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Things to do in Chinatown, Bangkok: Exploring Yaowarat Road

By Elizabeth Lord

Things to do in Chinatown Bangkok

Want to find the hottest local spots in Bangkok’s Chinatown? We’re here to help you uncover those hidden restaurants, secret shops and trendy bars that are peppered throughout the neighborhood’s colourful labyrinth of streets. If you only have a day or two to spend exploring, you will need this handy guide of things to do in Chinatown to make the most of every minute. A walk down these charming alleys will lead you from historic architecture and ancient wats to new, quirky restaurants dishing up a mouthwatering variety of Thai food and bolt-hole bars slinging powerful cocktails with a side of local art. Chinatown blends Bangkok’s history with its oh-so-hip modern day, all with an intriguing cultural edge.

One of the largest Chinatowns in the world and expanding around Yaowarat and Charoen Krung, Bangkok’s Chinatown is bustling with businesses, curious travellers and locals galore. Established back in 1782, it was home to many of the Teochew Chinese immigrants who made their way to Bangkok, and quickly built the area up into a cultural hub. The centre of Chinatown is Yaowarat Road, a highly popular thoroughfare known for its variety of restaurants, art galleries, museums, shops filled with gold, clothes, souvenirs, stationery, technology and electronics, as well as musical instruments and antiques. If you are looking for things to do in Chinatown, check out our must-read guide to the must-see places in this dynamic Bangkok neighborhood.

Where to eat

Things to do in Chinatown Bangkok-Seafood Dinner

If you’re planning to eat your way along Yaowarat Road, you’ll need some information about the best Bangkok Chinatown food. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. After the sun goes down, the dishes come out, turning this busy street into a lively scene of  friendly chatter, laughter and unbelievable smells. Food stalls and mobile carts usually begin setting up at around 17:00 (except on Mondays, when everything is shut), and no matter what you’re in the mood for, you’ll be spoiled for choices.

For a taste of Spain

El Chiringuito (Soi 221 Nana, Charoenkrung Road, Yaowarat; 66-85/126-0046; open Thu–Sun from 18:00–midnight ) transports you to old Madrid with its an authentic atmosphere. The menu, while small, includes delectable items like chorizo pizza, bocadillos, and tapas, and the drink choices include homemade sangria and imported gin. An all-time favourite among the locals and tourists, El Chiringuito is definitely one of the best restaurants in Bangkok.  

For coffee with a side of cute
If you want to see the cutest café in Thailand, you must stop past Nahim Café (Soi Nana, Pom Prap; 66-2/623-3449). Nahim began on Instagram, selling homemade handicrafts, and quickly became popular enough to open a store, with a café attached. Here they sell handicrafts alongside deliciously inventive teas such as white tea, mango and pineapple, Rooibos, caramel and popcorn. This place is insanely adorable, ridiculously Instagrammable and always worth a visit.

For stellar seafood

T&K Seafood (49-51 Soi Phadung Dao; Yaowarat; 66-01/507-5555; open 16:30–02:00) just might be the most popular seafood restaurant in Bangkok. To keep dinner service running smoothly at this perennially packed multi-storey complex, waiters use a pulley system to move food quickly up and down the different floors of the restaurant. Try the sizzling oyster omelette, steamed lemon sea bass, and Thai yellow egg curry with squid.

Where to drink

Things to do in Bangkok Chinatown-Drinking

It’s no secret that Bangkok has a bevy of bars for the nocturnal nomad. Whether you are a wine-sipper or a whiskey-slinger, there’s bound to be tavern to your taste. So let your hair down and get your spirits up for a night of cocktails in Bangkok’s coolest saloons.

For that laidback dive-bar charm

If you’ve got a reason to celebrate (or no reason at all!) then 23 Bar and Gallery (Soi Nana 92; 66-80/264-4471; open Wed–Sun from 18:00–midnight) should be the first stop on your night out. A small hole-in-the-wall bar, 23 Bar serves up cheap drinks, moody rock music and an intoxicating atmosphere (pun intended). The bar owner, Mongkol Sanla, is both an awesome DJ and a talented artisthis interests shine through in this atmospheric dive where you’ll find a showcase of new art exhibitions and live musical acts every month. For those who love to party, 23 Bar is definitely the place to be. Also hitting the scene with speakeasy savoir faire is Teens of Thailand (76 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road; 66-81/443-3784; open Wed–Sun, 19:00–midnight), one of the freshest gin bars in all of Bangkok. The building has an old-school charm thanks to the eclectic mix of original architecture and contemporary renovation, including some rather racy artworks that adorn the walls. People line up for this local watering hole, and it’s no wonder whythe ambiance and incredible gin choices make the wait totally worth it.

For drinks with a view

Sky View 360 at the Grand China Hotel (215 Yaowarat Road, Samphantawong; 66-2/224-9977; open daily 18:00–01:00) is the only revolving restaurant in Bangkok, and sits high up on the 25th floor. The scenery from here is absolutely spectacular, and as the restaurant slowly revolves it gives you a bird’s-eye view of iconic Bangkok attractions like Grand Palace, Golden Temple and the Chao Phraya River. Don’t be deceived by the extravagance of this place – while it sounds like it’d be expensive, it’s very reasonably priced

For killer cocktails

Tep Bar (Tep Bar, 69–71 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Rd.; 66-98/467-2944; open Tues–Thurs 17:00–midnight,  Sun 17:00–midnight, Fri–Sat 17:00–01:00) is an industrial/urban themed bar that serves the most delicious drink concoctions made with Thai fruits, herbs and spices, including the house favouriteyadong, which is a Thai herbal whiskey. On the menu you’ll find Thai tapas, crispy fried fish with tamarind, and grilled beef, to name but a few of the tasty Thai dishes on offer. Book ahead to make sure you get a table.

Where to shop

Things to do in Bangkok Chinatown-Shopping

If you’re a bargain bug who delights in getting that great deal, Chinatown Bangkok Shopping is right up your alley. Try your hand at haggling for that must-have memento, or simply browse around the stalls and check out all the wonderful wares. Whatever you’re doing, don’t forget to bask in the fabulous frenzy.

For Thai souvenirs

One of the all-star Bangkok markets is Sampeng Market (Soi Wanit 1, Samphantawong; open every day). Here, you’ll find a wide variety of different shops and stalls that sell everything: clothing, shoes, hand bags, towels and linen, cosmetics and accessories, Thai souvenirs, as well as electronics like speakers, headphones, portable battery chargers and selfie sticks.

For lush textiles and fabrics

Sampeng Lane is an extension of the market, where you can find beautiful, rich wholesale fabrics and other textiles and goods. Shopping here is the perfect chance to practice your bartering, which is expected and encouraged here (except when it comes to food). You’ll also likely get a discount if you buy in bulk, so take this as the perfect opportunity to stock up on beautiful silk sarongs, DVD’s, home décor items, kid’s toys, handicrafts and much more.

For antiques and secondhand treasures

Nakhon Kasem, also known as the Thieves Market (Thanon Worachak/Thanon Charoen Krung, Chinatown; open Saturday and Sunday), is a popular flea market that deals mostly in antiques and secondhand goods. You can find everything from electronics and toys, to fake luxury goods, refrigerators and guitars, and hours can be spent walking around the stalls inspecting all the different wares for sale. It’s called “Thieves Market” because it used to have reputation for selling goods that had “fallen off the back of a truck,” but it’s cleaned up its act over the past years, and you can find some really special hidden treasures here if you look hard enough.

For a little bit of everything

Old Siam Shopping Plaza (12 Tripetch Road; 09:00–20:00; 66-2/226-0156) is one of the most fascinating Bangkok markets, with a wide variety of shops that span three storeys. It’s recognised as one of the best shopping destinations for Thai silk and high-quality clothes, but it sells a range of different things like food, apparel, accessories and much more. This shopping plaza is relatively hidden away, making it one of the better kept secrets in Bangkok. Old Siam’s throwback feel and original architecture make it more appealing than the more modern shopping malls in Bangkok. The food here focuses on traditional Thai desserts like steamed dumplings, coconut milk steamed in banana leaves, crispy pancakes, Thai-style jelly and sweet rice crackers, so this will definitely be a favourite destination for those with a sweet tooth.

Where to go

Things to do in Chinatown Bangkok-Wat Traimit

Now that you’re full of yummy food, sporting a healthy buzz, and toting around Thai souvenirs, you might be asking yourself if Chinatown has anything left to offer the tenacious traveller. You’re in luck, because there is still tons of culture to be soaked up, and sights to be seen.

For modern, local art

Cho Why (17 Soi Nana, Charoenkrung Road, Yaowarat) is a renovated shophouse-turned-art-space that holds varying exhibitions that showcase Bangkok’s contemporary art scene. Its out-of-the-box approach to art deals with interaction between the installation and the viewer.  Sometimes, a piece will overflow into the street, demanding the attention of curious passersby.

For the golden Buddha

At the end of Yaowarat Road, you’ll find Wat Traimit (Traimit Road, west of Hua Lampong Station, 09:00–17:00). Here, you’ll be able to see something truly amazing: the world’s largest solid gold Buddha statue. The Wat Traimit Golden Buddha is 4.5-meters tall  4.57 metres tall, weighs over 4,000 kilograms, and is worth millions in gold. Created sometime in the 13th century, it’s believed that the statue was covered up with plaster in an apparent attempt to disguise the gold from thieves. Over time, everyone simply forgot that underneath the unremarkable plaster there was a solid gold wonder. It wasn’t until the statue was being moved to a new locationWat Traimitthat the gold was discovered again, completely by accident, when it was dropped during the move, chipping some of the plaster off to reveal what was underneath. The temple is also a museum with interesting exhibits and displays, and is a must-see for any traveller.

For a starting point

The Chinese Gate, also called Odean Gate, is an enormous ceremonial gate that marks the beginning of Chinatown. The gate is relatively new, built in 1999 for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 72nd birthday. Inscribed on the gate are the words “Sheng Shou Wu Jiang” which means “long live the King.”

For Bangkok’s spiritual side

Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Charoen Krung Road; open daily from 09:00–18:00) is the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It hosts several different celebrations throughout the year, such as Chinese New Year and the Chinese vegetarian festival, so if you time it right, you might find yourself at the centre of a festival. The temple itself is beautiful, with classically stunning Chinese architecture, tiled roofs decorated with floral scenes, animals and Chinese dragons, and you’ll find many shrines here that are dedicated to a number of deities and religious idols.

For a closer look at crocodiles

Wat Chakrawat (Chakrawat Road; open 08:00am–17:00), also known as the Crocodile Temple, brings together nineteenth-century architecture, shrines, statues and live crocodiles. While the relics and decor are exquisite, the crocodiles are the stars of the show. Watch the wat’s three resident crocodiles slither and splash through an enclosed pond, which is cleaned and carefully maintained by the monks.

For a taste of ancient theatre

Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre (66 Chalermkrung Road, Sala Chalermkrung; open every day, 09:00–18:00; 66-2/225-8757) was established in 1933, where it started out as a cinema. Nowadays, it’s become legendary for its performances of the traditional, extravagant Thai dance called Khon. The performances are breathtaking, and the building itself is brimming with historic charm. Tickets tend to book out quickly, so if you’re in Bangkok and longing for a traditional display of dance, you’d better book in fast.

The best thing about Bangkok is that no matter how many places you go or how many times you come back, there will always be a new adventure waiting for you just around the corner. That quintessential Bangkok credo of exploration and enjoyment invites us all to suck the marrow out of life and chase a new experience. Yaowarat Road in Chinatown embodies this to a T, and we hope you love its wacky personality as much as we do. If you’ve already experienced the fun things to do in Chinatown, tell us about your adventure! We want to hear your top spots to kick it Chinatown style.

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