Bangkok’s Little Arab Town: A cultural hub but an intellectual property minefield

BANGKOK: In the bustling streets of Bangkok lies a vibrant enclave known as Little Arab Town, where the sights, sounds and flavors of the Arab world converge.

Nestled within this cultural hub are a plethora of restaurants offering authentic Arab cuisine, drawing in patrons from across the diaspora.

Arabic script adorns storefronts, and the air is filled with the tantalizing aromas of shawarma, falafel and freshly baked bread.

Amidst the hustle and bustle, one can hear the melodic cadence of Arabic conversations, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of the streets of Riyadh, Dubai or Cairo.

For many Arabs living in or visiting Bangkok, this area, locally known as Soi Arab, serves as a home away from home — a place where they can reconnect with their culture through food, language and community.

Hamad Al-Badr, a Qatari citizen who came to Bangkok with his Saudi wife, said he knew about the area from his friends and wanted to explore it.

“On my first day in this locale, I utilized Google to familiarize myself with the area before embarking on a tuk-tuk journey to reach my destination,” he told Arab News.

“The prevalence of Arabic speakers here proves advantageous, minimizing any potential language barriers.”

Saleh Al-Yafie, a Yemeni investor who owns restaurants in Indonesia, came to Bangkok with ambitions to grow his business. However, he was surprised by the “extremely high” rental prices for shops in the area.

“I’ve spoken to some of the owners of these shops around here, and they informed me that renting a 100 sq. meter shop could cost up to SR70,000 (over $18,600) per month,” he told Arab News.

However, amidst the charm of this cultural haven lurks a troubling issue. Some stores in the area have adopted the names and branding of renowned Arab restaurants and shops, such Al-Saddah restaurants and AlBaik, a Saudi fast-food chain.

The Bangkok-located Al.Baik restaurant, reportedly owned by a South Asian national, not only replicates the logo and visual identity of the Saudi chain, but also leverages its widespread popularity to draw in customers.

This practice not only raises questions of intellectual property rights, but also risks tarnishing the reputation of established brands.

“A perfume and oud store in the vicinity appears to emulate a renowned brand prevalent across the Arab world,” said Al-Badr.

“Notably, the Thai counterpart distinguishes itself by offering footwear alongside its selection of oud and perfumes.”

Al-Badr said he would not buy from these stores, preferring instead to get oud and perfumes from his home country’s original shops.

Visitors to Little Arab Town may unwittingly patronize these imitation stores, only to be disappointed by the lack of authenticity and quality they offer.

Arab tourists are divided on whether to dine in these imitation restaurants. Some prioritize the quality of the food above all else, while others prioritize respect for intellectual property.

Saudi tourist Yazeed Bamarouf told Arab News that “I don’t support those who mimic popular brands,” which is why he has never been to Al.Baik.

Omani tourist Wisam Al-Furqani said the allure of the AlBaik name drew him and his friends in.

“We soon realized it wasn’t the authentic restaurant,” he told Arab News. “The food was satisfactory, but it lacked the distinct flavor of the original restaurant. Additionally, the menu differed.”

Despite his disapproval of unauthorized imitation, Al-Furqani said he would not hesitate to revisit the restaurant as long as it served good food in a clean environment.

Emirati Saeed Al-Marri, who has been frequently visiting Thailand for nearly 10 years, told Arab News: “Certain Thai restaurants now provide Gulf cuisine … given the substantial number of Gulf tourists frequenting this locality.”

Regarding the imitation of brand names, he said when he encounters a branded restaurant, he assumes it is a branch of the original chain.

“People typically accept what seems to be true at face value without delving into the specifics. Ultimately, people seek excellent service regardless of the brand name,” he added.

“Individuals often adhere to established habits and regular patterns. For example, when I travel to a new country, I seek out familiar foods and locations.”


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