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.
For four hours we walked through both the big busy streets and highways that runs through 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is what the old Chinese Family House looks like at the inside:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
All rooms have different interior and colours.
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.
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?
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.
We ended our walking tour watching the 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 hotels in Bangkok. We have stayed at all of the hotels below.
If you’d like to stay along the river without breaking the bank, the Avani Riverside hotel is a great alternative to the usual riverside luxury hotels. Rooms are super comfortable with fantastic views overlooking the Chao Phraya River and the fantastic rooftop infinity pool is probably our favorite in Bangkok.
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Hotel Muse is a cool and unique boutique hotel, perfectly located in the center of Bangkok within easy walking distance of Chit Lom Skytrain station. The rooms are elegant with a classic Thai inspired decor, comfortable beds and gorgeous bathrooms with a deep bathtub.. There is a rooftop bar, a pool and a fitness center. We spent Christmas here a few years ago, and was very happy with our choice of hotel.
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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 quiet area, yet Khao San is just an easy walk away.
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Hotel Icon is a small hotel centrally located on Sukhumvit road. The rooms are fresh and modern, big and comfortable with all the usual comforts such as flat-screen tv, aircon, and free Wi-Fi. The rooftop swimming pool is great!
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⇒ For more accommodation options and tips on which areas of Bangkok that suit you best, read our complete guide to where to stay in Bangkok.
We used the Lonely Planet`s Thailand travel guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books at Amazon.com (affiliate links).
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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