Bangkok Walking Tour ChinaTown

One of Bangkok’s most colourful and vibrant districts, Chinatown, or Sampeng as it is sometimes still known, is full of narrow sois teeming with activity, markets with colourful awnings to protect from the sun and rain, food stalls selling an amazing variety of snacks — not all palatable to Western tastes — and, of course, shophouses where traditional Chinese crafts continue to be practised.

Route

Hua Lamphong Railway Station - Wat Trimit - Yaowarat Road - Kao Market - Tang To Kang Gold Shop - Nakorn Kasem Market - Phahurat Market - Flower Market

Approximate walking time – 1 hour

Hua Lamphong Railway Station

If you are walking from the Si Phraya Chao Phraya Express Pier, keep Khlong Padung Krung Kasem to your left and follow Maha Phrutharam Rd until you come to the Hua Lamphong Railway Station. When this historic train station, said to be based on one of the mainline terminals in Manchester, England, was built as Bangkok’s main rail junction, it was outside the city centre to the east. It is now to the west of the area known as Downtown, which shows just how much Bangkok has grown and the city centre shifted in the last hundred years. Rama V was a tireless champion of modernisation and built the first railway line in Thailand in 1891, a private one from Paknam to here. Today, trains leave Hua Lamphong travelling to the North, Northeast, the Central Plains and the South. The city’s other train station, Bangkok Noi, serves only the South.

Wat Traimit

With your back to Hua Lamphong Railway Station, walk down Trimit Rd and Wat Traimit will be on your right. Also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha, this Buddhist place of worship is best-known for housing the world’s largest solid gold statue of the Buddha. Although the interior is also splendid, the highlight of any visit has to be the temple’s famous 18-carat resident gold statue. Four metres in height and weighing fi ve tonnes, it was discovered by accident in 1955 by East Asiatic Company workers who were extending the port of Bangkok. What was unearthed initially seemed to be a plain stucco Buddha dating back to the 13th-century and said to have come from Sukhothai. For the next 20 years or so, the statue was kept at Wat Traimit under a makeshift shelter. When the time came for it to be moved to a more permanent location, its golden identity was finally revealed when its plaster cracked after it slipped from the transporting crane. The statue was probably encased in stucco to deceive thieving Burmese raiders, a common practice during the Ayutthaya period. The Emerald Buddha had also been hidden in such a manner, although during a much earlier period (it too, was discovered to be of great value when its plaster was accidentally flaked off). Today, local Chinese residents come to Wat Trimit to worship and earn merit by rubbing gold leaf onto some of the temple’s smaller Buddha images.

Wat Traimit - Opening times: 9am to 5pm daily - Admission: B20

Did You Know? - Bangkok’s Chinese residents originally lived in Rattanakosin, in the area where the Grand Palace is now located, but when Rama I decided to move his capital from across the river in Thonburi in 1782, the entire community was forced to relocate here.

Yaowarat Road

Walk to the end of Trimit Rd and you will see a tall traditional looking Chinese Gate located at the heart of a small circus where Trimit Rd crosses Charoen Krung Rd, which is also where a number of other smaller streets converge. This attractive and colourful gateway acts as a focal point for the district and is seen as an entry way into Chinatown, an area of the city which has its own unique identity and character. Yaowarat Rd sees Chinatown at its most atmospheric, with garish colours, pungent smells and overwhelming noise everywhere. This roadway is the main route through the district and is lined with goldsmiths, herb sellers, noodle stalls and a wide variety of restaurants, all under huge neon signs where the numerous Chinese characters crowd out the few Thai and English words that can be seen. It looks more like a street in Shanghai or Beijing than Bangkok.

Note: The Chinese - Chinese merchants came to Thailand from the 14th century onwards. During the late-18th and early-19th centuries, following years of war in the country, Chinese immigration was actively encouraged in order to help rebuild the economy. The Chinese went on to integrate into Thai society so successfully that by the middle of the 19th century, half of Bangkok’s population could claim to have at least some Chinese blood. Today, the Chinese is still a flourishing ethnic group that continues to dominate Thailand’s financial and commercial sectors.

Kao Market

There are some interesting shops on Soi Isara Nuphap, a busy but narrow soi to the left of Yaowarat Rd. These include a small sausage shop, said to date from the 19th century, as well as the Kao Market on the left-hand side of the soi. Kao means ‘old’ in Thai, while the nearby Mai Market translates as New Market. Both of these markets sell a large range of Chinese goods. As far back as the 18th century, Kao Market has been supplying the Chinese community with a vast range of traditional, ceremonial and decorative items that include everything from lanterns to the paper models used in traditional Chinese cremations. Located in what used to be a red-light district, the markets are also a good place to buy fabrics, toys and household goods. Some of the more unusual items on display are the parts of snakes that are used in traditional Chinese medicine!

Tang Toh Kang Gold Shop

Continue down Soi Isara Nuphap and turn right onto Sampeng Lane (also known as Soi Wanit 1) and you will see the Tang Toh Kang Gold Shop on your right near the junction with Mangkon Rd. This seven-storey building used to be Chinatown’s Gold Exchange until the late-19th century. The shop itself is a good place for anyone interested in buying gold, and it also contains an intriguing-looking antique water filter.

The area between Sampeng Lane and the river is home to a wide variety of interesting buildings, with structures as diverse as charming old shophouses to huge wooden warehouses. The narrow sois that criss-cross this part of town remain much as they must have been in the 19th century, and although it is a busy area, particularly with trucks transporting goods to and from the nearby Ratchawong Pier, a wander around these streets and sois can be very rewarding as you will get to see a cross-section of Bangkok life that you’ll not be likely to find anywhere else in the city.

Nakhon Jasen Market

Continue along Sampeng Lane until you come to Chakkrawat Rd and turn right. Nakhon Kasem Market will be on your right at the junction with Charoen Krung Rd. Formerly known as the Thieves’ Market because of the amount of stolen goods traded here, it has since reformed and is now home to a range of shops selling metalware, ornaments and musical instruments. This whole stretch of Charoen Krung Rd is filled with enticing smells wafting from the innumerable noodle stalls that line the pavement. The nearby Saphan Han Market, a covered market along both sides of Khlong Ong Ang, specializes in electrical goods.

Nakorn Kasem Market - Opening times: 8am to 8pm daily - Admission: free

Phahurat Market

Retrace your steps down Chakkrawat Rd and turn right onto Sampeng Lane again. This roadway turns into Phahurat Rd which meets Chakkaphet Rd, and where Phahurat Market is located on the left. Phahurat Rd is the core of Bangkok’s Indian community, and at its heart lies the traditional Indian bazaar of Phahurat Market, which offers all the sights, sounds and smells of a typical Indian city market. The market stalls spill out onto the pavement of Chakkaphet Rd with their multitude of wares. There are reams of fabric dedicated to a wide range of purposes, from tableware to wedding outfi ts. The somewhat claustrophobic upstairs section is devoted to traditional Indian accessories such as sandals and jewellery — all invariably ornate — while the streets surrounding the market are crammed with tiny Indian restaurants and food stalls. Located to the rear of the market is Siri Guru Singh Sabha, a traditional Sikh temple and one of the most important spiritual places for Bangkok’s large Indian community. This beautifully decorative four-storey building is topped by a gilded dome and is said to be the second largest Sikh temple outside of India. The temple’s most sacred shrine is located on the very top fl oor, in a spacious hallway strewn with rich oriental rugs. Remember to cover your head before entering the temple.

Phahurat Market - Opening times: 9am to 6pm daily - Admission: free

Siri Guru Singh Sabha - Opening times: 8am to 5pm daily - Admission: free

Flower Market

Turn left on leaving Phahurat Market and follow Phahurat Rd until it turns into Phra Phitak Rd. Then take the next left onto Ban Mo Rd, which contains a charming terrace of neoclassical shophouses that runs nearly all the way along the right of this street. Sadly, nearly all of them are in bad state of repair, but they illustrate just how high Bangkok’s standard of architecture was in the 19th century.

At the end of Ban Mo Rd turn right and you will see the Flower Market, or Pak Khlong Market, on your left. This 24-hour specialty market overlooking Chakkaphet Rd is famous for having the widest variety of fl owers on sale in the kingdom. Apart from providing the city with wholesale fl owers round the clock, the market also stocks fresh vegetables. The best time to visit is around 9am when the widest possible choice of blossoms is on display. Deliveries begin to arrive around 1am and by dawn there is a bewildering array of different blooms; even tulips from the Netherlands. It is possible to buy the flowers individually, in bouquets, or in exquisite basket arrangements.

Flower Market - Opening times: 24 hours daily - Admission: free