Bangkok’s Chinatown is the largest in the world and a must-visit for the traveler in the city.
Established when the ancient capital of Siam was moved to Bangkok, Chinatown continues to hold on to heritage and norms. The cultural heritage marks the area on the Chao Phraya river delta now bordered by Yaowarat Road and the warehouses toward the river. Settled by administration from the old capital of Ayutthaya, the new dynasty of the Chakri, and the Teochew Chinese migrant and traders have built a lasting community. The temples and businesses around Chinatown reflect the fusion of Thai and Chinese cultures, but there is a lasting distinctly Chinese flavor to Chinatown that makes it a great place to visit in Bangkok.
Light Chaser recommends spending at least an afternoon in the busy and colorful district, walking both Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road, exploring the sois or lanes branching out from these roads, to fully experience Chinatown.
Notable things to see
The Chinatown Gate on Odeon Circle
The Chinatown Gate is a recent addition to the area, built to commemorate King Rama IX’s 72nd birthday in 1999. The gate is on the Odeon traffic circle.
From the Gate, a worthwhile stop is Wat Traimit, an imposing temple hosting the world’s largest gold Buddha statue. The temple’s architecture is a mix of solid modern columns and intricate Thai ornamental features.
This school off the Wat Traimit property is a Thai school which offers education based on Confucian methodology. There is a statue of Confucius at the entrance.
Thian Fah Foundation Shrine
Across the street from the Wat Triamit is the Thian Fah Foundation Hospital, the oldest private hospital in Thailand founded in 1903. The shrine is dedicated to the goddess Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion and Mercy.
Meandering through Yaowarat, the lanes off the main road have shophouses. Shophouses are combination shop and home of the owners. Usually the first floor or ground area of the house is used for a business, and the owners live upstairs. Some of the shophouses remain with the characteristic features of the originals built in the mid-19th century with shuttered windows and entrances open right on the street.
Eating in Chinatown
Around late afternoon from 5.00-6.00pm, Chinatown transforms into a lively night market in some of its lanes. Food stalls found in alleyways or in shophouses can be open all day, but some food stalls open only in the evening, when some streets are closed for pedestrians to sit and enjoy the evening meal outdoors.
I had a couple of dishes because that’s all I had space for in the four hours I spent in Chinatown one afternoon/evening.
One was a fried oyster dish, made with egg, scallions, and fresh oysters served with chili sauce. The restaurant is on Soi Padung Dao, in an alley on the left hand side if coming from Yaowarat. I didn’t finish the dish because I was looking to tasting some more of Chinatown later.
Which, I did at a roadside stall on Yaowarat Soi 11, which closes to car traffic in the evenings and transforms into food street. There were so many options, and I walked up and down before I could make up my mind. Notable places are Jumbo Lobster, a couple of smoothie carts, and the original stall selling noodles, which was packed on my first pass. I decided not to have seafood although it was tempting, because I had so much grilled prawn in Amphawa days before.
After two more passes of the street, I settled into a free seat to have the best tom yum noodles with a generous serving of tasty meatballs made from fish meat. The rice noodle is spongy and a little sticky, hallmark of good quality rice noodles. And while I slurped the soup I started sweating on the forehead, not so much from the heat but because that happens to me when the food is really, really good.
I shopped around for fruits and found beautiful mangos and durian. There are also a few stalls selling roasted chestnuts around Yaowarat.
Wishlist for place to stay
I had visited Shanghai Mansion around 2010 and 2011 but mostly to photograph inside its remarkably decorated rooms.
Stopping for a drink in its ground floor terrace, I found that Shanghai Mansion has not lost its stunning, seductive looks. The atmosphere of this building reflects its long history first as a trading house in 1892 and a Chinese opera house in 1908. The décor and the ambiance takes your breath away.
It was difficult to tear away from the energy of Chinatown.