The sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown are an assault to the senses so visitors should be prepared, but for anyone with a sense of adventure a day lost among the many market alleys and street food vendors can be the most memorable of any spent in Bangkok. There is no better time to check out this fascinating and unmistakable area of Bangkok than around the time of a traditional Chinese festival and the biggest of them all is Chinese New Year. Celebrated according to the Lunar Calendar, the date of Chinese New Year changes slightly but it is usually in the first two weeks of February.
If you are heading down to Chinatown, have a look at our top 10 things to do and see:
Get a Panoramic View of Chinatown from Grand China Princess Revolving Restaurant
For less than 100 baht, the cost of a drink including a draft beer at 75 baht only, get a surprising panoramic view of Chinatown and beyond, all the way to the Chao Phraya river. It takes about two hours for Sky View 360˙restaurant to complete a full round and you barely notice any movement. The restaurant serves also Thai, European, Japanese and Chinese with old fashioned waiters and waitresses with a live piano backgrond music. This viewpoint is not very well known and is a great place to take am air con break past 5pm after a tiring exploration of busy Chinatown.
Opening Hours: Daily – 6:00 pm to 1:00 am
Address: 215 Yaowarat Road
Eat Food You Can’t Pronounce in Old Siam Plaza
Old Siam Plaza is housed in an attractive Art Deco complex at the western edge of Chinatown. It’s a fun place to explore with different areas devoted to vastly different items. Inside one of the main atriums you’ll find a host of stalls selling traditional Thai-Chinese sweets and are some of the tastiest you can find in the whole city. Some of our favourites include Kanom Sai Sai (sweet coconut milk wrapped in banana leaves and steamed) and Sala Pao (soft, steamed buns with a range of fillings). Upstairs in Old Siam you’ll find a range of shops specialising in Thai silk and wedding accessories, while on the far side of the building there are a group of shops selling knives, hunting rifles and handguns (which require a license).
Opening Hours: 9:00 – 18:30
Location: Fills the block between Charoen Krung and Burapha Road
Empower your Yang with Chinese Medicine
Long before vitamin supplements and super foods were making headlines, Chinese herbal doctors were prescribing seahorses to empower the Yang and ginseng to restore vitality. If you have any ailments that Western medicine just can’t help, make sure you visit one of the numerous pharmacies lining Yaowarat Road. Although not as plentiful as gold shops, you’ll never be more than a stroll from a pharmacy, which are easy to recognise thanks to the tall shelves lining the stores with row upon row of mysterious medicines, dried herbs and animals in jars. We wouldn’t recommend using herbal medicine in place of prescribed synthetic medication, but it is certainly kinder to the body to try a natural cure. Most pharmacists speak English well and sell a varying mixture of herbal and synthetic medicine.
Watch a Movie for 60 Baht
Probably one of the last privatly owned movie theater in Bangkok…The Chinatown Rama is a tiny cinema located in the middle of Yaowarat Road, it is really hard to spot as the entrance also serves as storage and restaurant. To buy the 60 baht ticket, knock at the ticket booth glass if staff is asleep. It’s an experience in itslef as there are very few cinemas with most of their original fixtures and if it doesn’t play porn movies, you might be approached by ‘someone’ you don’t.
Eat some crunchy bugs by the road side
If you keep your eyes open you will spot a cart selling delicacies a little more interesting than the usual pomegranate and other chestnuts. This guy displays a large selection of fun fried insects and all of them are obviously edible: it is just in our education and natural instinct that taught us that those as ‘bad’. Think about it, how different is a shrimp from a grasshopper? So give it a try, it is fun! Note that if you only plan to take a photo, a 20 baht note will make him happy, those small vendors get often harassed by tourists wanting photos all day 😉
Buy Gold on Yaowarat
Chinatown has more gold shops per square meter than anywhere else in Bangkok, so if you’re even remotely tempted to buy some jewellery then the best value can be found in one of the hundreds of shops lining Yaowarat Road. Thai people travel by boat, train and tuk-tuk to come and trade gold seven days a week, so there’s always a commotion going on in whichever shops have the best rates that day. Some people buy gold to wear, others as an investment and still more as an extravagant present with some real status power. Around Chinese New Year, more gold is traded than at any other time so this is the best month to see the bustling gold shops, sometimes with queues of people waiting – just like in a club – to buy some gold. Some shops display their daily gold prices scrawled in white paint on their windows so you can compare the different prices being offered.
Opening Hours: 09:00 – 17:00
Location: The entire length of Yaowarat Road
Visit the Crocs at Wat Chakrawat
A very unusual sight for those who thought they’d seen everything. Inside the temple complex at Wat Chakrawat, behind the beautiful curved stupa, there is a murky pond housing three giant crocodiles who lie, half submerged in the water, waiting for their next meal. Legend has it that the crocodiles kept eating young monks so they were trapped and housed here.
Location: Chakrawat Road, south of Sampeng Lane
Retrieve your old mobile at the Thieves Market
It’s not the most welcoming name for a market – perhaps why they changed the official name to Nakon Kasem – but seriously intriguing, Thieves Market doesn’t actually sell stolen goods anymore, instead it is full of second-hand curios like antique cameras, Buddhist amulets, and even old shoes! It’s far more interesting for photographers than for shoppers, but you really never know what you might find. Thieves Market is between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Road on the western edge of Chinatown.
Location: Thieves Market, between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Road
Catch a Cultural Show at the First Real Theater in Thailand
Built in 1933 under Royal Patronage, Sala Chalermkrung is a charming theatre that is immaculately maintained with period fittings that whisk you back in time 80 years – a mass of brass fittings, red velvet cushions and sepia photographs. Everything looks as fresh as it did when Chalerm Krung opened its doors as the first cinema with audio and air-conditioning in Thailand. Nowadays, the theatre is home to Khon, a Thai masked dance that is tasked with maintaining Thailand’s traditional performance art and dance. The show is a mixture of exquisite costume, traditional dance and an historical epic about a double-crossing demon.
Performances take place every Thursday and Friday from 19:30. There are three ticket prices 800 baht, 1,000 baht and 1,200 baht.
Opening Hours: Show Times: Thursday and Friday from 19:30
Location: Charoen Krung Road next to Old Siam Plaza
See the Largest Gold Buddha in the World
As any seasoned traveler could tell you, tourist attractions go to great lengths to proclaim theirs is the biggest, longest, tallest or strangest (who wouldn’t be impressed by a visit to the largest icebound underground freshwater lake in the world?).
In this tradition, the claim that keeps tourists flocking into Wat Traimit is the largest gold Buddha in the world. I joke, but the revered statue, seated on an altar and surrounded by traditional Thai golden arches is breathtaking and is a regular pilgrimage for Buddhists and inquisitive tourists. Located close to Hua Lampong MRT Station, it is a great stop on your way to – or from – the subway station. The view from the top of the Wat Traimit offers a sight of the ornate Chinatown Gate nearby and receives a refreshing breeze which blows through the open doors of the temple meaning visitors can enjoy marveling at the dimensions of the Buddha statue without perspiring from the heat.
Opening Hours: 08:00-17:00
Location: Wat Traimit, Mittaphap Thai-China Street
Burn Money from ‘The Bank of Hell’
If you visit Chinatown around Chinese New Year you might see people burning clothes, boats, cars, mobile phones and pretty much any other trapping of our modern world – especially money! But don’t worry, these offerings to their ancestors are bright, kitsch replicas made of paper. You can find them all over Chinatown but there’s an enclave of these shops lining the route to Leng Noi Yee Temple off Charoen Krung Road.
The practice dates back thousands of years and is still actively practiced around the Lunar New Year by Chinese-Thai families throughout Thailand. However, the Iphones and Blackberrys are a rather more modern addition. The burning of paper gifts is usually done at home with the family, not at a temple, but why don’t you buy your own replica bank notes and treat some of your dearly departed?
Location: Found in the market streets near Leng Noi Yee Temple