Bangkok’s Chinatown is a gallery of gastronomy – a humble playground of hawker food that, in recent years, has finally won the attention of Michelin awards. The colour, light and movement of this delicious marketplace is a photographer’s dream.
Flames leap from busy grills and savoury smoke fills what little space the crowd leaves – the homogenous mass squeezing down the shining street as it inspects each delectable stall in turn.
First a barrow with glazed roasted ducks dangling like orange candles. Next a donut trolley that fries then grills then fills the donuts with chocolate*.
Next soup, next curry, next grilled prawns.
Next a cart hung with sheets of crispy crackly pork belly where the vendor hacks chunks off with a huge knife and serves the pork with an unctuous sauce over rice and a gooey egg.
Check out our video glance of Yaowarat:
Click here to watch the video on YouTube.
There are shops piled high with teas, mushrooms, seafood and even the legendary durian.
And round one nondescript corner into an alley, we find the ‘musical chairs curry shop’ Jek Pui Curry. Lining one wall, a bank of stoves bubble and steam with various pots.
At the back of the eatery, you pull up a stool in the alley and wait for your pick of curries. It’s a local favourite and for good reason.
For an excellent list of 5 places to eat in Yaowarat, check out this article from the Tourism Thailand website.
*This particular stall, run by a father and his sons, is where, so far, two Michelin Plates have landed – awarded “where inspectors have discovered quality food” – for their ‘Yaowarat toast’.
How to get to Yaowarat
Known locally as Yaowarat after the main street it’s on, Chinatown winds through the western part of Bangkok, close to the Chao Phraya River. Locals also call Yaowarat Road ‘Dragon Road’ as it bends and flexes its way through the city much like the mythical beast.
Confusingly, Yaowarat means ‘young king’ – from when King Rama V named it after his son Crown Prince Maha Vajirunhis. The actual Dragon Road (Mangkon Road) runs perpendicular to Yaowarat.
This small street is home to Wat Mangkon – the Dragon Temple; the most sacred Chinese Buddhist temple in the country.
You’ll also find the MRT station Wat Mangkon here. This is the best option for getting to Chinatown, as you not only avoid the terrible traffic, you also get to walk past the temple and visit if you have time.
The station itself is also worth exploring.
Decorated to look like its eponymous temple, the station also has interactive murals and trompe l’œil style exhibits you can have a lot of fun with.
Following Mangkon Road south, it drops you in the heart of Chinatown, emerging from this quiet(ish) backstreet into the blazing lights, rich, vibrant colours, and tempest of aromas and movement of Yoawarat.
It is a thrill to the senses.
Yaowarat proffers the promise of rewards for the inquisitive gallivanting gourmand; the travelling foodie and the foodie traveller alike.
Of course, you’re guaranteed sumptuous food, but the risk of something challenging or unexpected arriving on your plate makes the experience all the more exciting.
Postcards from Yaowarat – Bangkok’s Chinatown
Yaowarat is one of the most exiting and interesting parts to Bangkok. The number of times we’ve been to this incredible city, but we’ve always been put off by people telling us it’s always too busy and the traffic’s appalling… but it’s worth it.
We were here just before the Covid-19 pandemic locked the whole world down, so crowds were much smaller than usual.
For more stories from our travels to Thailand, here’s a selection from our library.
You might also like:
Our travel guide to Thailand’s forgotten capital
The secrets of Pak Khlong Talat – Bangkok’s flower markets
A Bangkok oasis – Hua Chang Heritage Hotel