir in the wok.
Mitr Ko Yuan have an excellent chef and is using quality ingredients all the way in it’s preparation. I have over the years tested many of the dishes on the menu, and I don’t think you go wrong with whatever you order. Mir Ko Yuan will arrange a good party for your taste buds. See Excellence at Mitr Ko Yuan for full review.
After some noodles, keep walking in the same direction until you get to Tien Song Ped Yang at 168-172 Dinso Rd. A great opportunity to dig in on their fabulous bbq-duck ( priority here).
Other specialties includes red pork and crispy pork, egg noodle soup with wonton, Chinese dumplings and dim sum, coffee and butter toast. And fresh milk. A reason for many Thai’s to show up as high quality fresh milk is far from something you find on every corner in town.
They also have a charcoal bbq in front of the shop where sticks of pork satay are sizzling for a snack on the go (a bit dry and not may favorite). This is a rather big restaurant, but the atmosphere is welcoming and you can see the food being prepared. Many of the dishes are inspired from Chinese cooking as you understand from the name of the shop, Tien Song. Ped yang means bbq-duck. They are open from 8 a.m – 8:30 p.m every day of the week.
A few doors down from Tien Song, at 88 Dinso road, you find Chaiyo. “Cheers” would be the english translation of Chaiyo. They have been here since 1986, serving one of the better chicken on boiled rice (khao man gai) there is in Bangkok. A statement in itself when you know that khao man gai is one of the more common street food dishes in Bangkok. They also have the fried version (khao man gai tort).
Chaiyo is a family business were everybody is involved. I highly recommend to order their specialty “Prik Khing“, a mix of finely minced chili and ginger. It really makes a difference. Be aware that you have to ask for it. A black soy sauce comes with it. Mix the prik khing with the soy sauce and pour it over your chicken or dip your chicken in it. It brings out wonderful flavors.
Krua Apsorn’s branch on Dinso Road, just south of the Democracy Monument, is more than just crabs. And it isn’t street food, but a full fledged restaurant. But it’s one of few restaurants that manage to have 40 different dishes on the menu and still come out of the battle with supreme quality. At Krua Apsorn you see City Hall office workers joining a few backpackers during lunch time and early dinner hours in a dining space that is set between large windows.
Most dishes are seafood based and rich in taste. Crab meat mixed with yellow curry and egg, or crab meat mixed with yellow chillies and green beans are house specialties. One of those will set you back around 400 B (crabs are expensive). But yes, it’s worth it. Most dishes are in the area of 100 baht.
The focus is on comfort food from Central Thailand. Very few people, if any, will struggle with spiciness as most dishes are on the mild side. But of course there are exceptions, like the stir-fried mussels with basil, or the hoi malang pad chaa, that is served with plenty of red chillies, holy basil, wild ginger (krachai), lemongrass and fresh peppercorn.
Like most places they don’t separate between appetizers and main courses so it all comes in one go, or when the kitchen is ready. Krua Apsorn have a good atmosphere and is maybe more of a brunch or lunch spot as it closes 8 pm. For dinner guests I would suggest to be there no later than 6:30 as they might run out of some dishes. See Krua Apsorn – It’s crab time once again for the full review.
As you probably already have understood, you can’t do the area in one go. A stay-over isn’t a bad idea for the foodies coming here. Anyway, let’s continue the journey. Take a deep breath and walk back to Mahannop Road. Or take a walk towards the Democracy Monument for a short break and some air before coming back. Most vendors offer a unique specialty they have spent years to adjust to what must be close to perfection. You can safely eat anywhere along Mahannop road, but there are some vendors you shouldn’t miss out on.
The red pork (moo daeng) at Niyom Pochana which will be on your right, just a few doors down from the Mahannop sign. It’s a constant stream of locals gathering to eat here or for takeaway, so it’s high volume. And all for a good reason, the red pork is absolutely delicious. The service is also very fast.
You’re plate will normally be a mix of different cuts of pork (crispy pork, bbq pork, etc). It comes with a hard boiled egg, some rice and a rich gravy with a wonderful sweetness. Everything is prepared right in front of you. You find it at 109 Mahannop Road. Look for the green sign, the Thai flags and the red & blue tables on the sidewalk.
After you have digged in on the pork, keep walking the street and look to your left for Cafe Boran and the lady offering traditional Thai tea and coffee. She offers a tasty variety of choices and her shop is always busy, often with a line of people waiting. Notice the laminated Thai-language newspapers on the wall praising the coffee. I suggest you order “Cafe Boran, Yen“, which means traditional Thai coffee, iced. And sweet. Enjoy watching her prepare it using the Thai method of steeping and pouring. You find them at 142 Mahannop road.
If you continue along Mahannop road for another 100 meters, you walk streight on to a distinctive Chinese temple (shrine). The road in front of it is Tanao road, another street with plenty of options. Take a left here and you will immediatly have Gai Yang Boran to your right. The thing to dig in her is their lovely Thai barbequed chicken, Som Tam (spicy pappaya salad) and sticky rice. On the walls you see confirmations of visits from the Royal family.
Continue for another 30 seconds, just after the Bangkok Bank branch, and you see Kao Neeo Korpanich. Very well-known among local residents (and in business since 1932), Korpanich offers the paragon of Thai sticky rice with mango. Khao Niaow Mamuang (mango with sticky rice), at Korpanich is legendary. The claim is that their recipe comes from the Royal Palace kitchen, which is where the grandmother of the family owning Korpanich once worked. That is not so important. What’s important is that they only use the finest mangoes and combine that with coconut cream from Chumphon Province.
Walk a bit further down the same side of the street and you’ll find Radna 40 Year Recipe, and a few doors down from that is Bangkok’s most famous husband-and-wife Thai-donut-duo. They have been featured in many TV-shows and magazines. A fact difficult to escape when looking at the walls of this small shop.
Thai donuts (Pa Tong Ko) is a street food snack most Thai’s take seriously, and you will not be disappointed at Pa Tong Ko Sawoy. A unique sauce sold with the donuts, a greenish custard made from pandan, is a delicious adding. It has an earthy, sweet and rich aroma and flavor. The pandan custard is a common dipping sauce for fresh breads of all sorts, and also with waffles. Sweetened condensed milk is popular alternative.
Also within eyesight of Kao Neeo Korpanich is a small road called “Preang Pootorn”. As you stand in front of Korpanich looking out, right across the street and slightly to the left, you will see the start of this road. Enter Preang Pootorn and look to your right for “Chotechitr” which specializes in traditional Mee Krob, and jumbo prawns in curry. They have been in her for more than 90 years. I find them to be a bit unstable in quality, and I have stopped ordered anything else than the two mention dishes. The woman is a real character, but I’m afraid on the more brusk an unpleasant side. There is nothing extenuating with this woman, but on good days her food can be fantastic.
Sao Ching Cha is one of few areas not to be missed by those with the slightest interest in good food. Plenty of vendors in walking distance, excellent food, huge variety, good prices and a rather nice atmosphere on top of it. Remember to go there on an empty stomach before you start digging in.
Food: Food from most regions of Thailand, with a focus on central Thailand.
Open: Some are open in the morning, quite some for lunch and a lot in the evenings.
Address: Your fixed point of orientation should the City Hall. Dinso road, Mahannop road and Tanao road (small parallel street to Dinso) are the central roads. All can be covered by foot.
How to get there: It’s not centrally located in respect of Metro or Skytrain. Taxi is your best option from down town Bangkok. Bus alternatives to Dinso Road are 10, 12, 19, 42, 89, 96. Boat taxi to Panfa Leelard and a 10 minutes walk is an alternative, especially during rush hours.
The cultural corner – Wat Suthat
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 interior architecture is impressive, a must-see after you have done the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The cloistered courtyard, surrounding the main chapel, boasts 156 Buddha images along the outer walls and four entry gates individually hand-carved with intricate details. The wall frescoes inside the main chapel, detailing the previous 24 incarnations of the Buddha, employed the Western painting technique with perspective science, which is unique to this temple. Lining the outer walls are Chinese stone sculptures and eight-tier hexagonal pagodas, believed to have been shipped as ballast with the Chinese trade junks.
Open: Daily 8:30 am – 9 pm
Location: Bamrung Muang Road, Old City (Rattanakosin), opposite Bangkok City Hall