Sala Daeng is a short road that runs between Sathorn and Silom and, more generally, the name of the area around this road. In Thai, Sala Daeng means “red pavilion”, a historical reference to the red roof that at one time covered a local train station. This train depot no longer exists, having been replaced by the modern Skytrain station.
Like much of Bangkok, the Sala Daeng section of the city was at one time royal land. In 1925, King Rama VI set aside 140 acres of this land to create Lumpini Park, Bangkok’s answer to NYC’s Central Park. His statue stands in front of Lumpini, directly across Rama IV road from the old train station. During the cooler winter months, the Bangkok Symphony performs its Sunday evenings concerts at this park’s gazebo. The park is also home to the large, scary-looking monitor lizards.
Sala Daeng covers about 125-150 acres, and although my apartment (point A on map below) is across the street from this area, I nevertheless consider it to be my neighborhood. When I need to see a doctor or a dentist, I simply cross Sathorn Road and walk to the BNH hospital. When I need to buy groceries, I head to the Tops Market in the recently renovated Silom Complex directly outside the Sala Daeng BTS station (point D). When I go out to eat, more often than not I head into this area that is teeming with restaurants.
Let me walk you around the neighborhood. We first need to cross the eight lanes of traffic on Sathorn. While there is a pedestrian bridge that spans the roadway, it is typically quicker and easier to wait for a break in the traffic and then just walk across. Motorists and motorcyclists alike will adjust their speed when they see people crossing, so it is much safer than it might appear. Once across, we turn left and head to Soi Convent, the first street that we come to.
There are several religious institutions on Soi Convent. Christ Church, an Anglican church, sits on the corner of Sathorn and Convent (point B on map above). Christ Church was founded in 1861 and its original building was located on the banks of the Chao Phraya. In 1904, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) provided the church with land on Convent Road on which to build a new church; it opened for worship the following year. In 1972, Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, and Princess Anne attended services at Christ Church.
The BNH hospital is next to Christ Church. Formerly called the Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital, this facility was proposed to Rama V by the British Consul in 1897 as a non-profit institution that would provide health care to expatriates. The King provided a charter and a temporary facility was opened in 1898. In 1901, Rama VI provided two acres of land on Convent Road and funds so that Thais could also get health care from the Bangkok Nursing Home. The current hospital building, located on the site as the original building, was constructed in 1996 and it has just undergone a major renovation.
Directly opposite from the hospital is Naj, a favorite upscale Thai restaurant. The restaurant is on the ground floor of a three-story house that sits back from the road and it also dates back to when Rama V ruled. I am particularly fond of Naj’s Kra Thong Tong — small, delicate pastry cups filled with minced chicken, corn, and herbs — its Tom Yum Goong soup, and the pork ribs that it braises in a red Thai curry. Naj also has a cooking school and a shop that sells silk fabric, home decor, and other products such as handbags and ties.
Less than a block down Convent is Goute House, a small store run by a delightful lady who sells her homemade goodies. I visit her almost every week so that I can indulge in her fabulous double chocolate cookies. She has many other baked goods as well as assorted nuts and dried fruits; the cashew nuts with a caramelized sesame coating are another favorite.
About 25 yards down Soi Pipat 2 right off Convent is Eat Me, a restaurant, run by a couple of Aussies. Eat Me has an international menu with regional touches, and diners have the option of eating either indoors or out. Its minimalistic decor is enhanced by art exhibits from local artists whose pieces can be purchased right off the walls. The food here is excellent, but the real treat is the Sticky Date Pudding with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch sauce for dessert.
Across from Eat Me and adjacent to the hospital is St. Joseph’s Convent, a private Catholic school (primary and secondary) after which the street was named. A Carmelite monastery that has been the home to a small community of nuns since 1925 is directly opposite St. Joseph’s. The Carmelites are a religious order, founded in the mid-16th century by St. Teresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross, who live a cloistered life of prayer.
A bit further down Soi Convent inside a small alleyway is Indigo, a French restaurant with umbrella-topped tables in the garden as well as more formal seating inside the converted colonial-style house. The favorites here are lobster bisque, the veal with a morel mushroom sauce, and a superb Beef Stroganoff. Indigo is noted for its Côte de Boeuf (known in the U.S. as a Cowboy cut), a three-pound bone-in steak for two that is carved at the table. Indigo is, in my opinion, the best of four very good French restaurants in Sala Daeng; the others are Aubergine, Le Bouchon, and Paris Bangkok.
Across Silom is Sunrise Tacos (point C on the map), a new location for a small chain where one can satisfy the cravings for Mexican food. Like sports bars in the U.S., Sunrise has flat screen televisions throughout the restaurant that are tuned to various satellite sports channels. Since many of the locations are open 24/7, it is reputed to be a good place to watch NFL games; with a 12 hour time difference between the eastern U.S. and Thailand, the Sunday match-ups start just after midnight locally and run until about noon on Monday. When I was at Sunrise several weeks ago, I was able to catch part of a Canadiens-Maple Leafs game that had to have been on at least a 12 hour tape-delay.
A hundred or so yards down from Sunrise Tacos is Spanish on 4, a restaurant that offers authentic Spanish tapas and paella. The restaurant has cured hams hanging over the bar, it bakes its own bread, is serves fresh imported Spanish anchovies, and it offers several varieties of chorizo. When my brother-in-law visited back in November, this was his favorite place to eat.
Walking down Silom, we come to the Skytrain station (point D on map) and the 31-story Silom Complex. The Silom Complex closed in January 2012 for a total interior renovation that took about eight months to complete. The complex now has over 50 food and beverage merchants, ranging from Starbucks and Mr. Donut to moderately priced, full-service restaurants and a wine bar; a major department store; a grocery; around 30 clothing stores; several retail banks and insurance brokers; and another 20 or so assorted retailers.
The MRT (subway) station is at the corner of Silom and Rama IV (point E). The Silom MRT station is connected by a skybridge to the Sala Daeng BTS station. This is one of just three locations in Bangkok where the Skytrain and the subwat interconnect; the other two are at Asok/Sukhumvit and at Mo Chit/Chatuchak.
The Dusit Thani (point F), a 500+ room high-end hotel, is at this same intersection adjacent to the MRT station. This property opened in 1970 and it still retains its reputation for luxury accommodations. The hotel has eight restaurants offering French (D’Sens), Italian (il cielo), Cantonese (The Mayflower), Vietnamese (Thien Duong), and Thai (Benjarong) cuisine. D’Sens is located on the top floor (22nd) of the property and has a grand view of Lumpini Park.
Backtracking to Sala Daeng and then heading back toward Sathorn brings us to the recently opened Bangkok Burger Company. Both four-ounce and six-ounce burgers are available with all the trimmings, e.g., several varieties of cheese, bacon, grilled onions, guacamole, etc. The burger itself can be either beef (a blend of Wagyu, Rib Eye, and Sirloin), pork (a blend of filet and bacon), chicken, lamb, fish, or portabella mushroom. The quality may not be quite up to what one would get from some of the better outlets in the U.S., e.g., Smashburger, Five Guys, or my favorite In-N-Out, but it is superb for Bangkok.
Further down the block is Zanotti’s, one of the premier Italian restaurants in a city rife with intense competition. Zanotti’s is located on the first floor of the Saladaeng Colonnade Condominium, a seven-story building of colonial architecture, and it is known for its extensive wine list, primarily Italians.
Two other French restaurants are located on Sala Daeng 1/1 (Aubergine) and Sala Daeng 1 (Paris Bangkok), two streets that run perpendicular to Sala Daeng. Two years ago, CNN opined that these were two of the four best moderately priced French restaurants in the city. Aubergine occupies another beautiful colonial-style house in a former embassy compound. Like Indigo, it too has an al fresco dining area as well as a more formal indoor dining room with beautiful hardwood floors and a high ceiling. Paris Bangkok is in a less impressive building, but it is noted for its huge wine cellar and for its wide selection of Cuban cigars.
As we make our way back down Sala Daeng 1 to Sala Daeng, we go by Treecreeper and Maison Chin (point G). Treecreper is both a restaurant and a bakery/café. As a restaurant, it primarily offers Italian and French-inspired foods. Where it really shines, however, is as a bakery with homemade macaroons and mousse cakes as the clear stars. Maison Chin was founded by Ken Hom, an Asian-American chef who had successful prime time cooking shows on the BBC in both the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. While the concept is the fusion of Oriental and Western cuisine, there are both Asian and International menus from which to order.
There are many other restaurants in this area, but these are the ones that I have eaten at and they are among the best. As in all of Thailand, street food offerings are ubiquitous along the streets of Sala Daeng throughout the day and night. Likewise, the streets are replete with vendors selling clothes and accessories, shoes and flip-flops, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.