Tuk Tuk Tours
Explore Bangkok by the iconic tuk tuk
One of Bangkok’s most vibrant, authentic and unchanged neighborhoods, Chinatown – known locally as Yaowarat – is a must-see area for visitors to Thailand’s capital. Just a short hop from both the downtown business districts and the old-town Rattanakosin area, Chinatown is alive with opportunities to explore and discover a unique side to day-to-day life in Bangkok. With the sheer number of Thais of Chinese ancestry – the result of large-scale migration at various points over a period spanning hundreds of years – it’s no wonder that Bangkok’s Chinatown is widely regarded as the largest in the world.
Renowned worldwide for its incredible selection of street food, Yaowarat is also packed with fascinating temples and mesmerizing street life, art galleries, bars, restaurants, and plenty more – plus, every year it comes truly alive for occasions like Chinese New Year and Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival. It’s one part of Bangkok that you’ll definitely want to traverse on foot in order to fully soak up its heady vibe. Here’s our pick of what to see and do in and around Chinatown while you’re in Bangkok.
Discovering Chinatown in Bangkok is as much about getting out on foot and soaking up the area’s atmosphere as much as it is about ticking off a list of attractions. Centred around bustling, traffic-choked Yaowarat Road (but skip the quieter side streets and you’ll only have seen half of what’s on offer), this is a neighbourhood that’s much unlike most of the rest of the Thai capital.
Conventional tourist attractions worth hunting out in the Chinatown area include Wat Traimit (daily, 9am-5pm; Traimit Road; entrance fee 40 baht for non-Thai nationals), home to the world’s largest golden statue of a sitting Buddha. The Buddha image was discovered – or rather, it was discovered that it is made of a whopping five and a half tonnes of 18-karat gold – when it was being moved some six decades ago, and it was accidentally dropped to reveal a plaster case concealing its true golden interior.
This lively temple (daily, 9am-6pm; Mangkon Road; free admission), one of the most prestigious Chinese temples in Thailand, is at the heart of Chinatown’s action – both geographically and figuratively, since it plays host to ceremonies including those at Chinese New Year – and it’s within easy walking distance of some of the area’s best street food spots. It’s a temple that feels like it always has an endless stream of locals coming and going to leave religious offerings, and the site itself features statues depicting religious gardens with symbolic Buddhist objects including a parasol, a pagoda, a snake’s head, and a mandolin.
Following the trend across cities in Southeast Asia and beyond, Bangkok’s Chinatown district has in recent years seen the emergence of a vibrant street art scene. It came to particular prominence in and around Yaowarat with 2016’s Bukruk festival, and there are now thematic and charismatic etchings and illustrations adoring many of the gorgeously crumbling old shophouses in the area. Spots worth checking out include the smaller side alleys off Sampeng Lane and Songwat Road plus, further away from Chinatown itself, Charoenkrung sois 28 and 30.
While many will simply use it to hop on a train to Chiang Mai, it’s worth taking the time to fully appreciate Hualamphongrailway station (ticket offices open 5am-11pm; Rama 4 Road), the capital’s terminal station and officially known as Bangkok Railway Station. In the coming years, Hualamphong will be transformed into a railway museum, as Bangkok’s central train station moves out to Bang Sue in the suburbs – but for now you can still take in the vibe of the station as a living and breathing example of Thai history. Hualamphong has been in use since as far back as 1916, and was designed by Italian architect Mario Tamagno in renaissance style.
Chinatown’s street food prowess is well known – this is an area of Bangkok that is regarded as having some of the best street food in the city, if not in Thailand or even the world. While we would argue that there is great street food to be had in just about every part of Bangkok, there’s little arguing that you’ll find it hard to go hungry wandering the streets of Yaowarat.
One ethical recommendation from us: stay away from the shark fin soup that is sadly still widely available in Chinatown, despite growing agreement that the shark fin trade is both unsustainable and unnecessarily barbaric (the shark’s fins are generally removed while it is still alive, with the rest of the creature left to waste or even thrown back into the water in order to save space on fishing boats).
Easily accessible street food can be grazed on in and around Chinatown at all hours of the day, but the street food scenes for which Yaowarat is famous really come alive at night. Large crowds of hungry foodies trawl the streets, as stalls set up along the pavements churning out both the usual Thai street food staples and other dishes with more Thai-Chinese influence.
Street food prices in Yaowarat tend to be slightly higher than elsewhere in Bangkok, but that’s reflected in the quality of ingredients used as well as the skill of the cooks at some of these long-running stalls. Of course, you can also spend a pretty penny at one of the myriad of more expensive sit-down restaurants that line Yaowarat Road – but, as always in Bangkok, spending more is no guarantee that you’ll get a better or more memorable meal than you can have on the street (the opposite is often true).
Among the favourites is daytime rice-and-curry stall Khao Gaeng Jake Puey (daily, 3-9pm; Mangkon Road). This spot is about as photogenic as street food stalls come, with its backdrop a mishmash of decaying advertising plastered across the front of a shophouse. This is a bustling side street where, come mid-afternoon, a cart with various types of curries and stir-fries arrives to feed loyal regulars. Khao Gaeng Jake Puey is unlike most stalls of its kind in that it has no tables, only a couple of rows of plastic stools for you to perch on, with your lunch on your lap – but it’s worth the effort for the likes of green curry, penang curry, and stir-fried crab. Just get there early – things get going mid-afternoon and often sell out pretty soon after!
Also worth checking out for its famous, gourmet-style but nevertheless dirt-cheap khao moo daeng barbecued pork on rice is Si Morakot (daily, 10.30am-6.30pm; Soi Sukorn 1), a shophouse restaurant with a stellar reputation. Just along from it, Chongki (daily, 9.30am-7.30pm; Soi Sukorn 1) serves what’s regarded as some of Bangkok’s best pork satay skewers, alongside the obligatory peanut sauce, ajaat vinegar relish of cucumbers, shallots, and chillies and, if you fancy it, some toasted bread to soak up all the juices.
Hidden away down Soi Plaeng Nam (just off Yaowarat’s main stretch), there are keenly priced, delectably grilled giant river prawns – of the kind Ayutthaya is famous for – waiting to be enjoyed with the ubiquitous chilli-heavy Thai seafood dipping sauce. You’ll be able to recognise Kung Pao Patutong (daily, 6pm-midnight; Soi Plaeng Nam) from the charmingly kitsch retro decor inside – and of course the huge shrimps on the grill out front.
You’ll also find numerous large, fairly brash seafood restaurants set up of an afternoon and evening along Yaowarat Road itself and the streets around it, including at the top of Soi Texas where two competing and equally popular restaurants, Lek & Rut (daily, 5.30pm-2am; Soi Texas) and T&K (daily, 4.30pm-2am; Soi Texas), sit within close proximity to one another, spilling out onto the street from their bricks-and-mortar premises. In addition, slightly further inside Soi Texas sits renowned boiled blood cockle stall Hoy Kraeng Pa Jeen (Tuesday to Sunday, 5.30pm-1am; Soi Texas), where you can perch at a counter stool and tuck into some of Bangkok’s finest freshly boiled blood cockles and mussels, accompanied by made-to-order dipping sauces.
Another Expique pick for Chinatown feasting is Guay Deow Kua Gai Suanmali (Soi Thewi Worayat, Luang Road), a stir-fried chicken noodle vendor recognised in the 2017 Michelin Awards with a Bib Gourmand mark. This delicate dish takes wide flat rice noodles and stir-fries them with chicken and plenty of pepper – the noodles are frequently served on a bed of lettuce leaves and with a liberal dousing of Sriracha chilli sauce. Also awarded a Bib Gourmand is another favourite of ours, Guay Jub Ouan Pochana (daily, 6pm-3am; Yaowarat Road) which serves Chinese-style guay jub rolled rice noodles in a hot, peppery broth with pork belly. The evening-only stall sets up right outside the dilapidated Chinatown Cinema, where there’s a bathroom if you need a toilet break – it’s worth making a visit if only for a look at this slice of Bangkok history. And if you’re craving dessert afterwards, head to Jae Aun Bua Loy Nam King (Tuesday to Sunday, 7-11pm; Yaowarat Road) for the namesake sweet dish of black-sesame-seed-filled rice-flour dumplings in an aromatic ginger broth.
Chinatown borders the Little India district of Pahurat, where you’ll find plenty of options for delicious Indian food, including at cheap-as-chips streetside Toney Restaurant (daily, 11am-10pm; Chakphet Road). Meanwhile, Chinatown and its fringes are dotted with a number of authentically vintage coffee and tea houses, filled with chain-smoking old Thai-Chinese men reading the newspaper and catching up on the neighbourhood gossip. These are great places not just to soak up the old world atmosphere and the lovingly maintained interiors from years gone by, but also to tuck into strong, no-fuss hot or cold coffee with heaps of condensed milk, and similarly no-frills dishes like Thai-style American breakfasts and toast topped with coconut egg custard that’s not unlike Singapore’s and Malaysia’s own kaya spread. The three big-time old-style coffee shops worth checking out are On Lok Yun (daily, 5.30am-4pm; Charoenkrung Road), Kope Kya Kai Te (daily, 6am-3pm; Prachathipatai Road), and Eiah Sae (Monday to Saturday, 8am-8pm; Phat Sai Road).
When it comes to drinking, you’ll find both standalone bars and those in hotels and guest houses right across the Chinatown area but, to check out one of the most happening spots on Bangkok’s cocktail scene, it’s worth heading to Soi Nana, on the fringes of Yaowarat and just a six-minute walk from Hualamphong MRT station. Here you’ll find bars that have made huge names for themselves in just the last two years or so, including the high-end likes of Teens of Thailand (daily, 7pm-midnight, until 1am Fridays and Saturdays; Soi Nana), Tep (daily, 5pm-midnight, until 1am Fridays and Saturdays; Soi Nana) and Asia Today (Tuesday to Sunday, 7.15pm-1.15am; Soi Nana), as well as cheaper, more rough-and-ready spots like Bar 23 (Tuesday to Sunday, 8pm-midnight). While you’re on Soi Nana, make time to look into Oneday wallflowers (daily, 10am-8pm), a beautifully impressive hidden-away florist set in a gorgeous maze-like building that also houses the NANA Coffee Roasters coffee shop (Thursday to Tuesday, 11am-7pm) – so popular that on weekends you’ll almost certainly be met with a queue for a table – and, by night, the Wallflowers Upstairs bar (Thursday to Sunday, 5pm-midnight). Also worth investigating is the newly trendy bar and restaurant scene centred around Charoenkrung Soi 28 and 30, again on the edges of Chinatown and towards Saphan Taksin – head here for cocktail joints like Tropic City (Tuesday to Sunday, 7pm-1am; Charoenkrung Soi 28), craft beer spots such as Let The Girl Kill (Tuesday to Sunday, 6pm-midnight; Charoenkrung Road), and restaurants 80/20 (Wednesday to Monday, 6-11.45pm; Charoenkrung Road) and Jua (Tuesday to Sunday, 6pm-midnight; Charoenkrung Road), plus art galleries including Soy Sauce Factory (Monday to Saturday, 11am-11pm; Charoenkrung Soi 24) and Speedy Grandma (Wednesday to Sunday, 1-6pm; Charoenkrung Road).
Markets are at the heart of what makes Bangkok’s Chinatown so special, and it’s the side to Yaowarat that we love perhaps the most. This is heaven for shoppers – whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in the sights and smells of a typical Thai fresh market with a Chinese-influenced twist, or you want to pick up cheap fashion items or ceramics, you’re in the right place. A number of markets around the Yaowarat area all compete for your attention and your cash as you elbow up with savvy locals and indulge in some retail therapy. Besides the markets listed below, long-running unique markets like the Thieves’ Market and Khlong Thom Market are also worth checking out.
Among the most well-known of Chinatown’s markets is Sampeng Lane (Soi Wanit 1), something of a rabbit’s warren of a trading space that’s famed for its huge variety of cheap goods spanning from mass-produced fashion accessories to fabrics and electronics. The focus is on wholesale, meaning that if you buy big you can expect hefty discounts, and this is one of those spots where traders from other Bangkok markets come to stock up before selling on to tourists and locals at a healthy mark-up elsewhere in the capital – but retail customers looking to buy just one or two units are welcome, too. Just be warned that Sampeng Lane is a twisty-turny collection of alleyways about as narrow as markets get in Bangkok, and it’s heaving with traders, local shoppers, and tourists at the best of times. Throw in Bangkok’s usual soaring temperatures, and it’s a heady mix – the best approach is to give yourself more than enough time to explore at a gentle pace (allowing for the fact that you’ll inevitably get lost once or twice!), and simply take it slow. Sampeng market comes most alive in the wee hours, from around 2am, when the main wholesale business kicks off – if you can drag yourself out of bed early enough (or simply stay up late the night before), this when you’ll get an appreciation of the Sampeng vibe like no other.
Perfect for keen photographers looking to capture a slice of Bangkok’s Chinatown, photogenic Talat Kao (meaning ‘old market’) on Yaowarat Soi 6 has existed for centuries, and packs in all that you’ll find in most Thai wet markets along with the added intrigue of hundreds of years of trading history and character (plus a few items, like sea cucumbers and whole roasted pigs, that are harder to spot elsewhere around Bangkok). For the best choice of fresh and ready-to-eat foods, come in the morning – later in the day, the focus at Talat Kao switches as vendors hawk more generic goods that you’ll find in other markets across Bangkok.
This short and narrow alley, which makes up Charoenkrung Soi 16, is divided by the main road from the Talat Mai ‘new market’ over on Charoenkrung Soi 21. Trok Issaranuphap is a haven for street food lovers looking to sample the best of Thai cuisine, with all of the area’s Chinese influences, right at the heart of Chinatown’s bustling trading action, and with all the sights, sounds, and smells that come alongside.
Despite trading for over 100 years, this full-on street of vendors still goes by the name ‘new market’, and it’s a brilliant spot to get a feel for a heaving, non-stop Thai fresh market while also giving you the opportunity to pick up Chinese-influenced produce like spices, teas, and flowers that can be much harder to find in Bangkok markets outside of Chinatown. Talat Mai is set on Charoenkrung Soi 21, just across the road from the Trok Issaranuphap market on Charoenkrung Soi 16. As you wander through Talat Mai and the other markets around Yaowarat, you’ll also come across sets of cut-out paper versions of everyday objects like mobile phones, for the Thai-Chinese to burn as traditional offerings to their ancestors, which also make for interesting souvenirs!
A short walk from the main hubbub of Chinatown, Talat Noi (Charoenkrung sois 20 to 22) – meaning ‘little market’ – is a historic neighbourhood of early Chinese settlers that has escaped the large-scale tourist interest and development of Yaowarat proper. Aside from the market itself, Talat Noi is worth a visit simply for a wander and the chance to soak up its truly heritage vibe.
On the border of Chinatown, the appropriately named Little India (it really is much smaller in comparison), known locally as Pahurat, is a great place to stock up on beautiful fabrics and heady dried spices at dirt-cheap prices – plus much more. Centred roughly in the area hemmed in by Pahurat, Chakphet and Tripet Roads, the Little India market area is made up of both streetside stalls and bricks-and-mortar shops. It’s also dotted with a mix of a basic and fancier Indian restaurants serving good food – and for irresistible 10-baht samosas, head to a stall right outside the India Emporium shopping centre on Chakphet Road (itself also a good place to head for fabrics in particular).
Although not an outdoor market like the others we have mentioned here, the Old Siam Plaza (daily, 10am-9.30pm; from 10am on weekends) is a dated but charming vintage indoor shopping arcade located on Burapha Road. This three-storey mall is particularly well regarded for both its Thai silk and clothes tailoring on the upper floors and its extensive range of traditional Thai sweets and desserts – plus other Thai food dishes – on the entrance level.
Wedged between the Chaophraya river, old-town Rattanakosin Island, and the downtown Siam, Silom and Sathorn areas, getting to Chinatown in Bangkok is more of a breeze than you might think– and it will become even simpler when the new MRT station at Wat Mangkon temple opens in late-2019. For now, the easiest way to get there is to walk from Hualamphong MRT subway station – it’s around a 15-minute journey on foot. Alternatively, take the Chaophraya Express river boat (from Phra Athit pier if you’re staying in the Banglamphu/Khaosan area, or by connecting from the BTS Skytrain at Saphan Taksin if you’re staying downtown) to Ratchawong pier; from here, it’s only around an eight-minute walk to the heart of Yaowarat. Future extensions to the Skytrain and subway systems, which include stations due to open in Chinatown itself in the next year or so, will soon make getting here even easier.
While Chinatown is easy enough to reach from wherever you’re staying in Bangkok, if you want to find a place to rest your head right in the midst of the chaotic trading action then there’s no shortage of accommodation options in Yaowarat itself. The following is a short collection of hotels, guest houses and Airbnb outfits that we think are worth a look. Chinatown is also seeing a proliferation of hostel openings to consider if you are looking to stay in this popular area on a tighter budget.
Shanghai Mansion – smack bang on Yaowarat Road, with lovely retro-Chinese-style rooms, impressively opulent interiors, and a pleasant terrace bar that opens right onto the busy street-front.
Loy La Long – a 10-minute walk from the heart of Chinatown, Loy La Long is an intimate and homely riverside option with stylish, breezy rooms that open right onto the water for incredible views.
El Chiringuito – Soi Nana’s charming tapas and sangria bar rents out two spacious and sympathetically restored vintage shophouse rooms on its upper floors through Airbnb.
Ba Hao – another Soi Nana option available through Airbnb, the two design-led rooms on the upper floors of this craft beer joint have been meticulously furnished, with stunning rooftop views and shared access to a gorgeous living room.
103 Beds & Brews – one of Soi Nana’s newest openings, this coffee-shop-cum-taphouse has similarly restored colonial-style digs, some with impressive and space-saving duplex setups.
Asa Hostel – fairly basic but immaculate and new-feeling private and dorm rooms only a minute or two’s walk from the very heart of Chinatown.
Oldtown Hostel – on the fringes of Chinatown towards Saphan Taksin, this big, sprawling hostel has dorms and private rooms perfectly placed for bar-hopping at recent openings like Tropic City.
River View Guest House – a long-standing operation with a rooftop restaurant and bar offering, as the name suggests, some of Bangkok’s most renowned views over the Chaophraya river.
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in bangkok and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
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What are your favourite things to do and see in Chinatown? Let us know in the comments!
Wat Traimit photo by Dubaniowska; Hualamphong railway station photo by shankar s.; Sampeng Lane market photo by Vyacheslav Argenberg; all other photos by Chris Wotton.