Few can resist the chaos and magnetism of the touristic Khao San Road. With ample opportunities for bagging handmade souvenirs and designer gear at rock bottom prices, it’s little wonder that smaller areas of interest, suh as Bangkok Chinatown, are overlooked completely. Centred around the former business hub of Yaowarat Road and Sampheng Lane in Samphanthawong district, Bangkok Chinatown occupies an important historic portion of the city. It became the new location for Chinese settlers after King Rama I relocated the Chinese ‘capital’ from Thonburi to Rattanakosin district, and was one of the few places visited by the tragic eighth monarch of Thailand – boy-king Rama VIII prior to his murder in 1946. Although more compact than the likes of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and the sprawl of Khao San Road, you’ll still find a proliferation of hidden gems and attractions in Chinatown which can all be explored in a single afternoon.

 

A Night in ‘Little China’

Bangkok Chinatown is relatively tame compared to the likes of Khao San Road after dark, however, that isn’t to say it doesn’t boast its own fair share of enticing eateries and bars. At night, Yaowarat Road transforms from a bustling commercial centre into a neon-lit haven of open air restaurants, snack bars and hot food stalls run by hawkers selling everything from shark fin soup to abalone. Encompassing nine venues scattered between Yaowarat Road and neighbouring Soi Phadung Dao, the Chinese Foodie Walking Tour is highly recommended if you want to discover the best eateries in the area.

‘Little China’ has relatively few bars to speak of, however, you will find a number of unique watering holes offering snake tonic (made using the blood and offal of snakes), coupled with a variety of late night coffee houses. At just over eighty years old, Iea Sae Coffee House on Yaowa Phanit Road is the oldest in the area, and reputed to serve the best interpretation of Chaozhou coffee outside of Beijing!

 

The Hidden Gems of Chinatown

A maze of winding lanes and small alleyways, much of Bangkok’s new Chinatown comprises the spillover of businesses and small markets originally located on Yaowarat Road. The spread of the area has extended to the many labyrinthine passages and tiny lanes leading to Yaowa Phanit Road and Sampeng Lane, which hide an abundance of small markets and tiny handicrafts outlets. Locals tend to flock to Nakhon Kasem – better known as ‘Thieves Market’ owing to its former reputation for stolen goods. Today, it’s one of the largest and most diverse of the markets in Chinatown selling everything from locally produced textiles and clothing to electronics, cut-price DVDs and handmade wooden sculptures.

Almost parallel to Nakhon Kasem two blocks along lies Plaeng Nam Road, site of the exuberant Leng Buai Ia Shrine erected in 1658. Clad in beautiful ceramic mosaics depicting various animals and deities, this miniature Chinese temple is a worthwhile stop-off before heading back in time down Plaeng Nam. While you won’t find many stall-owners hawking cut-price souvenirs and tat, there are a few hidden gems well worth exploring, including the 70 year-old Thai lantern shop and Guang Jiab Xia, where you’ll find an abundance of antique Chinese musical instruments.

 

The Temple Trail

It may not have as many landmarks of interest as the Khao San Road, however, this tiny Chinese settlement boasts numerous beautiful examples of traditional architecture well worth exploring. Snuggled between Sampeng Lane and Soi Wanit 2 lies Wat Pathum Khongkha, an exquisite former monastery and Holy site where the ashes of many Thai Royals are scattered. The gold filigree doors and windows are considered some of the best examples in Thailand of traditional Chinese workmanship dating back to the Ayutthaya period. Behind the temple stands an historic relic and excellent photo opportunity – Thaen Hin Praharn Kabot (the ‘Execution Stone’). It was here here King Rama III executed one of his chief aids for plotting to overthrow him, and where subsequently, Krommaluang Rak Ronnaret met his end for organising a rebellion against the king.

Not all of Chinatown’s attractions have quite such a grim history. Wat Traimit (Temple of The Golden Buddha) situated on Tri Mit Road near the Odeon Circle is an impressive white building with dreamy golden spires and a fascinating secret: the world’s largest golden Buddha. Nearby stands the the Mahayan Buddhist Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Dragon Flower Temple), famed for its impressive multi-tiered gateway and magnificent golden statues – some of which date as far back as the 18th Century. Visitors are free to wander the seguing passageways and courtyards at leisure, however its important to note it can become exceptionally smoky due to the many thousands of incense offerings burning at any one time.

The popularity of Khao San Road as a cheap base for exploring Bangkok has meant that Chinatown suffers little from heavy congestion and fully booked hotels. Whilst accommodation isn’t as cheap, even the most basic lodgings on offer are of significantly better value in terms of quality and comfort, and will set you back little more than 400-600 Baht per night!