Exploring Bangkok’s Chinatown | THAILAND

Chaos. Pure, yet somehow organized, amazing chaos with the ever-present smell of food and spice in the air. That is the high-level overview of how I could best describe the Chinatown area of Bangkok. And we loved every single minute of it! We were immersed in the culture from the moment we woke up each day, until we retired to our hotel room after an exhausting, adventure-filled day. The sprawl of the city, the efficiency of the subway, the uniqueness of the lifestyle, and of course, the incredible food everywhere you looked. Bangkok was an explosion of new experience for us that we desperately needed after so many years of not traveling after 2020.

Our trip to Thailand started off in the massive city of Bangkok, which, from the elevated train rail, looked to be three times the size of Manhattan the way the city and surrounding areas sprawled far off to the horizon. The hotel we booked was right in the heart of Bangkok, more specifically, in the heart of the infamous Chinatown section of the city, on Yaowarat Road, right off the Wat Mangkon Metro Station. We were staying at the Hotel Royal Bangkok Chinatown, which had an incredible view from its rooftop bar of the surrounding city and especially of the vibrant nightlife that would come out at night. We booked this place because of it’s proximity to everything, but most importantly how close it was to the street food that also came out each night. And after 22 hours of flying to get there, this place felt like the Ritz Carlton!

During the day, the streets are hectic, with cars, motorbikes, and tuk-tuks constantly pouring into the city. Vendors line the main streets and side streets selling everything you can imagine. Some would be selling fresh fruit and durian, while the next shop would be selling shoes and clothing. And after spending the morning at a floating market, we came back to Chinatown with some new traveling friends where  roamed the town. Following them around, we explored art museums, beautifully ornate temples line with gold trim, and the crowded alleys that were shutting down shop to prepare for the night’s activities. Even with our suspicions of wandering around any crowded, foreign city, we were shocked how friendly everyone we passed were. In one instance, I was stopped and motioned to take a photo of a group of friends on the street that screamed out “selfie” in their best English. But we didn’t stay in Chinatown for the daytime markets, we came here for the street food that we saw on endless Netflix Travel Food shows, and it didn’t disappoint!

The first night in Bangkok after arriving, we walked out of our hotel, into what felt like a totally different world. First thing we saw, was a street vendor selling a roasted duck out the front door of the hotel. This, of course, was the least crazy thing we saw that night. Taking it all in, we looked around, and saw nothing but bright lights on the restaurant signs lining the building walls above and an endless sea of people walking the sidewalks and on the streets. We soon realized, everyone was out here for the street food carts that were parked on those sidewalks. Unlike in America, where we have food trucks, these were legitimate push carts, no bigger than 4ft long, attached to a motorbike, where chefs prepared some of the most incredible food in the world. We barely had idea what any of the food actually was, so we just walked until we found food that looked delicious (or had a long line) and stopped for a quick bite. We found carts that cooked fresh barbecue pork kebabs, savory spring rolls, pastries filled with sweet cream, and of course some of the best pad Thai we’ve ever had. Of course, I’m no food blogger who can describe the flavor in each bite, but what I do know, is a good deal when I find one. And the street food were a deal of a lifetime because most items only 10-60 Baht (TBH), which converts to roughly $0.33-$2.00! All for dishes and appetizers that we’d gladly spend $6-$20 back home.

The second night in Chinatown, was a bit more organized, thanks to our AirBnB Experience host Penpimon! We met up with our group at the train station near our hotel, and were immediately thrust into an unforgettable food experience. The tour started off at one of the street markets where we all sat down and enjoyed a family style meal filled with a variety of Thai dishes that included Pad Thai, Noodles with shrimp, and Oyster Omelets. After our first course, we wandered up and down the street where Penpimon would order food for us all to try. We tried bugs, fruit dishes, coconut ice cream, and best of all, a Michelin Star “rated” soup dish. All of these shops were just set up on the sidewalk, right in front of other businesses as if the sidewalk seemed to be free real estate. Throughout the evening, our guide explained to us how much of the Thai food culture was influenced by the Chinese hundreds of years prior. She also explained that because the Bangkok traffic is so bad, most Thai people choose to eat out from these street vendors most night just to be outside, and also because the food is so cheap. This was a lifestyle I understood, and could definitely get behind. 

As delicious as the food was, our tour didn’t end there. We hopped in Tuk Tuks that ripped down the crowded streets in the rain, sliding in and out of the lanes to overtake traffic, all to get us to the Royal Palace. There she explained how their Monarchy functions, the way their King is involved in the Thai government, and how the Royal Family is chosen. All of which was fascinating to our group who were all from America. And after this stop, we headed back into Chinatown to see wholesale flower market. See, flowers are a big part of the Thai culture, specifically marigolds, orchids, and lotus. These flowers are displayed daily in store fronts, as gifts, and even to decorate ornate memorials of their deceased relatives. We walked the sidewalks where the workers were collecting and assembling beautiful arrangements, while others were simply packing as many flowers as they could into boxes to be sold and shipped to the local stores. The best part of the stop was when Penpimon taught us all how to fold a lotus flower into a beautiful origami shape as a sort of meditative practice.

Our time in Bangkok was all too short. We were only able to explore just the surface of this beautiful, chaotic portion of the city. There were so many other sections of the city, food markets, sprawling green parks, and amazing restaurants that we didn’t get to experience. Every person we met or ran into shared with us their favorite place and section of the city, and we added to our list for next time. And even though we were only in Bangkok for a few days, we learned so much about this unique city. Moving around this city was as effortless as any European city, whether it was by shockingly clean subway, chaotic Tuk Tuk, or regular taxi cab. But unlike Europe, the cost of living was a fraction of the price. Hotels ranged from $10-$60/night, train rides cost less than $2 to go from one end of the city to the other, and more food than you could ever eat in one sitting that costs less than $5. Needless to say, Bangkok was an amazing place with more culture than I’ve ever witnessed in all of my travels combined, and cannot recommend this city enough!

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