Every major city in the world more or less has a little Chinatown of its own, Bangkok not being any different has a thriving community of Thai Chinese who have settled there since 1783. If you are looking for a unique experience in Thai Chinese culture, Yaowarrat Road with its prominent Chinese Ceremonial Gateway is the entrance way to an exciting little “township” of its own!
One thing you will notice as you walk down Yaowarrat Road is the Chinese characters on the huge business signage boards’ right next to the Thai characters. The Mandarin language is still widely used, though at one point in the history of Thailand it was not encouraged due to the communist incursions as well as to encourage the use of the Thai language in the country. It started to pick up in the late 1970s and now there are Chinese Schools (of which some are very prominent) throughout the country.
Chinatown in Bangkok is a maze of small Sois or rather streets and alleyways that wind and weave through a fabric of noise, market places, medicinal halls, temples, and housing. The Chinese community of Thailand has managed to preserve their unique identity throughout the centuries, which is evident in the way they trade, their cuisine, and even in the items, they trade. They say that you can find just about anything in Chinatown.
An immediate impression of Chinatown would be this greasy, noisy, smelly hotchpotch of narrow streets filled with traders selling their wares and dead animals hanging from hooks over steaming pots and charcoal fires. To some extent it is still very much the same but gone is the era of opium dens, gambling houses and brothels seemingly replaced by fancy restaurants, medicinal halls, vibrant market places and off course gold!
There are not many foreign faces in Chinatown as the tour companies often skip that and the best way to explore this place is to take slow walks and do a trip of self-discovery among the small lanes, alleyways and market places. The appeal of Chinatown is its unique culture especially during the Chinese New Year. At this time, streets will be transformed into a colorful playground of lights, decorations, and performances to usher in the new Chinese calendar year. You can still see Lion and Dragon dance performances during this time of the year in a gaily procession down the main road.
Looking for a place to stay in Chinatown is not hard, there is everything from a budget backpacker’s hostel to five star establishments plus the great fact that Chinatown is not too far from “Little India” and the ever-popular district of Khaosan, which is a backpacker’s haven. However, Chinatown is not known for its bars and late-night entertainment rather more for its cuisine, wholesale shopping, traditional Chinese massage and acupuncture as well as the many medicinal halls and shops selling gold.
If you are looking for very authentic Chinese food, then head out to Yaowarrat Road. You can still find cuisine with recipes handed down over the generations, which make up for their secret in a great dish. Mooching among the many stalls and vendors it is not hard to find a tasty morsel or two as a snack to keep your tummy from rumbling as you explore this quaint little district. The shop owners if they have the time are always ready for a chat with foreigners though they do not really speak much English but this is the novelty of the place.
Access to Chinatown is easy via the MRT, BTS, klongs (small canals), buses, taxis, and the present tuk-tuks. The nearest MRT station is the Hua Lampong MRT exit, which is also, where you can take trains that connect you to other parts of Thailand. If you fancy taking a tuk-tuk, make sure you bargain the price and that they do not mislead you to other parts for a rip-off, especially if they charge you a ridiculously low price. The average for a tuk-tuk ride is approximately THB80.
Looking for night entertainment in Chinatown is pretty scarce, but a short BTS ride to Silom and Sukhumvit or a taxi ride to Khaosan Road is where you can party all night long. Some of the things you can do at Chinatown are if you are daring enough, try the renowned Snake Tonic! It is reputed to be able to heal just about any ailments you may have. Does not catch your fancy? Then try the market of Talat Kao, which is the main trading market of Chinatown. There is a delicacy here that is a soup made from fried and boiled fish stomach. It may look unappealing but taste really good! Alternatively, give the bird’s nest soup a try another reputed elixir for strength and beauty. Tired from all that walking, try a Chinese massage, acupuncture or reflexology. They differ from the traditional Thai massage and are a good way to find out any hidden ailments you may have! Visit the Kuan Yin Shrine, where she is believe to be the Goddess of Mercy. If shopping is the main item on your list, you will not be disappointed as Yaowarrat has some of the biggest wholesale shops in electronics and other goods including gold and jewelry.
So if you are looking for something different to do while in Bangkok and want to experience a different culture, make your way to Yaowarrat Road. Take your time to look around and savor the experience!
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