The district has thrived since the 18th century when King Rama I shifted the capital to the eastern bank of the Chaopraya River, which in turn led the Chinese community to move to Sampheng Road. The establishment of temples and monasteries in this area, including Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, Thian Fah Foundation, Guang Dong Temple and Leng Buai Ia Shrine (which are still operating today), soon attracted more migrants to settle here too.
Today, fuelled mainly by the MRT expansion (with new stations slated to open in late 2016/early 2017), Chinatown is going through a new era of revitalization, its old-world charm being enlivened with a range of modern and trendy bars, cafes, hotels and art galleries which respect the area’s heritage while leading it into a bright new future.
Of these developments, Soi Nana (not to be confused with its less salubrious namesake on Sukhumvit) just off of Charoen Krung Road, is on the radar as one of the hippest areas in the district.
A small alley about 300 metres long, Soi Nana has recently welcomed several new bars and restaurants, a bustling café, and a couple of art galleries, and proves a welcome hangout away from the crowded areas of Sathorn, Silom and Sukhumvit.
One of the very first projects that sparked the hip revival of Soi Nana is the Spanish tapas bar
El Chiringuito. A no-nonsense eatery within an old shophouse decorated with wooden furniture, vintage posters, and chalkboards scrawled with a short list of tasty tapas and pizzas, this laid-back venue is owned and operated by Sudaporn Sae Ia, who spent six years living in Spain before opening her small restaurant two years ago.
In keeping with the area’s charm, she’s hardly altered the property, but the flavours she offers are authentically Spanish – think Tortilla (B110), Croquetas (B180) and, to wash them down, Sangria (B130). El Chiringuito opens every Thursday to Sunday from 6pm till midnight. An adjoining guesthouse, meanwhile, offers basic accommodation for just B800 per night.
Art enthusiasts should make a beeline for Cho Why, a three-storey multi-disciplinary art space located midway down Soi Nana, which hosts a diverse range of projects by artists from Bangkok and beyond. Captivated by the neighbourhood's genuine charm, the founders of Cho Why are passionate about maintaining it while also fostering creative and cultural development. As such, they also offer a space for art gatherings, film screenings, photography discussions and workshops, performances, culinary pop-ups and rooftop parties. Full details are available at facebook.com/chowhybkk.
Another great place to sit and enjoy a drink or two, or a Thai feast, if you’re hungry, is Tep Bar. Offering Thai tapas and yadong cocktails, Tep Bar celebrates Thai culture in a two-storey bar that looks like it’s been beamed direct from New York.
The quality yadong (Thai white spirit fermented in mixed herbs and honey) is available as shots and cocktails. A taster set of three yadongs, half a shot each, is priced B350, while cocktails range from B250-B800. As for food, highlights include Deep-fried spicy minced pork ball (B120), Grilled turmeric chicken (B120) and Pad Thai with crab meat and claw (B350).
from 7pm to midnight.
In the middle of the bars and restaurants on Soi Nana you’ll find the cute and lovely Nahim Cafe and Handcraft. Decorated with pastel colours, cartoon alpacas and adorable arts and crafts, Nahim originally began life as an arts and crafts business but now offers a wide range of food and drinks, including highlights such as the Veggie soup platter with alpaca-print wholewheat bread (B165), Nahim Coffee (B90), Cold brew tea (B85), and the Hot chocolate pot (B95). The cafe opens 11am-9pm on weekdays (except Wednesdays) and 9am-9pm on weekends.
After exploring all of Soi Nana, take a 10-minute walk to Luang Road and check out the local craft brewing scene at Let The Boy Die.
Here you will get a taste of Thai craft beers in another shophouse-turned-bar with a vibrant atmosphere. Taps change every week, with the exception being must-try house beer Golden Coins, one of the best established craft beers in Thailand. Prices range from B160-B200. The bar opens every Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm-midnight.
If you prefer to enjoy your drinks with a view, River Vibe Restaurant and Bar is the place for you. Located on Songwad Road on the top floor of the River View Guest House, the venue offers great food and drinks at affordable prices. The real highlight, however, are the amazing sunset views overlooking the Chaopraya River.
Recommended dishes at River Vibe include Pork red curry with pineapple (B120), Massaman curry with chicken (B150), and Chicken roasted in yoghurt (B150). A selection of western dishes such as burgers, pastas and sandwiches are also available, priced between B150-B180. Opening hours are 7.30am-midnight daily.
For another superb atmosphere, albeit this one without a lofty view, head to Soulbar on Charoen Krung Road (facebook.com/livesoulbarbangkok). Open every Tues-Sat from 6.30pm-midnight, the bar plays host to talented funk, soul, and jazz bands each night, and is invariably packed with a musician-heavy crowd which often spills onto the street. When the bands find their groove the atmosphere is always electric; one visit, and you’ll be hooked.
Other popular hangouts on Charoen Krung Road include independent art gallery-cum-bar Speedy Grandma (Charoen Krung Soi 28, speedygrandma.com) and, by the same owner, another gallery-cum-bar called Soy Sauce Factory (Charoen Krung Soi 24 ), which, true to its name, is actually in what was once a factory making soy sauce.
So there you have it. While Yaowarat Road still remains the heart of the Samphanthawong district, and is as bustling today as it ever was, the fringes of this area are undergoing a metamorphosis, fast becoming creative hubs where artistic entrepreneurs can express their visions in unique, exciting ways. With the MRT set to open in the area early next year, which will no doubt see businesses of all descriptions wanting a piece of the action, the area is only set to boom even more. The biggest challenge, of course, will be whether or not Chinatown can retain its old world charm in the process. Fingers well and truly crossed.
FOR a fascinating insight into Chinatown’s rich history, and to get a real taste of how the area has developed and changed over the years, we highly recommend you pay a visit to the Yaowarat Heritage Centre. Here you will find information and dioramas detailing how the early Chinese immigrants came to Bangkok, their integration into Thai society, and how Bangkok’s Chinatown has developed into the thriving centre of commerce it is today. The museum, located on Tri Mit Road (a 5-minute walk from Soi Nana), is part of Wat Traimit and admission is just B100 (includes the heritage centre, the Golden Buddha Museum on the floor above, and the Temple of the Golden Buddha). Open daily, except Mondays, from 9am-5pm.
Running from Bang Sue to Tha Phra, and from Hua Lamphong to Bang Khae, the latter section of this new line will pass through Chinatown at Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Station. At 15.9 kilometres long, this new section will also consist of new 11 stations, cutting through Rama IV Road, Charoen Krung Road, Wang Burapha, Sanamchai Road, Pakklongtalard, Klong Bangkok Yai, Ittsarapharp Road and Tha Phra intersection.
The Bang Sue-Tha Phra section is 11.08 kilometres long and consists of 10 new stations, cutting through Pracharachsadorn 2 Road, Bang Pho intersection, the Chaopraya River, Charansanitwong Road, Bang Phlad Intersection, Boromarajonani intersection, Faichai intersection and ending at Tha Phra intersection.
For more information about the new lines visit mrta.co.th/en