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A Stop in Bangkok’s Chinatown

October 29th, 2010 by

I have to admit that wherever I visit, it is quite foreseeable that I will go out of my way to visit the local Chinatown.  Primarily because of my roots and heritage, I like to see how different Chinese communities thrive in various cultures and regions.  This ongoing fascination got the best of me during my last visit to Bangkok.

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According to local tour guides, the roots of the Chinese community at large in Bangkok can be traced to mass migration in the wake of the Communist Revolution. Most of the first Chinese settlers were traders who continued to practice on foreign soil. The first few Chinese groups settled on Ko Ratanakosin and eventually moved to the Yaowarat District back in 1783. Presently, the Chinese community is working hard to preserve their culture, identity, and traditions despite Bangkok’s modernization.

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The best way to explore Chinatown on Yaowarat Roa is on foot.  It is a running joke among locals that walking is not only the best choice but the ONLY choice! Hordes of tourists head to Chinatown to explore a multitude of market stalls that seem to occupy the main street from end to end.  The usual goods sold here include oriental souvenirs such as silk robes, slippers, fans, head pieces, artsy chopsticks, satin coin purses, and novelty items hand-embroidered with Chinese characters. There are also other products like city shirts, exquisite fabrics, and bags, just to name a few. Locals also make the trip to purchase traditional Chinese medicines, balms, and health products.  Jewelry lovers get a high from different shops that specialize in gold and rare gemstones.

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After shopping for a few hours, hungry visitors have plenty of options in Chinatown. Diners experience a gastronomic adventure at street-side restaurants that seem to sprout like mushrooms. From affordable to expensive, there is a wide variety of Chinese restaurants to choose from.  Personally, I prefer restaurants that serve authentic, reasonably-priced dishes.  I certainly do not mind going out of my way to scour the side streets and inner alleys to find one. My all time favorite dishes include dim sum, birds’ nest soup, and noodles with seafood.

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It is easy to get to Bangkok’s Chinatown via several transport methods.  Taxis queue up outside different hotels in Bangkok and certainly can ferry you there in a jiffy.  Visitors who prefer to take the public bus can wait for numbers 7, 8, 37, 49, and 75.  My personal choice is to take a Chao Phraya river boat since street congestion in Bangkok can get notoriously messy.  Travelers can take the Chao Phraya Expres from Saphan Taksin or Banglampoo Pier and get off at the Ratchawong Pier.  From here, it is easy to continue on foot to Ratchawong Road on the way to Sampeng Lane and Yaowarat Road. The entrance to Chinatown is marked by an enormous Chinese-designed gate from Odeon Circle.

The best time to visit is during Chinese New Year when the entire district comes alive with vivid colors and extreme merriment.

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