We have visited Bangkok quite a few times, frequently for extended stays of many weeks. We’ve also been to Chinatown a few times, but when the Bangkok Vanguards offered to take us on a unique walking tour to see the original Bangkok, we just could not refuse.
A particularly intriguing part of Bangkok is Chinatown, or Yaowarat as it is called locally. It is a tangle of alleyways, centuries-old temples, busy marketplaces, and activity at all hours. In the direction of the river, Chinatown extends across a significant region between Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Road.
Our wonderful guide, Michael, a native of Germany and a co-founder of Bangkok Vanguards, had a large heart and a genuine enthusiasm for Bangkok and its less fortunate neighborhoods.
We strolled around Chinatown’s major thoroughfares and crowded streets for four hours. But the most of the time we strolled through the quiet, tiny, and charming alleyways that together define Chinatown as distinct from the rest of Bangkok.
One of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods, Chinatown is where the first Chinese immigrants were settled. After Rama I moved the Thai kingdom’s capital from Thonburi to where Bangkok is today, the Chinese migrated here. The Chinese chose to settle along the riverbank so that they could readily conduct commerce between Bangkok and China, mostly including the exchange of silk, tea, lumber, and rice.
King Rama V commissioned the building of a number of significant thoroughfares in Bangkok in 1891, including Yaowarat Road, which serves as the “heart” of Chinatown today.
Currently, Chinatown is a sizable region along the river that includes roads like Charoen Krung Road, Mungkorn Road, Songwat Road, Songsawat Road, and Chakkrawat Road.
Chinatown’s hub is Yaowarat’s Sam Peng Market. The route through the market is supposed to resemble the curved body of a dragon, which represents business prosperity.
There are several businesses here that offer anything from gold to clothes to food to tea to Chinese souvenirs to electric items to clocks and music instruments.
Most of the property in Chinatown is held by historic, well-known Thai-Chinese families that are now or were wealthy businessmen. Because there is a shortage of land and Chinatown is in a desirable riverside location, land prices there have historically been among the highest in Thailand and Bangkok.
Michael led us to one of the few remaining traditional Chinese family homes in Bangkok during our walking tour. It is owned by a Thai-Chinese family that has had several offers from purchasers, including the co-owner of Red Bull (Red Bull is, incidentally, partially owned by Thais; we discovered that from our guide as well; he certainly knows a lot! ), but they are refusing to sell.
Guess what they transformed the former structure into? A dive shop! Yes, in the heart of Bangkok, far from any dive locations. I was also really surprised by that. They reportedly complete all of the diving theory and pool training here before traveling to the shore to do the actual dive.
We stumbled upon several old trees next to the old Chinese family home. They are regarded as sacred because they are very ancient fig trees belonging to the same kind of Bodhi tree that Buddha attained enlightenment under. The trees are shielded from being chopped down by the wrapping of colored fabric around them.
The trees in Chinatown are not simply visually appealing; they also support the re-use businesses there. In the hopes that the tree may restore the machine to functioning condition, old machines like this automobile are placed beneath the tree. If that doesn’t work, the community recycles the pieces. As a result, entire neighborhoods are devoted to the renovation and upkeep of outdated machinery.
Not all Thai-Chinese families with land in Chinatown are reluctant to sell; in fact, many have already done so to businessmen who want to erect big hotels or other buildings.
The government has also begun construction of a Sky Train Station in Chinatown as part of its modernization efforts. They intend to demolish a whole quarter of historic Chinese structures, including homes and shops.
During our stroll, we stopped at Loy La Long, a magnificent boutique hotel that was once a traditional Chinese family home. The historic wooden structures have been preserved, and additional contemporary elements, including a restaurant, kitchen, and bathroom, have been built. Everything has been retained in the same style and layout as the last one, so it looks awesome! I would like to reside here someday! It is close to the river and has a lovely balcony where guests may relax with a drink and observe the passing boats. I adore it!
This walking tour with the Bangkok Vanguards was fantastic, by the way! It was amazing to explore Chinatown’s secret lanes and alleyways and see locations that we never would have discovered on our own. For anybody looking to explore Bangkok outside of the typical tourist hotspots, we heartily recommend taking this tour. Wear loose-fitting clothing and walking sandals or shoes, and be prepared to perspire a lot and feel little worn out afterward. It is also beneficial workout.