Bangkok’s Little India, also called Phahurat, is a playground for designers, crafters, and people who love to DIY. Located in near Chinatown and the Grand Palace, the neighourhood dominated by residents of South Asian descent is a treasure trove of materials and fabrics, including satin, chiffon, sequins, and lace, as well as ready-to-wear saris and other garments, such as wedding dresses.
Phahurat market simply inspires creativity, not just with its sheer variety and volume of textiles, but also with its culture, expressed in cuisine, languages, and other types of heritage businesses. So, it is no surprise that I too, love doing my sourcing there. As a Phahurat frequenter, I have learnt how to navigate this generations-old market strategically and how to have a good time there too.
Here are some of my tips, tricks, and recommendations if you are new to Little India.
Tip: Use the MRT and proceed on foot.
There are multiple ways a taxi might approach Phahurat, which can make it confusing to mentally map out Phahurat or to return to the same store. Instead, I like to travel to Phahurat by public transportation and by foot to make my own mental marks about where things are. You can take the MRT to Sam Yot Station, exit from Exit 3, and begin your journey from there.
Where to stay? Cacha Bed Heritage Hotel for a cheap and historic stay.
From Sam Yot Exit 3 towards the temporarily closed, orange-colored Miramar Hotel, Cacha Bed Heritage Hotel will be on the right-hand side. This small boutique accommodation is actually a great place to stay the night that also won’t break the bank. The building itself carries a lot of history, once belonging to multinational conglomerate B. Grimm as its Pratu Samyot Store. It was later renovated into a three-storey building named Gagananga after the prince who owned it and then a Japanese hospital, before turning into Srichand Pharmacy, the proprietors behind the famous Srichand powder and cosmetics. Today, the building stands as Cacha Bed Heritage Hotel, which has a fantastic rooftop and charming Kaja Gallery Cafe on the ground floor. Don’t forget to have a look at the antique floor tiles of the Gallery Café, they are beautiful!
Tip: Be a day person.
You don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn for Little India, however, do note that most businesses in the area shut promptly at 5:30pm. Give yourself enough time in the day to explore and to not rush before closing time.
Recommendation: Khlong Ong An.
This history-rich khlong, or canal, can be found across the street from Cacha hotel. The canal was initially dug during King Rama I times. King Rama I, or King Phra Budda Yodfa Chulalok, had ordered for the expansion of the capital, and as khlongs were the roads of the past where civilization gathered, Ong An became a vital one, full of livelihood. In modern times, canals have lost their significance to roads, however, Ong An was recently revamped and given a second life, now attracting locals and tourists alike with stylized boutiques, murals, and many interesting activities on the weekends.
Tip: Sun Protection & move free handed
Even during rainy season like now the chances of a sunny day are high. As Phahurat exploration tends to be an hours-long experience with lots of walking outdoors, it’s always a good idea to bring along a hat and sunglasses, in addition to wearing the essential sunscreen. My hat of choice for the occasion is the Vizor because it has a 10 cm width brim and can be easily folded. I also would opt for the Alessia bag, as it can truly hold many essentials, including sunglasses, a small notebook, my purse, my phone, airpods and make-up. Wear it around the waist with the Lucia belt for a fashionable fanny pack.
Recommendation: Camphor powder at the Chinese pharmacy opposite Phahurat road.
Don’t miss one of Bangkok’s oldest Chinese pharmacies, where they still manufacture and sell natural camphor powder—smelling like Tiger Balm and some Thai spas. One of the shop owners, Khun Sombat, shared with me the many uses of this versatile product. Camphor powder can be packed into small bags and put in clothing drawers to maintain freshness or have nice aroma. It can also be used for a footbath ritual, be put directly into a bath, or be used as a body scrub, making for a great souvenir to bring back from Thailand to your friends and family.
Tip: Bring a maxi bag.
Let’s face it, you’ll be doing a lot of shopping at Phahurat and from a multitude of stores. A maxi bag is essential, not only because we don’t want to encourage the consumption of plastic bags, but also because it’s simply better to put all your day’s spoils in one stylish and comfy bag, rather than wield a bunch of random shopping bags on your wrists. My maxi bag of choice is the Sandy bag. It’s sturdy, spacious, handwoven from organic cotton, can fit yards and yards of material, but also has little zipped compartments inside for my valuables.
Tip: Dress comfortably and light.
I love wearing the Yolanda shirt dress for Little India discoveries, it is comfy-chic and can be layered on a pair of skinny jeans or a pair of loose linen trousers. Wear it belted or non-belted, the choice is all yours!
Feeling peckish? Do not miss Royal India restaurant.
Part of the Little India experience is the food. If you want to treat yourself to authentic and delicious Indian food and sweets, head to Royal India, one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Bangkok, located on Chakkraphet Road. Look for the yellow “Royal India Restaurant” signage opposite of Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine, then turn left and enter a small passage to the restaurant. The must-orders on the menu here include the delicious garlic naan, Tandoori roti, and butter chicken. For sweets, don’t miss out on the Gulab Jamum, my favorite Rasmalai dessert. For Paneer lovers, do not forget to buy it at the Royal India counter before heading home!