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My HiveSters tour was paid for by the Tourism Authority of Thailand and organized by Green Pearls.
As you may know, Bangkok is one of my favorite cities in the world and I love its diversity. But I am also a creature of habit and so I spent my first few stays in the old part of town and didn’t move much except to shove copious amounts of Pad Thai in my mouth. Pity because in hindsight I realized I was missing out. With that realization, I decided to change things up and during my last stay, I finally made my way to one of Bangkok’s most beloved and unique neighborhoods: Chinatown. I was immediately charmed and the dim sums I devoured were only part of this charm and so I vowed to explore more when I returned to Bangkok in July.
If you ask yourself what to do in Chinatown, Bangkok, besides eating your heart out, I cannot recommend a tour with HiveSters enough which will show you around the old Talad Noi community. I previously explored Nang Loeng with HiveSters and enjoy their concept of showing off old Bangkok communities and what they are all about to visitors, and this one was no different.
What to do in Chinatown, Bangkok
Golden Buddha & Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center
I met my guide Nemo (how awesome is that name btw?!) at the Hua Lamphong MRT station which is the last stop before you will need to make your way around by food or ferry as the older part of Bangkok and Chinatown is not connected to public transport. Our first stop was the Phra Buddha Maha Swuana Patimakorn which is 398 cm tall and weighs about 5.5 tons thus making it the biggest golden Buddha in the world. While its history and size is impressive I think I have seen too many Buddhas in my life to still get excited about any. That said, if you are new to Buddhism in Thailand and want to learn more about it I highly recommend a visit as it is quite fascinating. Please make sure to follow the signs in regards to proper behavior inside – this is a religious place for devout Buddhists!
Just below the Buddha who sits on top of the temple, you will find the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center where you can learn all about Chinatown in Bangkok and how it developed. Your visit will start with a short movie before you move on to a museum. The museum depicts various scenes about life in Chinatown and its development and I reckon it is also a great place for children to learn more about the history in a very vivid way.
Walking through different rooms and exhibitions you can learn all about how Sampheng became the center of the Chinese community and commerce in Bangkok after many had fled their homeland from 1782 on due to famine and job scarcity. You can see how traditional Chinese shops are set up and what life was and is like in Chinatown back in the day. You can also see some cases depicting Yaowarat Road, the area’s heart and main business center also called the ‘tummy of the dragon’ for its famed food stalls.
Talad Noi Tour in Chinatown
From here, it is a short walk to the tongue of the dragon that leads to the river where you will find the vibrant Talad Noi community. Talad Noi translated means “little market” but you will not only find a Chinatown market in Bangkok here but so much more.
While you could technically explore the area by yourself a knowledgable guide comes in handy in Talad Noi because roads are maze-like and you will want someone to show you all the cool shops. Walk past metal dealers, handymen, and traditional pharmacies all adorned with small shrines and offerings. Don’t forget to stop by the guy who makes 600kg of rice noodles every day (I was ready to move in and become his apprentice!), the old lady who sells the best kanom pea (filled pastries) while wearing her finest outfit and all of her diamonds, and the famous duck noodle restaurant when you get hungry.
In addition, there are great photo spots around every corner including an old VW which Nemo told me was THE Instagram spot of Talad Noi. There is also a whole road with murals which are regularly painted by various artists which come to the community while one side covered in paintings as an homage to Singapore murals by an autistic boy from the community.
Scuba Diving in Chinatown
A highlight for me was the Sol Heng Tai Mansion, an old Chinese merchant’s house which is now home to a small cafe and live-in museum while the descendants of the former owner still live here. Personally, I think this house should be turned into a heritage stay or retreat center because it is beautiful and the pool is stunning too but for the time being, it has become home to Bangkok’s one and only dive center.
Have a sundowner at River Vibe
Then there are of course various small roads, which are part of this Chinatown market where you can buy lunch and groceries or try yummy bean paste candy shaped like fruit (which is so good especially when served ice-cold). At the end of Talad Noi, you will find a lady who is foster mum to 30 cats which are either sick or too tiny to care for themselves. Needless to say, this quickly became the highlight of my tour at least until we went to River Vibe. From the outside, this bar is unassuming at best but from their roof terrace which spreads over two floors, you have an incredible view over the Chao Praya river in both directions. And unlike so many of the other fancy rooftop bars in Bangkok, there is no dress code, no overpriced cocktails and you can even take your kanom pea and eat them while enjoying the views or in my case, escape the rain.
Hotels in Chinatown, Bangkok
There are a few big Chinatown hotels but I think this area is better suited to stay at a little guesthouse. Quite a few old Chinese shophouses have been converted into B&Bs or Airbnbs, giving you an authentic Chinatown experience even when you sleep. My 3 favorites are on Nana Soi and you can find them here:
Where to eat in Chinatown, Bangkok
Chinatown is a food lover’s paradise and Yaowarat Road is its center. Don’t be scared of the street food here, it is the best place to have a freshly made seafood feast. Alternatively, you will find local restaurants all around which serve some great dim sum and other Chinese delicacies.
Fi Keaw – soi Yaowarat 11
There is an almost endless array of seafood places on Yaowarat some with a line that literally goes around the block. I only tried Fi Keaw which came recommended to me and was not disappointed. It was full but there was no wait for a table and the seafood was as fresh as it gets.
While you are sitting on tiny plastic stools and cooking happens right in front of you on the street, prices here are definitely not your average street food budget. This is the perfect place to eat fresh fish and seafood in Bangkok and maybe even try something a little exotic. I had some giant prawns which were grilled and served with a spicy sort of chimichurri and absolutely delicious.
Hua Seng Hong – 371-373 Yaowarat Road
Being in Chinatown I had to eat dim sums. A quick Google search lead me to Hua Seng Hong – the Chinatown, Bangkok restaurant for dim sum. The place was incredibly crowded with locals and I was quickly put at a table with an older Chinese woman – I think it was the single girls’ table.
I am still not quite sure how their system works as they do have menus in Chinese and English yet when I told them I wanted dim sums someone just brought a selection of bamboo baskets for me to chose from. I didn’t care, sometimes you just go with the flow and eat as many dim sums as you can – they are delicious!
One thing that really bothered me about the Chinatown, Bangkok food was the sale of shark fin. While I do eat meat and fish, I am adamantly against eating something like shark fin and unfortunately, most restaurants and the Chinatown market, Bangkok do serve it. I will admit that I was too hungry to stick to my convictions and still ate there but be warned – eating in Chinatown is not for the sensible mind and stomach.
Bā hào – 8 soi Nana
A special place is Bā hào which is on the ground floor of their Airbnb. It resembles a cool little bar and serves up some mean cocktails as well as amazing dishes like duck wontons or tan tan noodles. Not Yaowarat prices but oh so worth it and a great alternative if you want some authentic food but are still a bit scared of Chinatown street food or are looking for a place for a cool yet romantic dinner date.
Harmonique Restaurant – 22 Charoen Krung 34 Alley
To be honest, I didn’t eat at Harmonique but it came highly recommended by Nemo and looked super cute. Perfect spot for a lunch under the trees (there are huge old trees inside) or a romantic dinner while enjoying some authentic Chinatown dishes.
El Chiringuito – soi Nana 221
Downstairs you will find El Chiringuito, a small tapas restaurant run by Pupe’s husband. Perfect if you don’t want to go far and are in the mood for something else than Chinese or Thai. And of course, they do have sangria!
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