As I write this article, we’re in the middle of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic that has swept across the globe — crippling businesses, affecting lives, and halting traveling and the tourism industry as a whole. Fortunately, several countries have managed to curb the spread of the virus, Thailand being one of them; and the country has been slowly (and cautiously) opening its doors to visitors and travelers once again. So I’ve decided to write this article on my visit to the Bangkok’s bustling Chinatown last year — just before the world closed down its doors, and before life adopted its new norm. May we be able to travel freely again in the near future.
For this trip to Bangkok, I was based and solely explored the area of Chinatown. It’s a large and extremely packed district that spreads out from the main Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road — and is said to be one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world! There is a newly opened (2019) Wat Mangkon MRT Station that now links this area of Bangkok to the rest of the city, so it’s much easier to access and visit Chinatown compared to before. I love the vibe and atmosphere here — it’s like stepping into an old Chinese township with random wires hanging across the shop-lots and roads, and huge gaudily lighted street signs everywhere. Even the smell is characteristically Chinese (and I am allowed to say it because after all, I am Chinese) from all the delicious food and traditional spices.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is also filled with beautiful temples, shopping streets and luxurious hotels — and here’s a list of the Top 10 things you can do in the district on your future visit!
1. Visit Wat Traimit and its Golden Buddha
Wat Traimit Withayaram Worawihan is home to the 3-metres high, 5.5-tonne golden statue of a seated Buddha. It is probably the most popular temple in the Chinatown area, with locals and tourists visiting the site just to see the Golden Buddha. The image is located on the top temple of a multi-storied building that is decorated in beautiful white-marbled walls and gold trimmings. The Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center Museum is also located in the vicinity, but was closed during my visit. Entrance to view the Golden Buddha costs THB40 (~US$1), and the museum costs an additional THB100 (~US$2.6). The China Gate Arch is also located in the middle of the roundabout in front of the temple’s main entrance.
2. Seek Blessings at Wat Mangkon Chinese Temple
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat is the largest and most significant Chinese Buddhist Temple in the whole of Bangkok. It is also known as the “Dragon Lotus Temple”, and was formerly called Wat Leng Noei Yi. During my visit, the temple was packed with locals seeking blessings, asking for their fortunes told, and giving donations. Apart from the Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines dating back to the late 1900’s that is located around the huge temple; the temple also has many different rooms that allows for specific prayers and wishes. As I was there just to visit, I quietly and respectfully walked around the temple while admiring its intricate Chinese architecture. Entrance is free.
3. See the Crocodiles at Wat Chakrawat
Nestled within the narrow lanes of Bangkok’s Chinatown is the temple of Wat Chakrawatrachawat Woramahawihan. I would say that the temple is not very well-known as not many people visit the temple, but I decided to drop by just to catch a glimpse of the three crocodiles that can be found in the vicinity — cause after all, it’s also known as the “Crocodile Temple”. The crocodiles live in a pretty spacious enclosure that comes with a pond (that they usually submerge in). I only caught a full-length sight of one of the crocodiles. While there, I also explored the other buildings within the temple grounds, and visited one of the smaller temples that houses the “Footprints of Buddha”. Entrance is free.
4. Buy in Bulk at Sampeng Lane Market
I am one of those people who thinks that visiting one market is like visiting all of them. But I have to say that Chinatown’s Sampeng Lane Market is a wholesale market unlike any other wholesale market! It is probably one of the best hidden secrets of Chinatown Bangkok, and makes a great wholesale shopping experience that can probably last an entire day — and that’s because it is an extremely long stretch of stalls and shops that seem to span the entire length of Chinatown. The wholesale market is located along Sampeng Lane (thus its name), and you can find a variety of wholesale items for sale like souvenirs, accessories, trinkets, fabric, children’s toys, clothing and more. It can get really hot and humid (due to it being narrow and crowded), but take your time to really shop — because the more you buy, the cheaper it gets!
5. Enjoy the Glorious Street Food
When in Chinatown, go crazy on all the delicious food on offer! You’ll find all kinds of food by the side of the road, along the food streets, in a dark corner near a narrow lane, in a small hole-in-the-wall stall, and even in a fancy looking restaurant. During my entire time in the district, I was eating and eating, and eating!
Some of my favourites that I discovered during my stay in Chinatown were the choices at Sukorn 1 Lane which include the delicious oyster omelette at Daeng Racha Hoi Tod, the crispy pork rice at Si Morakot, and the pork satay at Chong Kee; the Urai Stewed Goose; the oyster porridge at Yu Huad on Texas Lane; the Khnomjeab Boran Paesiak mini dim-sum; as well as the raw shellfish, chestnuts and outdoor seafood restaurants that you can find all along Yaowarat Road.
6. Search for the Michelin Status Stalls
Now, other than those I mentioned above… Chinatown Bangkok is also home to a few well-known (and often packed) Michelin-starred street food and stalls. Some of these places have been around for many many years, and have also been Michelin approved for a couple of years too. During my visit, I made it a point to visit all the food stalls that have been rated in 2019 — there are a total of five in the Chinatown area.
I think my favourite was probably the unassuming and no-frills “side of the road” Woeng Nakhon Kasem‘s simple crab fried rice. There’s also the famous braised pork knuckles restaurants, Kway Chap Auon Pochana and Kuay Jab Nay Ek — both a must-try when you’re in Chinatown (I prefer the latter). I also really enjoyed Lim Lao Ngow‘s Fishball Noodles that’s a little out of the way from the main thoroughfare of Chinatown; but not so much Pa Tong Go Savoey‘s Yu Tiao — I probably prefer the Malaysian deep-fried dough strips better.
7. Stay at the Grand China Hotel Bangkok
So when you’re in Chinatown, why not stay a day or two in the area and really explore the place? During my visit, I stayed at the grand and luxurious Grand China Hotel Bangkok, located directly at the junction of Chinatown’s main Yaowarat Road in the Samphanthawong District in Bangkok. The four-star hotel’s strategic location makes it easy to access many of Chinatown’s main attraction, as listed in this list; and it’s also just a 10-15 minutes walk from the newly opened (2019) Wat Mangkon MRT Station on Charoen Krung Road. I really appreciated the fact that I could spend a couple of hours exploring Chinatown in the Southeast Asian heat, and then make a quick trip back to the hotel to rest and relax before heading out again. You can read about my experience staying at the Grand China Hotel Bangkok here.
Oh, and if you’re looking for a more boutique hotel to stay at in Chinatown, I’ve also stayed at the Shanghai Mansion Hotel along Yaowarat Road, read about it here.
8. Dine at the Grand China Hotel’s 360 Sky View Restaurant
And well, even if you’re not staying the night in the Chinatown Bangkok vicinity, do make it a point to drop by the Grand China Hotel’s 360 Sky View Restaurant. It is probably the one place that will allow you the most beautiful 360° bird’s eye view of the entire Chinatown area, as well as the rest of Bangkok while you dine on its revolving floor. Located at the highest 25th floor of the hotel, I think the scenery looks best when the night lights of the city come on; but if you visit during the day, it’ll be fun to play ‘Guess the Landmark’ as you may very well be able to see almost all the most famous landmarks around Bangkok (and even the Chao Phraya River). The restaurant serves a delectable meal of a mixture of local, Western and Vietnamese cuisines.
9. Shop for Bird’s Nest, Chinese Herbs and Gold
It’s hard not to notice all the many many shops around Chinatown selling all sorts of Chinese goodies — from dried food and seafood, to Chinese herbs, bird’s nest, and even shiny, blinking gold. These are some of the best things to purchase while you’re in the area, as the prices are pretty cheap and affordable, and quality is good. Some of the dried goods to purchase are cashew nuts, dried shrimps and oysters, meat floss, Chinese sausages, and preserved meats; and even higher grade stuff like dried abalone and bird’s nest. The shops usually vacuum pack and seal the purchases for you to bring home. And yes, gold too! There are plenty of goldsmith shops around Yaowarat Road, and during my visit, I would occasionally spot busses of tourists crammed inside these shops. I guess you can get gold for a better price (and it’s probably safer too) in Thailand.
10. Bask in the Vibes and Night Lights of Chinatown
And last but not least, soak in all the vibes and atmosphere of Chinatown Bangkok. During the day, the area is bustling with visitors and shoppers — dropping by the beautiful temples, sampling their popular street food and shopping for all the Chinese goodies. Come night, the long stretch of Yaowarat Road is lighted up in all sorts of colorful (and pretty gaudy) lights, and there’s just streams and streams of people walking up and down the entire length of the road — either just admiring the ambience of the place, or looking for things to eat! Local street vendors will be calling out their wares to their potential customers, shops (and live bands) will be blasting their music out loud, and the entire street will be jam-packed with cars, and taxis and flashy tuk-tuks. The Chinatown Bangkok scene is really something else, and has to be seen and experienced.