Bangkok Chinatown Walking Tour:
Location: Chinatown (Yaowarat)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Optional Fees Listed Below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Hua Lamphong Subway Station
Stop: Flower Market Ferry Stop
Walking Distance: 1.8 miles for stops 1-16 (+0.8 for full tour).
Time Required: 1 Hour of Walking (5.5 Hours with stops).
Shorter Route: If you have a limited amount of time in Chinatown only do stops 1-16 which gives you the main Chinatown sights, but cuts out 3/4 of mile from your walk. Close to there you can catch the river ferry at the Ratchawong Dock to your next destination.
Best Festival: Chinese New Year In Bangkok
Fun Scale: 9 out of 10
Historical Overview of Old Town:
Serving as the center of Bangkok’s gold trade for centuries, Bangkok’s Chinatown has a history older than the city itself. From the years 800-1200AD many groups of Chinese settlers found new homes in current day Thailand. While the Siam empire grew in the North many small immigrant groups grew independently including the Chinese in what we now know as Bangkok. Siam moved its capital to the Westside of Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River near an ancient Hindu temple (Wat Arun) in 1767 after their Northern capital is destroyed. This new capital was known as Thonburi and sat just across the river from Bangkok’s Chinese early settlements. King Taskim welcomed even more Chinese immigrants as laborers and to increase trade.
Just 15 years after establishing Thonburi, King Taksin was killed leading to a new dynasty under King Chao Phraya Chakri (Rama I). King Rama I decided to immediately build a new capital on the Eastside of the river, right in the heart of the growing Chinese village. In order to build his new capital called Rattankosin (known as Old Town today), Rama convinced the Chinese to move a couple miles South to Yaowarat (now known as Chinatown). Over the centuries to follow lively markets, Taoist temples, Buddhist shrines, and thriving restaurants have helped to create a Chinatown that rivals San Francisco and New York. Chinatown’s biggest steps forward were when King Rama V helped fix up the neighborhood’s infrastructure and roads stating in 1891. The culture is strong, especially around Chinese New Year, making Bangkok’s Chinatown a memorable place to visit.
Bangkok Chinatown Walking Tour:
1. Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit): For hundreds of years Wat Traimit was a tiny temple on the edge of Chinatown, until an unbelievable discovery turned into one of the most visited in Bangkok. In 1955 workers were moving a large Buddha statue when it fell and cracked, reviling a huge golden Buddha image under its plaster. The huge golden statue, which weighs 11,000 pounds and stands over 10 feet tall (almost 16 with its base) turned out to be the largest gold Buddha statue in the entire World.
The impressive Golden Buddha is believed to be from the the Sukhothai era of Thai history (1200-1400s) based on its style but an exact date is unknown. There is a legend of a divine gold Buddha statue forged in the ancient capital of Sukhothai which was moved to the new capital of Ayuthaya in the 1400s. To protect its value from Burmese invaders the statue was covered in plaster disguise and sat unknowingly among 100s of other large statues. Coincidentally Wat Traimit’s statue had been one of many moved to Bangkok after the city of Ayutthaya fell in the 1700s confirming for many that it was indeed the legendary statue from Sukhothai.
While we are a little torn on whether it is truly solid Gold to the core, visiting the Golden Buddha today is still quite impressive. The statue has been so beloved in Thailand that in 2010 they opened open a grand new Mondop building at Wat Traimit to show it off. The multi-tiered white Mondop, or pavilion, with gold trim cost over $600 million to compete and it towers above the temple grounds. If you are short on time or don’t want to pay to go inside the outside is free and leads to some great photos, but we recommend going in.
After buying your ticket and the makeshift booth head up the steps on your way to the Golden Buddha. On the way up you’ll pass the Yowarat Chinatown Heritage Center which has some good photos and exhibits explaining the history of Chinatown. Once at the top of the Mondop a series of ceremonial bells lead you to the main chamber. Like any temple you will remove your shoes and hat before entering. If you decided to sit or knell inside make sure to keep your feet tucked behind you as pointing them forward toward the Buddha image is considered disrespectful. Wat Traimit Hours: Daily 8am-5pm; Heritage Center closes at 4:30pm. Cost: General grounds are free, a fee is required to see the Golden Buddha or visit the Heritage Center.
2. Chinatown Gate: Serving as the unofficial neighborhood entrance, the large Chinatown Gate sits in the middle of Odeon Circle and is a photographer’s favorite. The Gate is built by Chinese Thai Citizens in 1999 to show their loyalty to King Bhumibol and was unveiled on his 72nd birthday. Chinese writing on the Gate means “Long Live The King” and was written by the King’s Daughter Princess Maha who is fluent in Mandarin (Chinese). The Chinatown Gate is a great place to start you visit to the neighborhood during Chinese New Year.
3. Golden Shine Foundation: While we’re not 100% sure what the Golden Shine Foundation does, we absolutely love taking photos at the beautiful building. The 3 story Foundation is a cool blend of Chinese and Thai styles complete with a ton of cool dragon pillars. Inside the Foundation is an explosion of incense, colors, and a row of Buddhist slot machine. Slot machines you say? The machines are actually fortune telling machines representing each day of the week. If you go to the one corresponding with the day of the week you were born, just put in your money and it’ll give you your fortune as a merit. We find the experience to be really neat even if it is corny. Make sure not to miss the happy Buddha statue as it is one of the only ones in Chinatown showing Buddha in his fat and jolly image.
4. Kuan Yim Shrine: When you imagine a traditional Chinese temple you probably think of the ornate details, colorful accents and elegant roof lines you find at the Kuan Yim Shrine. The Shrine complex was built in 1983 by the neighboring Tien Fa Charity Foundation Hospital which has been providing traditional and modern Chinese Medicine since 1902. This is fitting as the Shrine is dedicated to Kuan Im (Guan Yin) who is viewed in Chinese Buddhism as the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. Visitors come from far and wide to ask Kuan Im for good health for both themselves and their loved ones.
A visit to the Shrine begins by entering a beautiful gate and walking into a large courtyard housing the multi-colored main temple. The courtyard is often packed with visitors even though it seems over sized for the complex. Inside the colorful shrine we love the statue of Kuan Im which was carved out of solid teak wood in the 1200s during China’s Song Dynasty. The statue was given to the foundation in 1958 and was destined to be the focal point of a shrine. To ask for good health leave a donation and light either some incense or a candle. If you explore further the complex also has a meditation center and a vegetarian hall which is interesting as images of Kuan Yim are also featured on many vegetarian menus around Chinatown. Visiting Hours: Daily 7am-7pm.
5. Yaowarat Road: Yaowarat Road serves as the main street in Chinatown bustling with gold shops, restaurants, herbal pharmacies, and an after dark a sea of neon lights. It’s crazy to think that for the first 100 years after the Chinese were relocated to Chinatown in 1782, Yaowarat Road wasn’t much more than a dirt trading route. In a effort to reach out the the local residents it was King Rama V, in 1891, who rebuilt much of the neighborhood’s infrastructure and roads making way for today’s Chinatown. Today Yaowarat may seem chaotic, but it serves as the central artery to a network of vein-like side alleys serving as street markets. Stroll down the road you get a good feel for the pulse, energy and of course smells of Chinatown. Many people head to Yaowarat Road just for the Scala Restaurants, but the best are near Soi Texas which we’ll touch on soon.
*Right on Yaowarat Road is a gem of a hotel called the…
6. Shanghai Mansion Hotel: The Shanghai Mansion Hotel is our favorite hotel in Chinatown. It is within easy walking distance to any of the sights, but is still very clean and affordable. The best part are how the cute boutique rooms are themed to feel like old Shanghai. At our last visit we were greeted with hot towels and traditional warm tea making us feel very welcome. If you are staying here and confused on how to find the lobby, it is on the second floor up the escalator. Hotel Website: (HERE).
*Sitting at the intersection of Yaowarat & Thanon Phadungdag Roads is the iconic…
7. So Seng Heng Goldsmith: There are so many goldsmiths and gold shops in Chinatown it is hard to keep track, but we have found that So Seng Heng Goldsmith is the favorite among locals. This is probably the biggest gold shop in town also as it sits right on the corner taking up a huge chunk of the block. If you are confused on which building it is just look up for the largest of all the huge building side signs which also has a dragon on top. If you don’t feel like crossing the street there are plenty of other gold shops you can pop into as well. Be careful buying from small back street shops as there are many hole in the wall operations in Bangkok that aren’t very trust worthy compared to the big well known gold shops.
*Sitting across Yaowarat Road from So Seng Heng Goldsmith is only of our favorite Bangkok side streets…
8. Soi Texas: The alleyway known locally as Soi Texas runs along the Thanon Phadungdag Road and is packed full of oddities. At it’s entrance you’ll run into stands cooking all sorts of things from Stinky Fruit (Durian), to baby squid and more. Further down Soi Texas there are funny stands of bootlegged porn movies and probably the main draw, the Scala Restaurants. Of these restaurants you’ll actually find the world’s best crab fried rice at Rut and Lek Seafood, right on the corner of Yaowarat and Soi Texas.
You may notice that a few of the restaurants in Chinatown have a bunch of bird and shark symbols which indicates they sell Bird’s Nest Soup and Shark Fin Soup. Both sounds a little gross but are delicacies in Asia. The bird’s nest soup for the most part is innocent as the nests are largely harvest from caves, but we are highly against the shark fins. In many countries the harvesting of fins for Shark Fin Soup is illegal as the fishermen catch the sharks, cut off their fins, and toss them back into the water still alive to die a slow death. Most of the fin harvesters don’t even use any of the rest of the shark and it seems overly inhuman. Soi Texas Location: Runs along the Thanon Phadungdag Road.
*Backtracking down Soi Texas, continue onto Yaowarat Road and you’ll quickly hit…
9. Yoo Chinatown Fishballs: If you want to eat traditionally but have felt uncomfortable with the street food you’ve seen along Yaowarat Road, then Yoo Chinatown Fishball is the place for you. Because it is typically a safe place on the stomach to eat at, it is the perfect place to get your toes wet. The food is cheap too at just 40 Baht for a bowl of soup and the Yoo Family has been making fishballs since the early 1900s. The restaurant is so popular that even Thai Princesses have been spotted at this historic venue. Did we mention it has air conditioning? Hours: Daily 10am-9pm. Location: 433 Yaowarat Road.
*A couple roads past the Fishballs shop on the left, look in the middle of the side street for…
10. New Market (Talat Mai): Open air produce market and food stalls, usually with tons of hanging lanterns that are lit up at night. If you follow the market down 1 block to Istsara Nuphap Street you’ll also a bunch of stands selling knock off purses. As you round the corner of New Market keep an eye out for the Kun Do Shrine which has a large smiling and golden horse head that is supposed to bring you good luck if you donate produce to it. Location: Runs along Yaowarat side road #11 and rounds the corner onto Istsara Nuphap Street. Hours: Daily Dawn-Dusk.
Directly across Yaowarat Road from New Market is the very interesting covered alley known as…
11. Old Market (Talat Kao): If you are a photographer you will love walking through Talat Kao Old Market. This alley-like covered market has been around since the late 1700s and has a range of spices and fresh sea food to get your senses going. Everything seem interesting from guys hacking away at huge blocks of ice to cooks frying up creatures you’ve never seen before. They say the best action of the entire day happens in the morning, but we’ve had tons of fun regardless on what time it is. Location: Runs along the covered alley Yaowarat #6. Hours: Daily Dawn-Dusk.
*Toward the end of the Old Market a courtyard will open up to your right holding the…
12. Leng Buai Ia Shrine: Built in 1658, the Leng Buai la Shrine is not just the oldest Chinese Temple in Bangkok, but perhaps all of Thailand. It is so old that it was built while Ayutthaya was still the capital of Siam, long before Thonburi or Bangkok. Inside there is a shrine dedicated to Leng Buai Ia and his wife in the center, a shrine dedicated to the deity Going-Wu on the left and a shrine dedicated to the Queen of Heaven on the right. We love taking photos at this temple like the one on the cover photo on the top of this page as it is largely free of tourists. Hours: Daily 7am-5pm.
*At the end of the Old Market take a left onto Charoen Krung Road and look across the street for the entrance to the…13. Dragon Flower Temple (Wat Mangkon Kamalawat): This Temple is probably our favorite one in Chinatown as the maze of shrine has a magical feel. It was built in 1871 with the Chinese name Lenf Noei Yi Shrine before later having King Rama V change its name to the Dragon Flower Temple. Unlike many temples that have a shrine for a specific purpose, the Dragon Flower Temple has a bunch of different shrines. It is said that if you pay homage to all of them you will have good luck in life, health, business, and family life.
As you go through the elaborate entrance a large courtyard and cloud of incense quickly let you know this place is special. Make sure to by some joss paper Bank Notes as you enter the Temple to burn as an offering. In Buddhism, these fake bank notes are burned in order to have them in the afterlife. There are also many table to buy incense and candles as which can be a truly moving experience. The burning and scent are not only used as offerings but are also meant to remind you to try to burn away your own negative qualities.
The Ordination Hall (Ubosot) has a many large gold Buddha Statues and alter is used for rite of passage ceremonies. Many of these ceremonies involve the nearly 300 young monks that go to school within the Dragon Flower Temple itself. The 3 largest Buddha statue represent from left to right Pure Land (Amitabha), Being Humane (Sakyamuni), and Medicine. Sermon Hall (Wiharn) stands 4 huge colorful statues of the Guardians of the World (Thao Chatulokaban) dressed in Chinese warrior outfits.
Other statues in the Temple included rows of Saints from local Chinese belief and at least 40 other Buddha images. The last time we went to the Dragon Flower Temple the statues of the Saints all have pink feminine dresses on with no explanation of why. In the rear of the Temple are 3 smaller shrines with one for the Godess of Compassion Guan Yin, another for the Temple’s Founder, and the last one for the Saint Lak Chow. Hours: Daily 6am-5pm.
*Just down the wet market side street of Thanon Mangkon you find the…
14. Temple for Kan’s Mother (Wat Kanma Tuyaram): The temple Wat Kanma Tuyaram has an amazing has white gate with lots of carved details. It is kind of a shame that there is a birds nest of power lines hanging right from the gate, but we still find it impressive. The Temple itself was built in 1864 by a guy named Kan Darunraksa for his mother and the name literally translates into Temple for Phra’s Mother. The rest of the Temple isn’t that cool but make sure to check out the gate.
15. Tang To Kang Gold Shop: Built in the 1880’s, this seven story building is the Oldest Gold Shop in all of Bangkok! The gold trade has been very important to Chinatown over the years making Tang To Kang a cornerstone of the community. They also have gold museum that we were able to walk right into but most times you need an appointment. Right across the street from the Gold Shop is the often photographed Bangkok Bank Building. The best way to know you are at the historic Tang To Kang Gold Shop is to remember it sits right as the intersection where you meet Soi Wanit, also known as Walking Street. Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-4pm, Closed on Sundays.
16. Walking Street (Sampeng Lane): Chinatown’s alley-like Walking Street is one of the oldest roads in the neighborhood and has served as the main dry good market for centuries. Walking Street may be mainly filled with shops today, but the alley was once was peppered with brothels and gambling mixed in between shops and traditional homes. The alley started to change in 1870 when it became Chinatown’s 1st paved road and again in the 1900s when it gained a covered roof. Expect your 1st visit to be annoying and feel claustrophobic at first. Expect to find more junk and knock off toys than things you actually want to buy. Then expect that halfway through your sometimes single file visit you stop hating Walking Street and will start to love it.
Why will you start to love this crowded alley? For the same reasons you hate it. Remember that some the best traveling it to visit new places, experience new cultures, and to feel like you actually left home; Walking Street does gets you there. Anyone can go visit a modern mall, but it is visiting an authentic everyday market like Walking Street where one gets into the guts of Chinatown.
Chinese Shop Houses on Maha Chak Rd (northwest of the intersection between Sampeng Lane and Maha Chak Rd) yellow stucco.
17. Wat Chakrawat: A fairly average temple complex as a ponds with crocodiles. We only saw 2 of them when we stopped by, but it was still kind of cool. Main entrance on the Westside, but smaller gates on the East and North are usually open. The Khemer style tower on the North side is a good land mark to help you spot the large Temple, as it can get lost in the urban jungle.
18. India Emporium Mall: The Emporium is the center of the small Little India neighborhood and a great place to get a break from the heat for a few minutes. A large portion of the mall is fabric sales but they also have many tacky souvenirs. There is not only a nearby convenience store for buy a drink but a public bathroom right inside the Mall itself. Be prepared that the bathroom will not have paper towel or toilet paper. Don’t expect to actually find much you will actually want to buy at the mall, but it is still worth stopping by while you walk past.
19. Guru Tawan Sikh Temple: Second Largest Shikh Temple outside of India, 6 stories tall with large gold dome. Shikhs are a very peaceful people known for their gurus. While visiting you must remove shoes and women need to cover their hair with a provided orange scarf. As the neighborhood is largely maybe up of people with Indian heritage, a visit to the Sikh Temple makes your visit feel more special. Visiting Hours: Daily 10am-6pm. Admission Cost: Free. Temple Website: (HERE).
20. Wat Ratchaburana: A little bit of an underwhelming Temple complex the coolest part is the Prang tower right by the road. The complex has buildings representing numerous religions. You are bound to be curious, but trust us that it doesn’t compare to the other temples in Chinatown. We recommend checking out the Temple’s beauty from the road then move on to the next stop. Visiting Hours: Daily 6am-6pm, free admission.
21. King Rama the 1st Memorial: King Rama I took over the Kingdom of Siam in 1782 when the previous King Taksim was killed. Rama was the 1st in the Chakri Dynasty to gain power of the Kingdom and wanted to build his own capital so he moved it from Thornburi on the Westside river to the Eastside where Old Town sits today. This move officially established Bangkok as city and the Chinese settlers that were there were moved to the area we call Chinatown. King Rama I is still considered a very well like King and this statue was built in his honor in 1932 for the City’s 150 year celebration.
22. Yodpiman Flower Market: The Yodpiman Flower Market is the newer of the two large riverside markets and is probably the one most visited by tour groups. This market is also a little bit cleaner with better lighting, but we like to stroll through both for the contrast. If you are walking around trying to find out how to get inside, the entrances are littered with flower stands making them look like crowded alleys, but they are there. If you see any alleys covered with flowers, they will surely be one of the many entrances into the market. Visiting Hours: Daily 24/7; busiest from 3-4am. Free admission.
23. Flower Market Street (Chakphet): During the day, and sometimes at night, Chakphet Street outside of the flower markets gets littered with roadside flower stalls. The street stalls are basically part of the connected markets themselves, but we feel it is an important point of reference for you to help you get you barrings.
24. Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market: Sitting at the mouth of the canal the Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market is the grimier of the two covered markets but we find it to be really cool. Starting in 1782 there was a floating flower market at this very spot which thrived for over 100 years before being replaced with a floating fish market. The fish market did fine, but by the mid-1900s it was replaced by the current warehouse-style covered flower market. If you want to look more behind the scenes to see how market works you are free to walk in the riverside alleys behind the market. It is chaotic and dirty, but very interesting (use caution). Like the other flower markets, this one is the busiest from 3-4am when local businesses come in the get the pick of the litter from the midnight deliveries. Visiting Hours: Daily 24/7; busiest from 3-4am. Free admission.
25. Guan Yu Shrine: Every time you travel up and down the Choa Phraya River there is one temple that always stands out with its Old World Chinese appeal. That temple is called the Gaun Yu Shrine and it serves as the gateway to The Princess Mother Memorial Park. No matter what time of day you pass it, the strings of lanterns draw you in and they are magical after dark.
Guan Yu was a Chinese warrior from around 100 AD who was made famous when he was featured in the famous novel Romance of The Three Kingdoms. Today, Guan Yu is portrayed as a red-faced warrior who is a protector of Buddhist Temples. Chinese Taoists also worship here as they view Guan Yu as a Saint who fights off demons.
26. Chee Chin Khor Tower: This 8 story tall Chinese Pagoda opened in 2001 and was connected to an existing temple. While you can climb the tower to get good views of the Bangkok skyline, we prefer to just view the Tower from the river boat ferry instead of actually stopping here.
27. River City Shopping Center: The small River City Shopping Tower is a hidden gem of Bangkok. The shopping might not be that good but it is a major stop on the ferry lines with a really cool boardwalk. The highlight of River City’s boardwalk is a cool shark statue coming right out of the dock to bite down on a bench. This is one of the best photo opportunities in Bangkok. The top level of the mall is also home to one of the best roof top bars in Bangkok. The prices at the root top bar are very affordable and it has excellent river views. The dock next to River City is also the meeting point for most of Bangkok’s top evening dinner cruise.
28. Holy Rosary Catholic Church: Has been a church here since 1736, has been rebuilt twice with the current in 1897. Originally Portugal was huge in trade with Siam so King Rama gave them this land for a church. Catholics from other Asian countries still use this church, especially war refugees. Visually the church looks like a mini version of New Orleans’ St Louis Cathedral and is probably cooler to know about than to actually see in person.
29. Junk Shops (Sieng Kong): Huge stacks of used automotive and engine parts line the street shops from here all the way to the Chao Mae Tubtim Shrine 3 blocks to the North. Even though the street is very crowded with junk, it is beyond interesting to see how the locals live their day to day lives. These shops are best views during the daytime as at night it is very dark and we don’t recommend it then.
Other Sights Near Chinatown:
30. Old Town Walking Tour: Bangkok’s Old Town is the heart and soul of the city. From the Grand Palace, Temple of the Dawn, Emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho, this is the most must see section of Bangkok.
31. Mid Town Walking Tour: Mid Town Bangkok is often overlooked by most tourist but it has a few hidden gems. With the main highlights of the Golden Mount and Monk Bowl Village, Mid Town is for sure worth a stop if you have an extra day in Bangkok.
32. Silom Walking Tour: Silom has a great mix of sights that are very easy to see from Chinatown. Near the river the old French district has a number of cool sights and gem stores. The neighborhood is also known for having the 2 best roof top bars in town on the tops of a couple sky scrappers. Probably our favorite sights are the colorful Indian temple and the Patpong Night Market Bars.
33. Siam Square Walking Tour: The sights of Siam Square are a little spread out but there are definitely a few great ones. Most of the neighborhood was a very modern feel including the huge shopping mall but there are classic elements as well. The Jim Thompson House is a tourist favorite, but the Penis Shrine along with the Cabbage and Condoms Restaurant are two of Bangkok’s best hidden gems.