Thailand is a foodie utopia and Bangkok's Chinatown is its heart. Do you want to squat on a miniature stool with a $2 bowl of noodles in an alley? Or would you prefer perching by a dimly lit bar in a speakeasy, sipping a $30 martini made with butterfly pea and Thai chilli-infused gin? These two extremes and everything in between can be found within a couple of blocks in Bangkok's Old Town neighbourhood known as Yaowarat.
Captivating Street Scenes
Yaowarat (Chinatown) is perfect for photographers. The hectic main road is lit up with so many neon signs you might think you were in Hong Kong and the spiderwebs of narrow alleys are filled with babies, cats, shops and retro factories which make you feel like you stepped back into the 1950s.
Street Food in Danger
Bangkok is famous for street food and in recent years, authorities have been threatening to take it all away. In an effort to “clean up” Bangkok streets, food vendors, along with their makeshift kitchens have been chased away by threats of fines. The public backlash to this was so intense that some compromise was made. Some areas, such as the backpacker's wonderland of Khaosan Road has suffered from a complete shakeup, and many elephant-pant-clad, blonde deadlocked European youth have found their favourite street now devoid of all cheap food carts. In other parts of the city, you would be hard pressed to find any kind of transitory eats. Somehow in the midst of all this political back-and-forth, Chinatown has remained immune. Not a single merchant has seemed to have been inconvenienced, and at all times of day or night, you will struggle to find your way through the crowded footpaths, pushing through congregations of diners and great, bubbling vats of oil.
Best Street Eats of Chinatown
The king of street food in Bangkok has to be pad thai. Perhaps the farthest reaching dish of Thailand, its familiarity makes it a popular choice for hesitant visitors. Watch as grandmas toss thick rice noodles and beansprouts high in the air. Sweet and tangy with scrambled egg, tofu and spring onions. This classic dish is served wrapped in a square of lined paper, tied up with rubber bands, a cheek of lime and a shake of chilli powder on the side.
Satay and Barbeque
Fact: Cooking on coals makes things 100% more delicious. While us “farang” (Westerners) might regularly order some chicken satay sticks at our local Thai place in Sydney or New York, in Thailand, they are usually made from pork. Do make sure you to try some “muu ping” (???????) a fatty, sweet pork treat. Also grilled over charcoal, one can find all kinds of fresh seafood, tofu, meats, and vegetables.
There are as many variations of noodle soup in Thailand as there are stars in the sky. A popular variation in Chinatown is “bha mee muu daeng” (????????????), a Hong Kong style egg noodle soup with BBQ pork, and shrimp dumplings.
Fresh Fruit Aplenty
Fruit on sticks, in bags, and in bottles. In Yaowarat you will find fruit that even the most worldly gourmand might not have seen before. Most of the fruits on show cannot be named by the average North American and the variety will delight and amaze. Mangosteens, rambutans, longans, langsat, snakefruit, and of course, durian. Make sure you film your friends and family when they try a ripe, stinky piece of durian for the first time.
After The Sun Goes Down
After dark, it is cocktail time. One particular street in Chinatown is home to most of the area’s hip, young, trendy bars. The tiny Soi Nana (Not to be confused with the sleazy suburb of Nana) makes sampling the town’s best beverages super easy. Glide from one watering hole to the next all night until you settle in at your favourite.
Start at the south end of the short street with Yaowarat Bar and Bistro
before moving over the road to 103 Bed and Brews
for some bottles of Thai craft beers, or maybe a caffeine fix to keep up your stamina. 103 offers several different nitro cold brew coffees on tap and some amazing classic Thai food.
Heading north, you will come across the open and friendly El Chiringuito
. The space is full of reclaimed woods, exposed brick and antique posters. Still heading north and turning right into the next tiny alley you will find the delightful Tep Bar
. This spot is very dapper with gorgeously constructed cocktails, served by bartenders in black suspenders. They focus on Thai spirits at Tep, so test out some very unique Thai herbal liquors.
Walking north up Soi Nana again, Wallflowers
occupies the next corner. They have regular live jazz and several levels for you to choose from including an adorable little rooftop above Wallflowers Upstairs. Up a little more and on the opposite side of the street is the famous, and perpetually packed Ba hao ??.
This 1920s Shanghai themed bar is full of wealthy Thai young professionals and the more sophisticated expats. It might be hard to get a seat, arrive early. Heading south down Soi Nana and you will find the perfect, tiny craft beer bar, simply named Beer Bar
. You will find taps and a fridge full of some unique craft beers from Thailand and overseas.
Just down from there is the famous Teens Of Thailand
. Ignore the name, this place is for grown ups. They specialise in gin and have a dozen, gorgeous variations on the classic gin tonic.
To end the night, one might find themselves at the eccentric and wonderful 23 Bar & Gallery
. This spot is as hipster as you can get. They don't have a menu, and I am only going to share a photo of the bathroom. If you hate dive bars, give this one a miss. If you love the peculiar, stop in for a beer.
Where To Stay
For an authentically Chinese experience, the Shanghai Mansion Hotel is whimsical and exotically beautiful.