Originally Bangkok’s Chinese community settled in the present-day, Ko Ratanakosin. It was not until 1783 that they relocated upriver along the Mae Nam Chao Phraya to today’s Yaowarat district, resulting in the city’s Chinatown. Chinatown is one of a few touristy areas in Bangkok that has not succumbed to a degree of urbanisation, retaining an undeveloped but nonetheless endearing format. Running along Yaowarat Road from Odeon Circle, the huge unmistakable and striking ceremonial Chinese gate marks the entrance.
Dispersing off the main roads is a series of smaller roads, narrow alleys and backstreets. Each of these offer great insight into how the Chinese community have preserved their cultural traditions, celebrations and identities for over two centuries. The area was once renowned for being home to a dense warren of opium dens, gambling joints, brothels and pawnshops. Today it is the great food, fabric and gold that lure the tourists to this area.
Similar to the visually conventional idea of Bangkok, it largely consists of well-weathered shop houses and market stalls that sit below illuminated and painted signs – promoting food, pawnshops and in particular, gold.
Expect to see some farang (foreign) faces around Chinatown but nothing compared to that of Siam or Silom. To some it might be perceived as being off the beaten path, with a notable lack of air conditioned spaces and English speaking people. For others this simply heightens the appeal of Chinatown. Wat Traimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha, attracts the most visitors venturing to the Chinatown. Although there are sites in and around the area, the best way to discover Bangkok’s Chinatown is to take a map, pick a starting point and then work your way through it. As most travellers will testify, this method of discovery often brings about the biggest adventures.
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Where to stay in Chinatown
Staying in Chinatown will definitely offer visitors an alternative Bangkok experience. We have a variety of properties in the area, with everything from intimate boutique hotels to budget to the typically grand.
The only fun to have during the evening in Chinatown is the dining experience. Chances are you’ll be disappointed if you are looking for proper clubs or bars in this part of town. However, the popular back packing district, Khao San Road, is near by if you fancy a drink and a dance.
For alternative nightlife options, a quick and painless ride on MRT (underground) or BTS (Skytrain) will take you to all Bangkok’s best nightlife spots including Silom, Sukhumvit, and RCA.
Sights are a little thin of the ground around Chinatown. The whole atmosphere and experience of the place is in itself the biggest site. However, Chinatown lies north of the Old City (Rattanakosin) also known as the Royal District, home to the city’s most revered and telling architectural attractions.
If you’re in the area and want to visit some of Bangkok’s temples, there are a few sites worth visiting.
Chinatown shopping is the antithesis to the high-end brand shopping you would find around Siam. Beyond the Old Siam Shopping Centre, malls seize to exist.
This is a place the opportunist and curious shopper will appreciate. Both a wholesale and independent shopping experience, it offers more of a rough and ready, al-fresco, market culture. A refreshing step back from the modern malls many of us have become accustomed to.
The benefits of this, other than the unique produce to be found (gold, stunning fabric and rare gemstones), is that there isn’t a set price. Try your luck, bartering is an act inextricably linked with Chinese consumer culture. A simple phrase of “Tuk kwa nee dai mai?” (Can I pay less?) ought to start the ball rolling.
A must do when in Bangkok is to venture down to Chinatown for food. Here you will find some of the city's best tasting and most reasonably priced fare. From the obscure (Birds nest soup) to the ostentatious (Shark Fin) there will be something to enlighten your taste buds and provide a feast for the eyes. The seafood is by far the best to be had in the city.
Getting in and around Chinatown
Taxis and bus numbers 7, 8, 37, 49 and 75 will take you into Chinatown, but the advised mode of transport is a river boat. Traffic around the area is fairly congested. Tha Ratchawong Pier is a few hundred metres walk from Yaowarat road and Sampeng Lane. Boats can be caught from Saphan Taksin and Banglamploo Piers.
Get off at Hua Lum Phong MRT (underground) station. Cross the bridge at Hua Lum Phong train station and walk 5 - 10 minutes (300 metres) to the Commenorative Arch where Yarowat Rd and Charoenkung Rd start. Once there, exploring by foot is by far the most intriguing option.