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As one of the biggest Chinatowns on the planet, Bangkok’s own is a world unto itself. Here, age-old traditions are still very much alive. An authenticity settles the air, remaining largely unchanged since the 1780s when it was founded by Teochew merchants. The area (often also referred to as Yaowarat) has a terrific reputation among foodies. There are striking landmarks, bustling markets and green spaces, providing plenty to keep visitors busy. Tick off these top 10 things on your next visit to Chinatown in Bangkok.
Wat Traimit is one of the most significant Buddhist temples in Bangkok’s Chinatown. This gleaming white building, topped with golden spires, houses the biggest solid gold Buddha statue in the world. Previously hidden under a thick layer of stucco, the statue’s religious and economic value was discovered purely by chance in 1955. The complex is also home to many other religious statues and the remains of the original ancient temple.
The modern Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center is a great place to learn about Chinatown’s heritage. It takes visitors on a fascinating journey from the Chinese migration to Siam (Thailand’s former name) right up to the present day. Old photographs show what Chinatown looked like in times gone by, providing snapshots into the everyday lives and struggles of the original migrants who called it home. Various artefacts and high-tech audio-visual displays breathe even more life into the past.
Chinatown is famous for being one of Bangkok’s best places for street food. Although you’ll find a tempting selection of dishes during the daytime, evening is when the area really shines. Vendors wheel their carts to spots alongside the road, preparing a veritable smorgasbord of delights. Delicious aromas, the sizzling pops of cooking and colourful ingredients appeal to the senses. Sit on a plastic chair and grab some chopsticks to savour a hot bowl of noodle soup. Sink your teeth into succulent grilled meats on skewers. Relish duck that melts in your mouth. Just make sure you bring a hearty appetite with you.
Chinatown’s streets are a hive of activity. The chipped and uneven pavements are often congested, with many obstacles to slow people down. Jump in a tuk-tuk for an exciting ride through the area. Relax in the back, far enough away from the chaotic jumble – yet still close enough to soak up the vibes and watch local life play out.
There are two main roads running through Bangkok’s Chinatown: Yaowarat Road and the 150-year-old Charoen Krung Road. Each offers a wealth of fascinating sights, with people dashing hither and thither, market stalls and food vendors offsetting historic architecture and traditional stores. However, step away from the main thoroughfares and you’ll be rewarded by even more captivating scenes. Watch as craftspeople skillfully work with wood, metal and other materials. See ladies squinting through their glasses as they create perfect pieces of embroidery. Step into a herbalist’s store to see a range of traditional remedies that have been passed down through the ages. Inhale the sickly sweet scent of incense burning at small ancestral shrines outside homes.
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat is the largest and most significant Chinese temple in Bangkok. Built in the early 1870s, it was originally called Wat Leng Noei Yi. Its present name means ‘Dragon Lotus Temple’. Constructed in a traditional Chinese style, several small shrines are dotted through the courtyard. Large warrior statues stand guard at the entrance. Inside, the main building features a large Chinese-style golden Buddha image and a busy altar where people come to pray and make merit.
Originally a popular cinema, the historic Sala Chalermkrung now showcases beautiful traditional Thai dance performances. The theatre focuses on classical cultural shows, particularly khon. These are masked dance dramas based on stories from the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Hindu epic of the Ramayana. Expect live music, narration and acrobatics.
The large, red China Gate is one of Chinatown’s most noticeable landmarks. It stands proudly at the end of the enclave, decorated with traditional motifs like flowers, dragons and animals. A fairly recent addition to the area, the gate was erected in 1999. The surrounding paved area has a number of colourful flower beds and Chinese statues. Many people come here to leave offerings, especially at major Chinese festivals.
Located on the rooftop of the Grand China Hotel, Sky View 360 offers panoramic views over the City of Angels. The high-class restaurant is also proud to have been Bangkok’s first revolving restaurant; relax and enjoy delicious cuisine as the venue slowly completes one revolution per hour. If you’re impatient, simply stroll around the edges and peer out of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is home to several bustling markets where you can fully immerse yourself in the local way of life. Bargain hunters should check out Sampaeng Lane Market with its wholesale prices and a huge range of cheap products. Just be careful not to get too lost in the myriad maze-like streets!
Talad Noi (Little Market) is full of atmosphere and nostalgic charm. Talad Kao (Old Market) takes you back in time to Chinatown’s past. The market has been operating for several hundred years, with vendors supplying locals with a range of food products. Don’t be fooled by Talad Mai’s (New Market’s) name – it has been in operation for well over a century. The fresh market also sells an array of Chinese delicacies, crafts and cultural souvenirs.