Plunging into the vibrant world of Bangkok Chinatown will provide you with one of the most authentic experiences in Asia.
Thanks to the city’s huge and thriving Thai-Chinese population, the Chinatown in Bangkok is one of the biggest and best in the world. As well as the fascinating mix of cultures on display, it’s famous for its myriad of market stalls, gold shops and — of course — the incredible street food.
While plenty popular with the locals, Chinatown is also something of a tourist magnet and is generally very busy — especially after dark when the majority of the street food stalls start setting up. Keep your wits about you and try not to get overwhelmed by all that’s going on around you.
Let’s find out more…
Bangkok Chinatown: Location
The 1 kilometer long stretch which makes up the major part of Chinatown can be found on Yaowarat Road and Charoenkrung Road which runs parallel to it. It starts at the unmistakable, elaborately decorated ceremonial Chinese gate at Odeon Circle at Yaowarat’s eastern end, and runs west right up to the Rob Krung Canal.
Much of the magic of Chinatown in Bangkok is actually found away from the major thoroughfares and in the labyrinth of alleyways and streets that run off them. Here is where you generally find the ‘hidden’ gems of the area, from restaurants and Chinese temples to tea shops and bars.
How to Get There
Chinatown isn’t the easiest place to travel to in the city, especially if you’re visiting from Sukhumvit, as there’s no BTS stop servicing the area.
There are two ways to reach the area. You can either hop on the MRT from Sukhumvit and ride it all the way to the end of the line — Hua Lamphong Station. From here, you’ll be able to take a taxi straight into the heart of Bangkok Chinatown. You can walk from the station (it’s roughly a 15 minute walk) but the pathways are often lined with merchants and other obstacles.
Alternatively, you can reach Chinatown on the Chao Phraya Express Boat. From Sukhumvit, you’ll need to take the MRT to Si Lom, transfer to the BTS Silom line at Sala Daeng, then ride it to Saphan Taksin. At the pier, you should catch the Chao Phraya Express Boat (look out for the orange flag) to Ratchawong Pier. From here, it’s an easy stroll to reach Yaowarat.
Bangkok Chinatown: History
The Chinatown in Bangkok is a real institution, having been a site for settled Chinese immigrants and Thai-Chinese families for hundreds of years.
Historians have pinned the start of Chinese settlement in the area to 1782 — a direct result of when King Rama I moved the capital from Thonburi across the Chao Phraya River to Rattanakosin Island. Making way for the construction of Wat Phra Kaew, the Chinese in Rattanakosin moved South and settled in the area we now view as ‘Chinatown’.
As such, it’s one of the oldest neighbourhoods in the city.
Anyone who’s visited Bangkok Chinatown can attest to how energetic and alive the area is — the markets and street stalls are vibrant, fast paced and transactional.
This has always been the way in Chinatown. Long before it became the tourist attraction it is today, it was a site for traders to operate their junk boats from between Thailand (then Siam) and China.
Bangkok Chinatown: Attractions
It’s an undeniable cliche: Chinatown is an attack on the senses.
From vendors loudly touting their wares, to the intense smells of street food and burning incense, and the red and yellow colors that encapsulate the cross-cultural population here: there’s a lot going on.
Some people visit Bangkok Chinatown simply to experience the energy of the area, do a little street side shopping and sit down for a few bowls and plates of delicious grub at the end of the day. Simply getting involved here can be rewarding and illuminating enough.
There are, however, a few attractions available for you to visit that can really help you make Chinatown a full day out, as opposed to just a drop in. Here are some of the highlights…
Sampeng Lane Market
The narrow Sampeng Lane runs parallel to Yaowarat Road and was the original main street of Chinatown. Now, it’s a frenetically busy market place, stuffed to the brim with vendors selling a wide array of homewares, clothes, electronics and even groceries.
Discounts are to be had for shoppers buying in bulk so it’s very popular with locals. Always busy, it’s technically a walking street thanks to its narrow width, but you will catch the occasional moped winding around the smalls sois.
Guan Yin Shrine
This stunning temple near Chinatown Gate is a celebration of color and incense.
Dedicated to the Guan Yin, Chinese Goddess of Mercy, there is an ethereal atmosphere here. Part of Bangkok’s Thien Fah Foundation, the buildings surrounding the Guan Yin Shrine are hospital facilities providing free medical care to the homeless and the poor.
Within the shrine stands a 900 year old statue of the goddess.
Out on the eastern edge of Chinatown is the tranquil Romaneenart Park — the former site of the Bangkok Prison (you’ll be able to spot a few architectural remnants from that era).
Relax on the lush lawns and enjoy the neo-classical architecture and sparkling fountains whilst watching the locals going about their business before diving back into Chinatown’s craziness.
Bangkok Chinatown: Food
At night, Chinatown transforms into one of the greatest street food locations in the world. It heaves with locals and tourists jostling to sample the culinary delights on offer.
It’s one of the best spots in the city for street food — so good in fact that there are specialist food tours to guide you through the amazing variety of delicious dishes on offer here.
Some of our favourite spots for street food in Chinatown include:
- The Jae Ouan Rad Na Yod Pak stand on Yaowarat Road for rad na (gravy noodles) and pad see ew (soy sauce noodles)
- The Guaythiew Lod stand on Yaowarat Road for guaythiew lod (pork stuffed flat noodles)
- Nai Mong Hoy Tod on Soi Prapachai for hoy tod (oyster or mussel omelettes)
For more best street food spots, check out the book Thailand’s Best Street Food by Chawadee Nualkhair.
Be aware that although they are held in high esteem by the local population, delicacies like shark fin and bird’s nest soup should be avoided as they’ve been found to contravene animal rights laws.
In addition to the exceptional street food there are also plenty of gourmet restaurants in Chinatown Bangkok. Here are some that stand out from the crowd…
This chic place to eat is part of the lavish Shanghai Mansion Hotel right on Yaowarat Road. From the moment you walk in you feel as if you have been transported back in time – from the stunning period decor to the stylish cocktails, it oozes 1930s glamour. Pop in for lunch (they serve a great dim sum buffet here) or treat yourself to an extravagant evening meal accompanied by live jazz.
Tang Jai Yoo
Kind of pricey but a definite hit with the critics, this restaurant on Soi Yaowaphanit off Yaowarat is famous for their show stopping signature dish of succulent whole roast suckling pig.
A wide range of other excellent Chinese dishes including seafood are also served here. Tang Jai Yoo is very popular and can get very crowded, so book in advance or get there early to make sure you get a table.
Hua Seng Hong
If you’ve got a hankering for traditional Chinese food the extensive menu at Hua Seng Hong on Yaowarat Road won’t leave you disappointed. There’s a great variety of seafood dishes, dim sum assortments and some delicious Chinese desserts. Also worth a mention is the cracking oyster and egg omelet, that gets served up on a sizzling iron platter.
This unassuming eatery is tucked away behind Wat Traimit near the Chinese gate. This is the place to go to sample the best (read: expensive) noodle soup in Chinatown. Order the crab claw version – it’s packed with fresh flavour and delicious meaty crab.
Chinatown Hotels Bangkok
After a tiring but entertaining day exploring Bangkok Chinatown you deserve a great hotel within stumbling distance where you can put your feet up and get a great night’s sleep. Here are a few of our top picks in the area.
Situated right on Yaowarat Road in the heart of Chinatown, this 4* luxury boutique hotel recreates the elegance of Shanghai in the 1930s.
- Just 76 rooms
- Restaurant, jazz bar and spa onsite
- Complimentary one way airport transfers
- Free tuk-tuk service
- Butler service
Pho Place offers clean, cozy and affordable 3* accommodation only 450 m from the excitement of must-see Sampeng Market.
- Just 30 guestrooms
- Only 540 metres from Hua Lamphong
- LCD TV and refrigerator in every room
- 24 hour front desk
Conveniently located right outside Hua Lamphong MRT Station, this 4* hotel is only a short walk away from Chinatown and is also handy for hopping on the MRT to see the sights elsewhere in the city.
- Spa and wellness center offering sauna and massage
- Fitness centre, bar and 3 restaurants on site
- 5 minute walk from Golden Buddha Temple
- 15 minute drive from Silom
- 24-hour front desk
- Room service
And that’s our guide to the incredible Bangkok Chinatown!
Will you be visiting?
Featured image includes photo by Mr.Sayompoo Setabhrahmana (CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)