Categories

Stepping Back In Time In Chinatown – Bangkok

Dear Reader: We may get commissions for purchases made through links in this article, at no extra cost to you. This helps keep the site running and free for all. Thank you! ❤️

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.

_DSC1984
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……

_DSC1962
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.

smug
The narrow lanes of Chinatown
chinese
Beautifully painted old Chinese House.
_DSC1991
One of the more busy streets in Chinatown, full of pavement restaurants selling all kinds of street food.
bird
Birds seem to be popular in Chinatown. A lot of the houses had birds in cages.

alley_man

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.

_DSC1764
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.

_DSC1776
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.

_DSC2050
An old (and angry?) man selling Chinese souvenirs at Sam Peng Market.
mann_smug_riktig
Daily life in Chinatown.
man_woman
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.

_DSC1778
The entrance to the old Chinese Family House that is now a diving school. How cool of an entrance is that?!
_DSC1781
A close-up picture of the walls at the entrance, full of beautiful hand-made paintings!
_DSC1786
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!
_DSC1787
The paintings are so colourful and full of details. Incredible!

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

IMG_2064
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.

IMG_2057
Beautiful old Chinese doors upstairs. So colourful!
IMG_2047
While we were there, they were actually having a photo shoot for a magazine in the courtyard.
_DSC1814
One of the upstairs bedrooms. Cozy?
basseng
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.

tree
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. 

_DSC1833
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.

_DSC2018
Chinese street restaurant.
_DSC2033
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?
_DSC1943
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!!

reception
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.
_DSC1895
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?

IMG_2091

note_chairs

All rooms have different interior and colours.

_DSC1922
The beautiful red room, located on the top floor.
dusj_vask
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.

_DSC1928
The nice and cool reception/ restaurant at Loy La Long Hotel.

IMG_2088

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.

_DSC2026
Posters of what they had to offer. Palm reading was apparently the hot thing back then.
_DSC2028
Old Chinese Opera costumes.
_DSC2030
Old Chinese Opera accessories.
_DSC2041
Old Chinese Opera costumes.

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

girl

_DSC1860

_DSC2070
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.

Hotel Muse Bangkok

DSC91281-705x468
Hotel Muse has a beautiful and classic decor

Read our review of Hotel Muse her. It is a cool and unique boutique hotel, perfectly located in the center of Bangkok!
Click here for latest prices
Avani Riverside

The awesome rooftop infinity pool at Avani Riverside Hotel

If you’d like to stay along the river without breaking the bank, the new 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.
Click here for latest prices

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 quiet area, yet Khao San is just an easy walk away.
Click here for latest prices

Hotel Icon
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!
Click here for latest prices

⇒ 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.

Travel Guides

We used the Lonely Planet`s Thailand travel guide on our trip. You can get that and other great books by clicking on the pictures below which will take you to 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! 🙂

PIN IT FOR LATER!
Hoover over the pictures below and press the green PIN IT button that pops up: 

Chinatown Bangkok      Chinatown Bangkok Chinatown Bangkok      Chinatown Bangkok

Some of the above links are affiliate links, and we will earn a small percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at absolutely no extra cost to you! This helps keep our site running at no extra cost to you — so thanks!

Photo of author

Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

19 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos and it looks like a great tour! I’ve passed through Chinatown in Bangkok a few times but never really thought to explore it in detail like this. What cool little angles you found!

    Reply
    • Hi Michael!

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting! We are huge fans of your blog, your photography and writing, so you really made our day with your nice comment 🙂

      This tour really opened our eyes to Chinatown. It is the original settlement in Bangkok, and has a lot of cool little places that was fun to discover.

      Good luck on your Philippines adventure! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Of course, we decided to put Chinatown off until our next trip to Bangkok, but on the plus side, we now know about Vanguards tours! 🙂 Who would’ve thought that they would turn that place into a dive school? Fantastic views from that restaurant too. I miss Bangkok!

    Reply
    • You should definitely visit Chinatown on your next Bangkok trip, Katie! It is such a vibrant and fun place both during the day and in the evening.

      Yeah, we were also very surprised by the dive school inside that old Chinese family house! Our guide Michael asked us when we stood outside; “What do you think this house now houses? A car wash, a snooker place or a dive school?” Non of us guessed a dive school :).

      Reply
  3. Fantastic photos! When we went to Bangkok we had about 6 rolls of film and so we were very sparingly taking photos so my memory of Chinatown is no where near what your photos show. It really makes me want to go back!

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for that nice comment Emily!

      Hmm, analog photography…cool! That`s the good thing about digital cameras, you can take as many photos as you like, although you end up deleting half of them afterwards! 🙂

      Reply
  4. What beautiful photos. And a whole lot different to the other Chinatowns we’ve visited around the world. In the likes of London and San Francisco.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much! Yeah, I agree with you, the Chinatown in Bangkok is different from the one in for instance New York and London. This one is a great mix of Thai and Chinese, since it has been here for such a long time (since 1891). A nice place to visit if you are in Bangkok!

      Reply
  5. Thanks so much for this post Maria. The photos look amazing. I’ve been to Bangkok but I’ve never been to Chinatown and I have absolutely no idea why? This “tour” company looks pretty interesting as I like their concept of being more “locally-inspired” and the fact that the company is half German-half Thai certainly doesn’t hurt as my family is half British-half German LOL!
    We’re thinking of taking the 360 “tour.” Do you think it would be suitable for a mature 12 year old boy who is well-travelled but in Asia for the first time?
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Then you should definitely head over to Chinatown and walk around this time! It`s such a nice part of Bangkok.

      Hmm, I am not quite sure if this 360 walking-tour is suitable for a 12 year old to be honest. It is a pretty looooong walk, approximately 9 hours, and it is quite hot and humid in Bangkok in July/August (today it is over 35 c here). You should contact Michael: dogood@bangkokvanguards.com and just ask (say hi to him from me :)). There are not many tourists in Bangkok at that time (low season), so maybe they can even do a special tour for just you guys, like they did for us (4 hours), and shorten the tour if your boy gets tired. They speak perfect German (of course :)), so then you can even have the tour in German if you want! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Thanks Maria. I think I will do that. I think somewhat customised might be better. Onto it right now LOL!

    Reply
  7. Wonderful photos. Well done Maria! Just a little info improvement – Red Bull is Austria/Thai owned and would be not what it is now without a genius Dietrich Mateschitz…

    Reply
  8. Hi Elgee!

    Thanks for the kind words about our photos! 🙂

    And thanks for pointing out the Red Bull ownership details. I’ll try to make it a little clearer that the Thai gentleman that we refer to, is a co-owner of Red Bull 🙂

    Reply
    • Wow, great! Thanks for getting back to me and linking up your article about the tour! So happy that it worked out for you! It sounds like you had a great day! And 9 hours, wow, I`m really impressed with your 12 year old! 🙂

      Reply
  9. Thank YOU Maria. It was a brilliant tour. I’m so glad that I found your post and took your advice. Highly recommended!
    My son was delighted with everything and really held his own LOL!

    Reply
  10. Hi There, what a fantastic report and photots. Can you share with us where did you take the sunset photos in Chinatown? Was it in one of the tall hotel buildings? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Hi Ross,

      Thank you so much!

      Yes, the sunset photos were taken at one of the hotel buildings along the river in Chinatown. We took the elevator up to the top where it was a rooftop terrace. Sorry, I don`t remember which hotel, but there are several tall hotels along the river where you can take similar shots.

      -Maria-

      Reply

Leave a Comment

566