Tagines, hookahs in Bangkok's "hidden" Arab quarter

Fri Mar 13, 2009 3:51am EDT
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By Chawadee Nualkhair

BANGKOK (Reuters Life!) - If the Chinese have their Chinatown and Indians "little India," then the central but little known Bangkok neighborhood of North Nana is the mothership for everything Arab and a drawcard for Middle Eastern tourists.

Ask any tourist about Bangkok, and the answer will usually involve temples, markets and the noodle dish pad thai. Ask a seasoned visitor about Nana, and the conversation will invariably turn to go-go girls and nightclubs with suggestive names.

But Nana is actually split into two, and the South Nana of beers and bargirls is a world away from North Nana and its "Soi Arab," with Middle Eastern restaurants and shops that make up a sort of separate country within Bangkok.

"Europeans go to one side of Nana, and Arabs go to the other," said Natanicha Towsing, a tourist information officer manning the Bangkok skytrain stop at Nana.

Middle Eastern tourists are becoming a key target group for a Thai tourism market in danger of shrinking under the stresses of political unrest and the global economic downturn.

Tourism Authority of Thailand figures show more than 490,000 visitors came from the Middle East last year, the bulk of them from Dubai, and are the source of the biggest growth in tourism revenue, spending 15 percent more last year than 2007.

These figures are manna to an embattled industry that comprises up to 7 percent of the Thai economy and employs, directly or indirectly, 9 million people.


<p>People walk down Soi Arab street in Bangkok's North Nana neighbourhood, March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Chawadee Nualkhair</p>