We have been quite a few times to Bangkok, often for periods of several weeks at a time. We have also been to Chinatown a couple of times, but when we got an offer to join a off-the-beaten-track walking tour with the Bangkok Vanguards to see the old ancient Bangkok, we could not say no.

Chinatown, or Yaowarat as it is known locally, is a truly fascinating area of Bangkok, with action at all hours and surprises at every turn, a maze of alleyways, centuries old temples and hectic markets. Chinatown covers a large area around Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Road, towards the river.

Michael, originally from Germany and the co-founder of Bangkok Vanguards, was our excellent guide with a big heart and true passion for Bangkok and it`s poorer communities.

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Michael, our fun and energetic guide from the Bangkok Vanguards. Here in front of the only shop left in Chinatown that sells ancient clocks.

For four hours we walked through both the big busy streets and highways that runs through Chinatown……

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The big Yaowarat Road, that runs through the heart of Chinatown.

But mostly we walked through the small narrow and peaceful alleys that all together makes Chinatown special and unique compared to the rest of Bangkok.

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The narrow lanes of Chinatown

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Beautifully painted old Chinese House.

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One of the more busy streets in Chinatown, full of pavement restaurants selling all kinds of street food.

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Birds seem to be popular in Chinatown. A lot of the houses had birds in cages.

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The History of Chinatown

Chinatown is one of the oldest part of Bangkok, and represents the first resettlement of Chinese.

The Chinese came here after Rama I moved the capital of the kingdom of Thailand from Thonburi to where Bangkok is today. The Chinese settled down on the river bank so they easily could operate trades between Bangkok and China, trading mostly silk, tea, timber and rice.

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In between the big concrete structures, you can find small old brick wall houses dated from when the first settlement from China built their houses here about 200 years ago.

In 1891, King Rama V ordered the construction of many big roads in Bangkok, including Yaowarat Road which makes the “heart” of today’s Chinatown.

Today Chinatown consists of a big area at the riverside, which also includes roads as Charoen Krung Road, Mungkorn Road, Songwat Road, Songsawat Road and Chakkrawat Road.

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Typical Chinese rooftops at many of the old houses in Chinatown.

Yaowarat’s Sam Peng Market is the center of Chinatown. The path of the road through the market is said to resemble a dragon’s curvy body, which symbolises success in business.

Here you will find a lot of shops selling everything from gold, clothes, food, spices, fruits, tea, Chinese souvenirs, electric goods, antiques, clocks and music instruments.

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An old (and angry?) man selling Chinese souvenirs at Sam Peng Market.

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Daily life in Chinatown.

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A lot of people live and work in Chinatown

An Old Chinese Family House

The land in Chinatown is mostly owned by old prominent Thai-Chinese families, which are or used to be rich business men. Land prices in Chinatown have always been one of the most expensive in Bangkok and Thailand due to limited land, and it`s nice location by the river. 

On our walking tour Michael took us to one of the few ancient Chinese Family Houses that are left in Bangkok today. It belongs to one Thai-Chinese family who has got a lot of offers from buyers, including the co-owner of Red Bull (Red Bull is partly Thai owned by the way….learned that from our guide Michael as well, he sure knows a lot! 🙂 ), but they refuse to sell.

Guess what they have turned the old place into? A Dive Center! Yep, in the middle of Bangkok with no diving sites near by! It was a big surprise to me too! 🙂 Apparently they do all the diving theory and pool practice here, and drive out to the coast for the actual diving.

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The entrance to the old Chinese Family House that is now a diving school. How cool of an entrance is that?!

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A close-up picture of the walls at the entrance, full of beautiful hand-made paintings!

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It is difficult to see on this picture, but the paintings are actually in 3D! The heads of the people stand out of the painting. Pretty cool!

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The paintings are so colourful and full of details. Incredible!

This is what the old Chinese Family House looks like at the inside:

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They have built a big swimming pool in the middle of the courtyard of the old Chinese Family House, where they do the dive training.

Today only the son (who runs the diving school) and his wife and kids lives here, as well as his mother. In the old days there were probably a lot of people living here.

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Beautiful old Chinese doors upstairs. So colourful!

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While we were there, they were actually having a photo shoot for a magazine in the courtyard.

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One of the upstairs bedrooms. Cozy?

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To the left: The swimming pool in the courtyard. To the right: The ancestor room, holding portraits of the family ancestors.

The Holy Trees

Close to the old Chinese Family House we came across some ancient trees. They are very old fig trees, of the same species of Bodhi tree that Buddha achieved enlightenment under, and are considered holy. Around the trees they wrap coloured cloth, and the trees are protected from being cut down.

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An old holy fig tree, with a small temple. Check out the small dolls inside the little temple, they even have sunglasses on!! How cool is that?! Love it! 🙂

More than just being beautiful, the trees form the backbone of the re-use businesses in Chinatown. Old machines, like this car, is placed under the tree in the hope that the tree can bring the machine back in working order. If that does not work, the parts are recycled by the community. Thus entire districts are dedicated to the reconstruction and repair of old machinery. 

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A cool old car placed next to the tree, in hope that the tree will fix it?! Well, it doesn`t seem to work.

The Modern City Is Taking Over

Not all Thai-Chinese families that own land in Chinatown refuse to sell, quite a few have already sold to business men who want to build tall hotels or business constructions.

Also the government wants to modernise Chinatown, and have started to build a Sky Train Station here. They have plans to knock down a whole quarter of old Chinese buildings, where people live and have their businesses today.

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Chinese street restaurant.

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Powerful business interest wants to knock down all these old buildings. Why not preserve them, restore them and make them into something useful for today`s generation?

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Construction work taking place next to ancient old wood buildings. Wonder how many beautiful old buildings they have taken down just on this piece of land.

But There is Hope……

Although some rich business interests are trying to turn the ancient Chinatown into a modern business area, there are initiatives that oppose it both within the local community and international organisations. The Bangkok Vanguards that did the walking tour that we joined, do a lot of work in Chinatown and other communities to help people. You can read more about their projects at their webpage: www.bangkokvanguards.com.

Boutique Hotels

On our walk we visited an old Chinese Family House that has been turned into an incredible boutique hotel called Loy La Long. They have kept the old wooden structures, and added new modern parts to it, like bathroom, kitchen and restaurant. It is all kept in the same style and design as the old one, so it looks super cool! Would love to stay at this hotel some day! It is located just by the river, with a beautiful balcony where one can sit with a drink and watch the boats go by….. Love it!!

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To the left: Who would think that this is the entrance to a hip and cool boutique hotel? To the right: The smiling receptionists at Loy La Long Hotel.

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The view from the restaurant at Loy La Long Boutique Hotel. Who would`t like to sit here with a drink and watch the boats go by?

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All rooms have different interior and colours.

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The beautiful red room, located on the top floor.

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How cool is this bathroom?!

Loy La Long is also very popular amongst young Thai people, as it was featured in Thailand’s highest grossing movie of 2009. In this boutique hotel the two lead actresses had a romantic scene.

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The nice and cool reception/ restaurant at Loy La Long Hotel.

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Personally I think this is an excellent way to preserve the old Chinese Family Houses. Who would`t like to stay in one of these old beautiful Chinese houses if they were boutique hotels?

Museum

On our walking tour Michael also showed us one old Chinese House that has been made into a Museum. The house used to host Chinese opera singers. Here the opera singers would live, do their make-up and dress up before going on stage.

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Posters of what they had to offer. Palm reading was apparently the hot thing back then.

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Old Chinese Opera costumes.

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Old Chinese Opera accessories.

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Old Chinese Opera costumes.

We ended our walking tour watching the beautiful sunset over Bangkok and Chinatown.

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Beautiful sunset over Bangkok and Chinatown.

We really enjoyed this walking tour with the Bangkok Vanguards! It was great to walk the hidden streets and alleys of Chinatown and see places that we never would have seen by ourselves. We highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in going beyond the usual tourist attractions, and experience a slice of everyday life in Bangkok. Wear comfortably clothes and sandals/ shoes that are good for walking, and expect to sweat a lot, and to be a bit exhausted afterwards. It is good exercise too! 🙂


Where To Stay In Bangkok

Bangkok offers a wide selection of accommodation for all budgets, and you will have plenty of choices when it comes to finding the right place to stay.

Bangkok is pretty affordable when it comes to accommodation, so you can get some really good deals and even find five stars hotels very cheap compared to other places in the world. However, accommodation prices do vary greatly with the season. Below are some of our favorite accommodation options in Bangkok. We have stayed at all of these four hotels.

Dusit Thani Hotel Bangkok

DSC85191-705x468Read our review of Dusit Thani Hotel HERE. We love this hotel, and will highly recommend it! Dusit Thani is one of the classic and legendary hotels in Bangkok, being the first five-star hotel in the city. So everybody knows where it is, including all taxi drivers and tuk-tuk drivers, so it is easy to find.

Hotel Muse Bangkok

DSC91281-705x468Read our review of Hotel Muse HERE. It is a cool and unique boutique hotel, perfectly located in the center of Bangkok!

Casa Nithra

If you're looking for a mid range option close to Bangkok's famous Khao San area, then the Casa Nithra comes highly recommended. The rooftop swimming pool is lovely, the rooms comfortable and the breakfast has plenty of options. It's located in a quite area, yet Khao San is just an easy walk away.

Hotel Icon

Hotel Icon is a new hotel which opened July 2014. It is very modern and have big comfortable rooms. The rooftop swimming pool is great! It is located on the same quiet street as Lohas Suites.

For more accommodation options read our complete guide to where to stay in Bangkok.

Guide Books

We used the Lonely Planet`s Thailand book, which is great! On earlier Thailand trips we have used the Lonely Planet`s South-East Asia book, which we loved. You can buy both books at Amazon (click on the pictures below to read more about each book):

51wSK6wxpUL._SL160_     51rOG31aXmL._SL160_     Southeast_Asia_on_a_Shoestring     51lcuuzWRvL._SL160_     51ly9JCvgkL._SL160_

 

Have you been to Chinatown Bangkok? What is your best experience from Chinatown? Please add a comment in the comment area below! If you find this blog post interesting or useful, please share and like on social media! Thank you! 🙂

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Maria

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd, who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a masters degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. See our about page for more about Maria.

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