Discover the exotic aromas, flavors, and traditions hidden in Sukhumvit Soi 3/1’s Little Arabia.
By Dave Stamboulis.
Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, better known as “Little Arabia” or “Soi Arab,” is an incredibly unique slice of diverse Bangkok life. Thousands of visitors from all over the Middle East and Africa congregate here, and the collection of restaurants that have sprung up to cater to ethnic diners are truly astounding.
What started as a place where visiting Saudi recruiters of cheap Thai laborers hung out, is now a bustling and pulsating tourist hotspot. While you might feel slightly out of place here if you aren’t wearing a keffiyeh, jellabiya, or agal headdress, it is still well worth a visit for the atmosphere alone – if not to smoke a shisha pipe, have some baklava, or search for Bangkok’s best hummus, pita, and shawarma.
Sukhumvit Soi 3; 02 655 5531
While the bar with the same name next door has been one of the seedier institutions in the neighborhood for many years, the restaurant—on the same side of Soi 3 as Bumrungrad Hospital—, despite its appearance, has some of the best Lebanese food in town. The menu is gargantuan, as is the dining area, with various types of hummus, Lebanese pizzas, kebabs, and plenty more available. If you don’t want to smell the shisha smoke or listen to the blaring televisions, head to the far back where there is an enclosed air-conditioned and peaceful dining room. Western and Thai food is also featured, but do yourself a favor and stick to the Lebanese, as Bamboo knows how to do it very well.
No Name Shwarma
Between Soi 3 and 3/1
Speaking of kebabs, keep your eyes peeled for the guys selling shwarma or doner kebab sandwiches on the sides of the soi. There are several vendors, with the pick of the litter being the one located in the connecting alley between Soi 3 and 3/1. The yogurt sauce stuffed in with the meat really adds some flavor to the sandwiches.
8/17 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 655 5357
One of the few spots here serving both Iranian and Iraqi cuisine. Highlights include “kabsa,” a slow-cooked chicken or pigeon filled with spices and nuts. There are plenty of kebab selections here as well.
1/26 Sukhumvit Soi 3; 085 902 2241
While not quite located on Soi Arab, but around the corner and across the street, Habesha fills a much needed niche in Bangkok for Ethiopian food, and the place is pretty darn genuine, serving up platters of injera bread with spicy doro wat curries. The restaurant is also a local hangout bar for resident Ethiopians, it hosts traditional coffee ceremonies, and even has live dancing on some nights.
6/17 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 655 7521
Not all of Little Arabia is about food. Agarwood (“oud” in Arabic) is revered in the Middle East, and its fragrant heartwood is used for incense and perfume, and can fetch over USD 10,000 per kilo. You can check out the wood chip displays and perfumes in this busy little shop.
Bagdad Boutique Hotel & Café
8/13 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 655 1988
A cozy new boutique hotel situated right in front of all the action. The 29 rooms feature faux leather and timber accents, and all the latest in-room technologies. Even if you don’t stay here, a visit to the café is one of the highlights of the area. Clean and bright, the amenable Turkish proprietor serves up the best baklava and pastries in town, along with real-deal Turkish coffee.
6/8 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 251 3666
It’s the oldest restaurant in this soi, and is noted for its excellent mezzes (Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appetizer dishes often eaten as a meal with naan or pita) such as smoky eggplant baba ghanoush, hummus, and tabouleh. They also do great kebabs and it is worth noting that they are closed on Mondays.
75/4 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 655 5230
Not the flashiest restaurant here, but this slightly easy-to-miss eatery serves some of the city’s tastiest hummus, as well as superb Yemeni meat and rice dishes (despite the Jordanian name, Petra is Yemeni). The naan bread here comes fresh from the outside clay oven, and the scene inside is very social and welcoming, plus there is a family/ladies area upstairs.
4/8 Sukhumvit Soi 3/1; 02 655 3043
One of the flashiest spots on Soi Arab, featuring a shisha smoking area that is probably the best people-watching spot on the soi. Egyptian food is on tap here, the menu is extensive, almost all the items are a sure bet, and the place is even open 24 hours for those who crave a snack in the small hours.