On any given day, the streets of Bangkok’s Chinatown bustle with energy. Gold shops and other businesses on the main stretch of Yaowaraj engage in their daily trade. Pedestrians push through the narrow back alleys, shopping for a variety of goods from textiles and trinkets to dried mushrooms and tea. Everyone vies for space alongside pushcarts, vendors and Vespas – all amidst a backdrop of colourful Chinese-influenced architecture and motifs.
Add the haze of incense smoke, the cooking fumes from open woks and the herbaceous pungency of Chinese medicine into the mix. As the temperature rises, the air becomes dense, laced with smoke, grease and sweat. That’s Chinatown in a nutshell – while intriguing, it’s not likely an appealing scene for families. However, there are quieter streets that can be explored with kids, and this past summer, we joined the folks of Nancy Chandler Map for an easy walking tour, filled with all the charms of this unique neighbourhood.
In the morning, before it became too hot, we met up at Hualumphong train station, which is a stop on the MRT line. (Be sure to have a look at the station’s retro semi-circle atrium as well as to use the restroom and buy bottles of water, if needed.) We then took a 10-minute tuk tuk ride to Wat Pratum Khongkha on Songwat Road, passing the China Gate at the Odeon Circle, the official entrance to Chinatown.
To make things fun for kids, we devised a scavenger hunt using the very detailed Nancy Chandler Map of Chinatown for reference. From Wat Pratum, we set off looking for (and finding!) a vintage Vespa showroom; a wooden barrel workshop; a Tibetan prayer wheel and statue of the Chinese Goddess of Mercy on the Chao Phraya Riverfront; a mosque housed in an old colonial style building; a phone booth with a Chinese-style roof (a staple of Chinatowns the world over, it seems); spice shops selling chilli, cinnamon sticks, herbal teas, peppers, a variety of nuts and beans and more; and Pei Ing Public School, housed in an old colonial building behind a Chinese shrine.
As an added bonus, we stopped at wholesale stores selling cheap household goods and toys, as well as discovered several huge building murals. The latter, part of the Bukruk Urban Arts Festival held earlier in the year, includes a bright pink wall mural by “Aitch”, a falling Elephant mural by “Roa” and a Bicycle mural by “Aryz”.
In about 1.5 hours, we reached the end of Songwad at the intersection of Ratchawong Road. You can choose to end the tour here and get some lunch or continue to explore. Nearby is the infamous Sampeng shopping alley, with everything from party supplies and stationary to wigs and jewellery making equipment. All in all, the walk was an enriching experience, with the distinctive sights, sounds and smells of Chinatown but on a much more manageable scale.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series of blog posts produced in conjunction with Nancy Chandler Map. Purchase and download newly updated digital maps (July 2018), including:
- Bangkok Full Package
- Chatuchak Market
- Chatuchak Market & Chinatown
- Khao San & Phra Athit
- Map of Bangkok Directory (free)
- Map of Bangkok Directory – Expat Addendum
Image credit: Sarah-Jane Kirkup, International Sales & Marketing, Nancy Chandler Graphics