The news about Pla Dib closing down spread like wildfire. The conversation of those who are concerned usually involves “No way!” “Yes way! They’re building a freaking condo” What is he going to do next?”. In only a short while, it became our urgency to rush over to Pla Dib and schedule an interview with Prew, the owner, to find out what happened, what’s behind the long lasting success and what is he going to do next.

To think about it, despite being the number one most well-known restaurant in Ari, I haven’t had a chance to connect with him officially until now. It’s sad to say that if not now we’re going to have to talk about Pla Dib as history. That’s why today I’m very eager to tell you the whole story of Pla Dib from the beginning to the end from the perspective of none other than Prew himself.

For those who don’t know, Pla Dib is an asian fusion restaurant with meticulously sourced ingredients and an eclectic menu. It’s situated in an old converted house just opposite to the entrance of the ministry of public relations. It’s been a staple hangout spot of the nightclubbers for 23 years. Don’t be surprised if you brush your shoulder against celebrities here, they are one of the common crowd.

“We’ve been open for over 20 years. I didn’t think too much about it at first. I just love cooking, been this way since as a kid. I just wish we had a nice restaurant where I live and so we don’t have to go all the way to Thonglor. There weren’t many to choose from back in the day. There wasn’t even the ministry of public relations, just an empty land with a fence made of metal sheets. The only one I remember is Suan Kularb restaurant further up the street, that’s the real oldie; they moved from the army I think”. 

Not only a good restaurant that was lacking in Ari, but also condos and any hotspots as well. It was a purely residential zone. The only thing that stood out was an array of big houses of the military officers and high ranking government workers’ family houses. The kids knew each other and formed a bicycle gang, roaming the streets. Prew himself is undeniably one of those boys who grew up from these big houses as his last name is not a stranger to the political scene in Thailand.

“My dad loved to cook and eat. Because of my dad, I had a chance to try food from many restaurants that were considered exotic back then. French and Italian cuisine, these were only available in expensive hotels. My grandmother was a chef and a friend of Princess Bejaratana, she cooked for her in the palace in Sukhumvit. So we kind of inherited the traditional Thai recipe from her”. 

(If you’re curious to try this recipe, you can do just that at “อย่างเก่าก่อน” restaurant in Phaholyothin 11. It belongs to Prew’s cousin)

“I became serious as a cook when I was studying abroad. I was cooking for my friends and roommates whom, by the way, had a horrible diet. There weren’t many options at that time, especially good asian food, unless you’re in a big city”. 

Prew studied furniture design in the USA during the late 90s and in 1997 bad news from home arrived to him. His father passed away in a car accident, followed by the Tom Yum Goong financial crisis. Consequently Prew had to abandon his education and return to Thailand to help his mother cope.

In the 80s-90s this house here used to be occupied by a bar called “Johnny Walker” and then it’s changed to a place called “Forget Me Not”, a real old-fashioned place with a pool table and stuff. I don’t remember seeing this place as a house before. After I’m back for a while, I noticed that nobody was renting the place; I know the land owner and I wasn’t doing much apart from DJing so I thought this could be a great opportunity for me”.

“The name Pla Dib means Raw Fish. It’s originally the name of my design firm I founded with my friends. It’s deceptively simple but it’s all about the technique and quality of the ingredient, so I decided to call my restaurant that but in Thai. We didn’t do anything to promote ourselves. We barely had a sign! There’s a black address platform outside. We did as much as writing “Pla Dib” with  chalk on it, that’s all”. 

Unlike restaurants these days, it didn’t start off as being an instagram sensation and people rushing to check in to this place. Pla Dib enjoyed slow and stable success over the years. They made a small fortune to slowly renovate small areas of the restaurant one by one until it looks the way it is today. It’s worth mentioning that every piece of wooden furniture here is designed and made by Prew himself. That’s where his education in design comes to light. 

“We’re a community venue so what I wanted to do is geared towards community benefit. You see that patch of unused land behind the house? Back then it was an abandoned area where people dump their trash and where robbers hid. So we invested in renting the area, turning it into a greenhouse. People in the Soi came around to water the veg too, you know? But then they increased the rent. I was like, are you insane?”

Twenty years have passed, Pla Dib has matured from the hip hotspot of the night to the neighborhood’s staple. Ari has also developed into an upscale area full of new rival businesses from outside with a thicker budget and modeled for a success. Being named ‘the only’ is no longer true and ‘the first’ does not really matter.

I’d be lying if I say I’m not disappointed with Ari. Our neighborhood is different the way it is. It’s not Sukhumvit or Thonglor. People like it because it has a homey feel to it, unlike anywhere else. It’s one of the few places in Bangkok where most people still know each other. But now it’s becoming less and less so. I have tried, many times actually, to build and preserve a community, to run activities but it was not successful in the long run. The land value became so high that it’s impossible to buy a plot of land here and not expect to make a lot of money out of it”.

Prew is one of the many fierce neighborhood’s ‘Key Players’ of Ari Samphan whose voice can be heard in public hearings of development projects that might cause harm to the neighborhood. Many locals place their trust in him speaking for them. On the other hand, I can confirm from my experience of talking with real estate developers, that Ari residents are revered as the people are not only conservative but will go out of their ways to protect the neighborhood. Some projects never seen the light of day because they can’t prove how their development will improve the neighborhood’s wellbeing.

Over the years, however, Ari is losing its unique charm of big quiet suburban houses. Pla Dib’s customers have grown out of their taste and the next generation did not pick it up. Either way, those are not the real reason why Pla Dib was closed down. In late December 2022, Prew heard from the land owner that the house was sold to an investor and that he had this certain amount of months to pack and leave.

“I’m not as young as I was before. After this I don’t want to do something much more simple but for sure it will be about food”.

When one adventure ends, another just starts. I am excited to share with you that the next project of Prew will only be a few minutes walk from Pla Dib. Something that involves chicken and rice, like in this instagram post here.

You might have heard your Thai friends talking about the increase in the price of pork earlier this year. Caused by African swine fever, the higher pork price created higher demands on other meat products resulting in increased prices on most menus. You may have noticed prices on menus being overwritten on bits of masking tape all over Ari. I’m not sure if the swine flu is gone now, but those inflated price tags sure don’t seem to be going back down but rather more expensive.

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These days, we start packing up at 10 pm – no reason to waste the gas to heat the pot. And things are so expensive these days, which cuts into our profit. Same as everything else. Prices seem only to have gone up and up in the past few years.
Joom, Night Noodle Stall, Opposite Noble Reform

Can middle-income people still live in Ari? is it too Expensive?

Most of the people who are affected by this are street food vendors and street food dependents like me. Generally speaking, by “like me”, I mean, urbanized people, first-generation educated families who fork out to go to work on the BTS and pay 8,000 baht in rent as the cheapest place they can afford in Ari. This higher cost of living means having less to no disposable income. For some people, living here makes them steadily poorer.

No, it’s not an exaggeration. In 2020, the Bank of Thailand revealed that 86.59% of Thai citizens had less than 50k baht in their accounts. What surprises me is the fact every time I hear there’s a new condo development around here, a sweeping 40-60% of the units are sold within the first day. It’s like this country can’t make its mind up if the economy is good or bad.

It’s the 86.59% that have been told that to achieve a decent living, they have to work hard to own or rent these properties near BTS stations. And, it’s the same group of people that let out a sigh of despair when they see the prices of food, rent, and travel going up yet again.

I was born and raised in Soi Phiboon Wattana, Thailand’s first-ever  housing estate. It was developed in 1956 as a residential project for the nearby government workers. That’s why my grandad was able to buy this piece of land with a 2-storey wooden Thai house.
Bo, Researcher

You may already know that Ari was once a remote residential area peacefully inhabited by old money. The house owners (and their offspring) often tell me that, unlike other neighborhoods, the more well-off original Ari-ians are not taking the bait to sell off their lands, and thus are holding off Ari from being swiftly gentrified. Bangkok Metropolitan Land Office appraises the land value in Phahol 7 at 150K baht per 4 sqm. So you’ll need around 6 million baht to buy a piece of land to build a 160 sqm house in Ari neighborhood, is it expensive? Clearly, not something a person with less than 50k in their bank account would do.

That leaves only the big corporations to buy up these properties for development. Time changes and the economy changes, the old money loses its land. Big houses are replaced with high rises with 800+ units. Never mind the more crowded streets, it’s their income that matters. People who can afford 40k rent wouldn’t mind if the street food price has gone up from 40 to 80 baht. They might even demand a restaurant that caters to 400 baht per meal, as an extreme example.

Is Ari missing something?

About a week ago I posted a question on Facebook asking for suggestions as to what facilities Ari needed. Many answers cried out for parks and recreational space, which is something that is lacking in every neighborhood in Bangkok, anyway.

While living in a green neighborhood full of parks would be my dream come true, one harsh truth about creating public spaces is that they increase the value of the land. I’m not an expert, but what comes with a better quality of life is a higher price tag and that drives away people who can’t afford it. Maybe we need parks that are designed for everyone. Not instagrammable parks, but ones that are designed for everybody, so that a motorcycle taxi rider can rest in the shade and a 28-YO advertising creative can hang out in the same space.

Om, Owner of Hor Hidden Cafe

Ari is great for cafe-hopping and Instagramming, but beyond that, there’s not that much to do here.
Om, Owner Of Hor Hidden Cafe

For me, gentrification isn’t simply about a city being developed or houses being knocked down. It’s about income disparity, which I think can be both positively and negatively affected by projects initiated by city offices. By understanding this cause-effect, we might hope that public spending may lessen this divide. We have seen it before in other countries in the world. Maybe it’s not unrealistic to expect the Bangkok office to tackle gentrification for the first time?   

In case you didn’t already know, an endemic celebrity in Ari is a Thai dog called Biew (crooked). People know him the way we know Hachiko from Japan. Apart from being a sassy little darling, his unique trait is the broken lower jaw that makes him walk around with an open mouth and hanging tongue, so you’ll most likely recognize him from the first glance. His fame is so unstoppable that the owner of Pladib restaurant created an Instagram account just for him. He also has his portrait painted on the wall outside of Silo Ari and his short documentary.

Biew’s Nature

Biew is a male dog with big, round eyes and a friendly demeanor like your average doggo. His favorite thing to do is chilling out in front of 7-Eleven, observing the people on the street every so often. Biew is no glutton. He only eats what the locals give him at his usual dining spots, so don’t expect to feed him leftovers from your street food spree. According to Tuk, a dressmaker from Cheap & Cheap Boutique, he’s now an old chap. In his youth, he loved to dive up the ladies’ skirts, causing commotion from his startled victims and the cheering taxi-bikers at the scene.

Biew’s Background

Tuk from Cheap & Cheap Boutique, Soi Sassana, is said to be Biew’s closest human, as he belonged to her late husband. She told me that her husband was an animal lover who liked to feed strays and earned himself a handful of canine followers. He found Biew as a stray around Sam Sen railway station more than ten years ago. He fed him as usual, and Biew followed him to Soi Ari Samphan. After that, the people in Ari Samphan often saw him walking around as if he had decided to stay here.

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Biew, Ari’s local star. Photo from @misterbiew Instagram

Tuk told me that Biew came to take cover from the rain in front of the shophouse where Cheap & Cheap Boutique was (now Kimchi Hour restaurant) on one rainy afternoon early in their friendship. As the downpour worsened, she opened the door and called out to him, “Biew, wanna come in?” There was no response, but then he moved closer and closer to the door until he got inside. Tuk said that he sometimes took showers with his humans for their convenience.

What happened to his mouth?

One day, after the Biew became close with Tuk and her husband, a man stopped by on a motorbike and said: “This guy used to be my dog.” She then asked him about how the dog turned into a stray and was found as far out as Sam Sen. As it turned out, Biew used to live in a military officer’s house on Soi Phibun Watthana. He was raised with another dog his age who looked just like him; his name was “Doe.” One day, he attacked an expensive game fowl. The owner hit him and broke his jaw. He ran away and became a stray ​​for months.

The owner found him and took him to the vet. He paid a fortune to get rid of Biew’s pain but still couldn’t fix his jaw. He left again and lived on the streets when brought home until Tuk’s husband found him and led him back to Ari.

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Where can I find Biew (in Ari and nearby)?

Biew usually hangs out between Ari Soi 1 and Soi Ari Samphan 7-12. Some Ari Samphan homeowners occasionally give him food, so you’ll often see him in front of 7-Eleven along this route. Another place to look is Pladib restaurant, as the owner is best friends with Biew. In addition, you can also check out his pictures on Instagram at MisterBiew.

Seventeen o’clock, and it seemed Ari was spared from the rain. I was in an old house next to Suan Bua School on Ari Soi 1. This house is known in Ari as Landhaus, an authentic German bakery that rented the place and made a name for themselves a couple of years ago. People might not know that the second floor of this house, a space as ample as a single bedroom, is modified into a showroom of clothes and small household items. The room was filled with clothes racks and wooden tableware, and among them was a plain-looking desk that belonged to the BDS Collective brand.

I wish I had told you a mysterious ‘X-Files’ type of story, but I’m not. Ghouls and sprites do not haunt this ghost station. Rather it’s an infuriating story of (your) wasted money. I will tell you about the never-constructed ‘ghost’ BTS Skytrain station of Sena Ruam and how this invisible train station has been shamelessly draining money out of your pockets. Not a ghost station in the traditional sense, but some pretty scary facts, nonetheless.

The shop-house-lined entrance of Ari Soi 2 is where small businesses flourish. Here you can find establishments like Dice, a five-storey board game café, the famous Kenn’s Coffee and Croissant, as well as Korean and Japanese restaurants snuggling just a few steps away from each other. Not to mention that this area used to house a cool bike shop like Tokyo Bike, an indicator that Ari is one of the ​​hippest places in Bangkok.