A guide to spending the day in Bangkok's Chinatown
Time-worn restaurants and moody, crumbling streets meet a cluster of the coolest cocktail bars and galleries in town.
Chinatown used to be all about eating at the most time-worn restaurants in Bangkok and walking through moody, crumbling streets where traditional Sino-Thai home life spills into public sight. That’s all still there, but so are a cluster of the coolest cocktail bars and galleries in town, attracting to the area a young, local and arty crowd with craft brews and vibrant live sounds.
See & Do
Although many generations have passed since Chinese immigrants first moved to the area, Taoist culture still remains strong in Chinatown, giving this part of town a rich and unique history. Using life-size models and audiovisual displays, the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center (661 Charoenkrung Rd., 089-002-2700, open Tue-Sun 8am-5pm) details the history of Chinese migration to Thailand, as well as how the area now known as Chinatown began. Wat Traimit (661 Charoenkrung Rd., 02-225-9775, daily 9am-5pm—however, note that the museum section is closed on Mondays) is not to be missed. Home to the world’s biggest seated Golden Buddha, which also happens to be the largest gold statue in the world, the temple remains very sacred and is a popular site for locals during religious holidays. Nearby, you’ll find Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Mangkon Rd., 02-222-3975), which combines Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian figures. A lot of devout Buddhist locals tend to practice here, so be sure to respect them as they perform their religious rituals. The most picturesque shrine in the area has to be Guan Yin Shrine (600 Yaowarat Rd., 02-237-2191), where a classically ornate Chinese building houses a 900-year-old statue of the Mahayana Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Yaowarat is also known as a hub for gold trade. Tang Toh Kang (345 Wanit Rd. Soi 1, 02-224-2422) gold shop dates back to the early 1900s and the reign of King Rama VI. Today, the seven-story late colonial-style building is still owned by its founding family, and in 2002 underwent a major renovation. Although the shop still deals gold on a day-to-day basis, a section has also been converted into a museum for the public. Be sure to call ahead one day in advance as they don’t allow walk-in visitors for security reasons.
Dining in Chinatown is all about old-school shop-house restaurants that have stood in the same spot for 80 years or more. Yim Yim (or Jim Jim, 89 Yaowaphanit Rd., 02-224-2203, open daily 11am-2pm, 5-10pm) is a venerable institution in Yaowarat’s rich dining scene—which is to say it’s some of the best Chinese food you’ll get in Bangkok, despite the gloomy decor and small, dark space. The goat ham and cured fish are delicious. On a similar note, don’t be discouraged by the dingy alleyway leading to Jok Kitchen (23 Soi Isara Nuphap, 02-221-4075, open daily 12-3pm, 6-10pm), a small, menu-less establishment known as one of the hottest seats in town. Chef Jok presents course after course of things like steamed bass in soy sauce and fried rice with crabmeat to a packed dining room every night. Dining here is done traditional Chinese-style, so come with a big enough party to fill one of the large round tables. While Yaowarat is known for its Chinese food, the adjoining Phahurat is home to a sizable Indian community, and Royal India (392/1 Chakkaphet Rd., 02-221-6565, open daily 10:30am-9pm) is one of the best places in town for lip-smackingly good Punjabi recipes. Health-freaks turn on your heels, because here they cook in true Indian grandmother style—plenty of cream and ghee. For samosa, you can’t beat the unnamed cart that sits beside India Emporium (345 Chakkraphet Rd.) specializing in the classic snack. Be sure to stock up on Punjab Sweets’ (311/1 Chak Phet Rd., Phra Nakhon, 081-869-3815, open Mon-Sat 9am-5pm) mouth watering array of treats—note, they also serve delicious vegetarian meals. The area’s old-school tea and coffee houses are also not to be missed. The 87-year-old Eiah-Sae (1-103 Yaowarat Rd., 02-221-0549, open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm) serves coffee laced with condensed milk alongside charming snacks like traditional custard on toast, soft-boiled eggs and toast with butter, jam or chocolate spread, all charged at rock-bottom prices. Double Dogs, (406 Yaowarat Rd., 086-329-3075, open Tue-Thu 1-9pm, Fri-Sun 1-10pm) meanwhile, specializes in potent, properly brewed teas from across China, Japan, Sri Lanka and Taiwan. Moving away from crowded Yaowarat, a small enclave of exciting bars and restaurants proves it's not all about the old players after all. Here you'll find upscale modern Thai restaurant 80/20 (1052-1054 Charoen Krung Soi 26, +662-639-1135, Tue-Sun 6-11pm), whose inventive 13-course tasting menu goes big on fermentation, and Jua (672/49 Charoenkrung Soi 28, +662-103-6598, open Mon-Sat 6pm-midnight; Sun 5-10pm), a sleek modern izakaya where hip Japanese bar food accompanies plentiful sake, shochu and umeshu.
You can’t visit Chinatown without indulging in some of its world-class street food. Stop by Guay Tiew Kua Gai’s (Yaowarat Soi 6, open Wed-Mon, 7pm-1am) hidden alleyway stand, run by an old couple who have been serving one of the city’s best guay tiew kua gai (fried noodles with chicken) for decades. Next, seek out Pa Jin Cockle Soi Texas (Soi Phadung Dao, Yaowarat Rd., 081-795-1839, open daily Mon-Sat 6:30pm-1am, Sun 5pm-1am), which has been specializing in boiled cockles and mussels for over 35 years. For kuay jub, a hot dish composed of rolled noodles with crispy pork belly, blood and intestines served in peppery soup, Kuay Jub Nai Ek (Yaowarat Rd., corner of soi 11, open daily 7pm-late) is your go-to, or for a seafood feast at reasonable prices, check out the famous T&K Seafood and R&L Seafood, located opposite each other (Soi Phadung Dao, Yaowarat Rd., open daily 6pm-1am).
Thanks to a wave of new openings over the past few years, Chinatown’s nightlife has gone from practically non-existent to arguably the hottest in town. Head to Soi Nana (not to be confused with its seedy namesake on Sukhumvit), whose row of crumbling residential shop-houses has been transformed into a creative hub of bars and galleries. Among the first nightspots to open in the neighborhood was El Chiringuito (221 Soi Nana, Charoenkrung Rd., 086,-340-4791) is a poky Spanish dive bar where the tables spill out onto the street, and the tapas dishes and Spanish Xoriguer gin are always in full-flow. You'll often find the same hip-to-it crowd just down the soi at Cho Why (17 Soi Nana), a multi-disciplinary art space known for its raucous opening parties. For a distinctly modern update on Thai culture, the ever popular Tep Bar (69-71 Soi Nana, Charoenkrung Rd., +6698-467-2944, open Tue-Thu 5pm-midnight; Sun 5pm-midnight; Fri-Sat 5pm-1am) combines potent cocktails mixed with Thai fruits, herbs and spices, home-infused ya dong (Thai herbal whiskey), a kitchen specializing in Thai tapas, and live traditional Thai music. Just down the road you’ll find Bangkok’s original gin specialist, Teens of Thailand (76 Soi Nana, Charoenkrung Rd., 081-443-3784, open Sun-Thu 7am-midnight, Fri-Sat 7pm-1am), whose small, dimly-lit room gets rammed every weekend with arty types. Across the street, ToT's neon-drenched sister bar Asia Today (35 Soi Maitri Chit, +6697-134-4704, open Tue-Sun 7pm-1am) provides yet more properly cool, speakeasy vibes, while cocktails feature unheard of ingredients foraged from Thailand’s countryside. For top local craft beers, check out the retro Chinese-style Pijiu (16 Soi Nana, open Tue-Sun 5pm-midnight), or head to neighboring Ba Hao (8 Soi Nana, Maitri Chit Rd., open Tue-Sun 6pm-midnight), where cocktails pay nods to the neighborhood's Chinese history. If that’s all too hipster for you, head up to the 25th floor of the Grand China Hotel (215 Yaowarat Rd., 02- 224-9977, open daily 6pm-1am), where revolving restaurant and bar Sky View 360 offers 360-degree views of Chinatown and the river. In the same under-the-radar enclave as 80/20 and Jua (see Eat) lies Tropic City (672/65 Charoen Krung Soi 28, +6683-838-2750, open Tue-Sun 7pm-1am), where an effortlessly cool mix of neon signage, tropical wallpaper and vintage furnishings meets a killer rum-focussed cocktail list and friendly vibe for one of the coolest party spots in town.
Reaching Chinatown is easy. Simply take the MRT (underground train) to Hua Lamphong station and head to Exit 1. Follow the road over a footbridge that crosses the canal and you’ll be at the doorway to the area.