A Chaotic and Colorful Hub Captivated
in Chinese Culture
Bangkok Chinatown is one of the most fascinating and captivating districts in what is considered one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world!
Once the financial center of the city, it’s still as busy as ever as a bustling and thriving marketplace ~ it is everting you want a Chinatown to be!
Bangkok Chinatown – A Brief History
During the 18th century, many Chinese communities and their merchants who had settled in Bangkok originally occupied land in the old royal city where the Grand Palace is today. In 1782 King Rama I decided to establish the capital on the site once inhabited by the Chinese and asked the traders to move.
They then settled east of this new city along the Chao Phraya River around Sampaeng Lane and Songwat Road. It’s hard to believe that the narrow street of Sampaeng Lane was once the main road in Chinatown. There is little room for cars and pedestrians to pass.
The Phases of China Town’s Development
In 1863, King Mongkut built the new Charoen Krung Road. It was to become the first paved street in Bangkok, and this allowed the local community to amplify northwards towards it.
In 1902, the expatriate community, who had settled on the river further east of Chinatown, petitioned the king for a more significant road. As a result, Thanon Yaowarat Road was built between Sampeng Lane and Charoen Krung Road, becoming the principal road of Chinatown. It is also the name which this area is frequently known, Yaowarat.
Thai and Chinese Architecture
Chinatown is home to many examples of the architecture of Bangkok’s early years. About 14% of buildings here have been designated as historical landmarks. Most of them are off on side streets.
Where is Chinatown Located?
Chinatown is between the two traffic-choked thoroughfares of Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road (map here) where you’ll find a labyrinth of narrow alleyways which, for the most part, are packed with lively market stalls.
The most accessible being the wholesale fabric market on Sampeng Lane and the diverse offerings provided by the vendors along Soi Lsara Nuphap.
There are three other major markets around Chinatown. They are the Pak Khlong Market, the Phahurat Market, and the Nakorn Kasem Market.
Getting to Bangkok Chinatown
Bangkok Chinatown lies south of the Dusit area, east of the old royal city and on the north side of the Chao Phraya River. Getting to Chinatown is effortless. You can take a taxi or if you sense a need for adventure, a bus to Charoen Krung Road.
Stop anywhere along the route and spend your day wandering around the stalls. You can also take a leisurely riverboat ride on the Chao Phraya Express and ask to disembark at the Ratchawong Pier or catch the train to Hua Lamphong Station.
The district around Chinatown also runs along Yaowarat Road from Odeon Circle, where a massive ceremonial Chinese gate unmistakably signifies a grand entrance, and then right up to the Khlong Ong Ang Canal, which marks the outer boundaries of this royal region.
Yaowarat Road is also one of the main traffic arteries, and the bustling street is chockablock with gold shops, herbal sellers, cafe’s and restaurants and just about anything else. If you want to buy gold jewelry, albeit Asian gold, then this is the best place to shop!
Devote a whole day in Chinatown, interact and chat amongst the locals. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how friendly the atmosphere is here, and don’t worry it’s perfectly safe too. Precautionary assurance is all you require 😉
Thai food is in abundance, so if you are feeling a little peckish and want to snack on something, then go ahead and sample the delicious variety that abounds. There are also lots of restaurants for you to enjoy both local as well as international cuisine. There is no rush.
The Markets of China Town
The Flower Market
It’s a one-stop florist’s dream and has a reputation for offering the best flowers in all of Thailand. Here you will find a display of the freshest roses, orchids, Jasmine, and lotus as well as some exquisite Dutch tulips.
The right time to catch these blooms at their best is during the early morning hours before 9:00 am. You can purchase single units, bouquets, floral baskets, or whatever else takes your fancy!
The Indian Market
Phahurat Market (map) is predominately an Indian market with sights and sounds of a typical Bombay street scene. Market stalls around here are in a permanent flux of the hustle and bustle with the main bazaar spilling out around Phahurat and Chak Phet roads.
Buy Luxury Fabrics, Accessories and Jewelry
Apart from being the primary wholesale fruit and vegetable market in Chinatown, many merchants here appear to specialize in apocryphal fabrics.
Traders sell everything from tablecloths to wedding saris. If you step upstairs and wander around the dimly-lit sections, you’ll find loads of traditional Indian accessories from ornate jewelry to delicate sandals. Need something to eat. No problem!
Eat some Indian Food
There’s certainly no shortage of food here. In the surrounding streets, there are plenty of hole-in-the-wall Indian Restaurants and samosa stalls, creating an array of appetisers to suit all taste buds.
The Thieves Market (antiques + other wares)
Nakorn Kasem Market is situated on Charoen Krung Road on the western edge of Chinatown and popularly known as the Thieves Market because stolen goods were once allegedly traded here.
A few decades ago, householders would go in search of their stolen goods in this area after being robbed, as it was the most likely place they might recover their items for a much more reasonable price.
There is scant need for concern as this market has since discarded its illicit past and has now a miscellaneous collection of Chinese Shop-Houses.
Traditional Chinese Shop Houses
Here they sell everything and anything from a wide range of ornaments and common household goods to antiques, metal-ware and musical instruments. You can assume these goods are legal!
The Chinese Shop-Houses are very much a common feature in Chinatown. Families here are known for running their businesses from the ground floor while living on the first floor above their shops.
Electronics at the Pirate Market
A reasonably new market near Nakorn Kasem is Saphan Han Market (map). It’s a covered market situated on both sides of the Khlong Ong Ang (a narrow waterway off the Chao Phraya River). Specialties here are electrical goods of every description as well as a variety of household items – and inescapably, lots of pirated goods, too many to mention.
Enjoy the Atmosphere and the Food
This area gets frequently filled with mostly locals who come here to pick up bargains at the wide variety of stands and stalls. It is also where good cheap food is aplenty, and most noticeably, you cannot help but catch hold of your breath from the aroma that waffles in the air from all the copious noodle bars around here.
Try the Black Jelly Dessert (A local delight)
The photo above shows a young Thai lady scooping up what appears to be some sticky stuff that closely resembles that of tar. What she is doing is preparing to make a refreshing black jelly drink known as Chao Kuai. This tar-like substance is created from grass jelly; a dessert served with crushed ice and syrup.
How Black Jelly is Made
Grass jelly gets formed when one blends slightly aged oxidised stalk and leaves from a member of the mint family called Mesona Chinensis with potassium carbonate and a little starch. The black matter you see here is the end product produced by boiling all the ingredients together for several hours and then allowing it to cool.
The translucent black jelly can be cut into cubes or various other forms and then mixed with water and brown sugar to produce a drink, thought to have cooling properties. It’s ideally consumed during the hot weather in Thailand.
Chao Kuai has a slightly bitter taste and a light iodine lavender flavor, but with a little added sugar, it becomes refreshingly palatable. It can also be served with fruit such as the Jackfruit or mixed with soy milk to produce a milky white liquid.
Chao Kuai is often served in clear plastic bags as are many other refreshing drinks that get sold in the markets of Bangkok. It’s a preferred Thai takeaway option, but you can request that your juice comes accommodated in a plastic cup should you so wish.
The Temples in Chinatown
Wat Traimit is a stunning white and gold temple!
Seated in the grand temple’s interior is the world’s largest solid Golden Buddha weighing five and a half tonnes. The Buddha was discovered purely by accident in 1955 at a nearby riverside temple during construction to extend the dock there.
The temple is situated just east of the point where Yaowarat and Charoen Krung roads meet (see map). It is also within walking distance from Hualamphong Railway Station, the railway link that connects Bangkok with the rest of the country.
The temple is open daily from 8:00 am until 5:00 pm with an entrance fee of just 20 Baht.
There’s a good reason to visit Bangkok Chinatown simply because it’s right here where you’ll get to discover the old and the new Bangkok.