Every major city in the world more or less has a little Chinatown of its own, Bangkok not being any different has a thriving community of Thai Chinese who have settled there since 1783. If you are looking for a unique experience in Thai Chinese culture, Yaowarrat Road with its prominent Chinese Ceremonial Gateway is the entrance way to an exciting little “township” of its own!
A tour of Chinatown is not normally found on regular tour itineraries but one unique way to explore Chinatown is on a bicycle tour of Chinatown, which is often offered by a tour agent. This is also a great way to explore the district as most of the roads are small and narrow streets.
One thing you will notice as you walk or cycle down Yaowarrat Road is the Chinese characters on the huge business signage boards’ right next to the Thai characters. The Mandarin language is still widely used, though at one point in the history of Thailand it was not encouraged due to the communist incursions as well as to encourage the use of the Thai language in the country. It started to pick up in the late 1970s and now there are Chinese Schools (of which some are very prominent) throughout the country.
Chinatown in Bangkok is a maze of small Sois or rather streets and alleyways that wind and weave through a fabric of noise, market places, medicinal halls, temples, and housing. The Chinese community of Thailand has managed to preserve their unique identity throughout the centuries, which is evident in the way they trade, their cuisine, and even in the items, they trade. They say that you can find just about anything in Chinatown. The most ideal bicycle tours of Chinatown are those that will bring you to a few places within the district and also to some of the lesser known but just as famous tourists’ sites such as the Chinese temples and monumental gardens. One great example of a bicycle tour in Chinatown is the one that does an early morning ride which includes a tour guide who can explain the intricacies of the Chinese community in Thailand while bringing you to try the local Chinese food, to see the wet market and central business district of Chinatown as well as into the back alleyways where many of the original housing are still located with the old traditional Chinese influenced exterior and decors.
An immediate impression of Chinatown would be this greasy, noisy, smelly hotchpotch of narrow streets filled with traders selling their wares and dead animals hanging from hooks over steaming pots and charcoal fires. To some extent it is still very much the same but gone is the era of opium dens, gambling houses and brothels seemingly replaced by fancy restaurants, medicinal halls, vibrant market places and off course gold! A bicycle tour with a tour guide of Chinatown will also give you ample time to explore all the little delights of this old district. It is also more practical to do the exploring on a bicycle in Chinatown as you can easily weave in and out of the small sois and get to any place within the district without wasting time in the traffic jams of the district plus it is also a great workout as you will enjoy seeing more of the place and experiencing the typical Chinese cuisine. You will also be more relaxed and less tired compared to walking the length of this exotic district and market place. It is a lot easier to park a bicycle than to park a car in Chinatown!
There are not many foreign faces in Chinatown as the tour companies often skip that and the best way to explore this place is to take slow walks or as recommended, to take a one day bicycle tour of Chinatown or half day bicycle tour of Chinatown and do a trip of self-discovery among the small lanes, alleyways and market places. The appeal of Chinatown is its unique culture especially during the Chinese New Year. At this time, streets will be transformed into a colorful playground of lights, decorations, and performances to usher in the new Chinese calendar year. You can still see Lion and Dragon dance performances in Chinatown during this time of the year in a gaily procession down the main road.
The district of Chinatown is also one of the most photographed places because of the exotic feel and allure of the place and also because of the numerous neon lights that light up the district in the evenings. Most of these bicycle tours of Chinatown can be a private tour of two or more persons or a join in group bicycle tour of Chinatown where you can also get to meet other tourists who come along for the ride and a great way to make friends while travelling in Thailand. The tour guides who accompany the cycling tourists are also well versed in the English language, so there are no problems in communication to make this an enjoyable and relaxed trip. There are plenty of stops along the way for you to rest up, have a good meal and drinks as well as a chance to meet up with the locals.
Looking for a place to stay in Chinatown is not hard, there is everything from a budget backpacker’s hostel to five star establishments plus the great fact that Chinatown is not too far from “Little India” and the ever-popular district of Khaosan, which is a backpacker’s haven. However, Chinatown is not known for its bars and late-night entertainment rather more for its cuisine, wholesale shopping, traditional Chinese massage and acupuncture as well as the many medicinal halls and shops selling gold.
If you are looking for very authentic Chinese food, then head out to Yaowarrat Road. You can still find cuisine with recipes handed down over the generations, which make up for their secret in a great dish. Mooching among the many stalls and vendors it is not hard to find a tasty morsel or two as a snack to keep your tummy from rumbling as you explore this quaint little district. The tour guides who accompany you on the bicycle trip around Chinatown will know the best places to recommend and which of the vendors or stalls have the best and most tasty foods for you to try. This is much better than you exploring the place on your own and not knowing where and what to eat or even where to start your exploration of the district. The shop owners if they have the time are always ready for a chat with foreigners though they do not really speak much English but this is the novelty of the place.
Access to Chinatown is easy via the MRT, BTS, klongs (small canals), buses, taxis, and the present tuk-tuks. The nearest MRT station is the Hua Lampong MRT exit, which is also, where you can take trains that connect you to other parts of Thailand. If you fancy taking a tuk-tuk, make sure you bargain the price and they do not mislead you to other parts for a rip-off, especially if they charge you a ridiculously low price. The average for a tuk-tuk ride is approximately THB80. So, the best alternative is still a booking for a bicycle tour to Chinatown, where the tour company will organize the necessary transfer from the hotel to the starting point of your bicycle tour.
Looking for night entertainment in Chinatown is pretty scarce, but a short BTS ride to Silom and Sukhumvit or a taxi ride to Khaosan Road is where you can party all night long. Some of the things you can do at Chinatown are if you are daring enough, is try the renowned Snake Tonic! It is reputed to be able to heal just about any ailments you may have. Does not catch your fancy? Then try the market of Talat Kao, which is the main trading market of Chinatown in Bangkok. There is a delicacy here that is a soup made from fried and boiled fish stomach. It may look unappealing but taste really good! Alternatively, give the bird’s nest soup a try another reputed elixir for strength and beauty. Tired from all that walking and cycling, try a Chinese massage, acupuncture or reflexology. They differ from the traditional Thai massage and are a good way to find out any hidden ailments you may have! Visit the Kuan Yin Shrine, where she is believe to be the Goddess of Mercy, which is included in a bicycle tour to Chinatown itinerary. If shopping is the main item on your list, you will not be disappointed as Yaowarrat has some of the biggest wholesale shops in electronics and other goods including gold and jewelry.
So if you are looking for something different to do while in Bangkok and want to experience a different culture, make your way to Yaowarrat Road. Take your time to look around and savor the experience!