As we get ready to welcome in the Year of the Horse (January 31-February 1), we head to the heart of Yaowarat, to rediscover the area’s best cafes, restaurants, food stalls and shops.
Make Like A Tourist
Wat Traimitr Wittayaram
661 Charoen Krung Road, Samphanthawong District, open Tue-Sun 8am-5pm
An ideal starting point for those who want to brush up on their Chinatown history, this temple isn’t just home to the world’s largest golden Buddha image but also houses the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre. Situated on the second floor it offers a deep insight into the neighborhood and a history of the early Chinese immigrants to Bangkok. The eight-minute multimedia presentation (available in English) runs every hour from 9am to 4pm. There are six exhibition zones which trace the history of Chinese immigrants from the early Rattanakosin period and explore the community’s development. They also offer interactive guides of where to eat and what to do in the area and a souvenir shop selling Chinese lucky charms from B50 to B300. Free entry for Thais and B100 for foreigners.
Open daily from 8am–midnight. 02-886-2376
This quirky grocery store has actually been operating on this site for over 70 years, selling imported Chinese and Vietnamese food at wholesales prices. Yet, despite its age it now has an achingly hip retro vibe thanks to a complete renovation by the family’s third generation owner, Pardprada Gunyaviriya (See Q&A and 13 New Faces You Need to Watch This Year, this page). The chaotic traditional wholesaler has been transformed into a stylish store with black walls, green lamps, and a clean layout, offering over 5,000 imported products.
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat
Mangkorn Road, 02-222-3975, open daily 6am-6pm
Built way back in the reign of King Rama V in 1871, this temple, whose name means dragon lotus, was the first and remains one of the most important Chinese temples in Bangkok, especially during Chinese New Year and the annual vegetarian festival. The temple complex actually contains Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines representing the broad mix of religious heritage that can be found in Chinatown and the place is usually bustling with locals lighting incense and making offerings to their ancestors.
Somchai Kwangtongpanich, 49
As a fourth-generation Thai-Chinese, Somchai grew up in Chinatown running his family’s business selling rope. With a strong interest in his origins and knowledge of Chinese history in Thailand, he helped set up the local museum and heritage center at Wat Traimitr (661 Charoen Krung Road, Samphanthawong District, open Tue-Sun 8am-5pm).
How has Yaowarat changed over the years?
In the golden days of Yaowarat, about 50 years ago, all of the best entertainment and restaurants were here. Many people come here today to enjoy grilled seafood on the street and think it’s the best. I think it’s the worst it’s been. Grilled food is actually considered pedestrian in China because it doesn’t need much preparation. Previously, we also used more Chinese language. Now it’s going. Even the Chinese signs are gone. If no one works to preserve it, it’ll disappear totally.
What will happen this Chinese New Year?
To celebrate the year of the horse, you should visit and pay respect at the Guan U shrine to the god of the horse. But the festival here is losing its identity with every passing year. There are many random street stalls, games, concerts from Grammy singers. We still have the dragon puppet shows but there’s no Chinese opera anymore. It’s good there are many tourists here. It’s not something that I fear as much as how some of us try to adapt to serve them. I fear that we are losing our identity.
Pardprapa Gunyaviriya, 28
Pardprapa, or Iku, is the fourth generation of his family in Yaowarat. Last year, he took over the family’s 70-year-old wholesale business, Lor Yaowaraj, and turned it into a stylish grocery store, complete with decorative bicycle out front. Despite initially facing opposition from his family and elders, he has succeeded in making the store a popular destination.
Why modernize the shop?
I grew up in a show huay [convenience store] selling all sorts of dried food and herbs, which you can find at many places nowadays. I wanted to keep the business in Yaowarat, so I adapted and expanded our customer base to include tourists and younger generations.
What do you think your shop brings to the area?
My aim is to have a busy, modern shop, without losing the Chinese touch. We haven’t lost our identity. But I want people to remember us as one of Yaowarat’s landmarks.
What are your favourite restaurants in the neighborhood?
I like Guay Jab Nai Ek with its crispy pork, tofu and vegetables in clear soup. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.
What do you hope to see more in Yaowarat?
More stylish coffee shops, boutique hotels with character, chic cultural museums, tailor shops making quality traditional outfits, unique-looking tourist information kiosks and, of course, good photo opportunities.
Sivakorn Thongvisirakul, 41
Sivakorn is the fourth generation of his family to run the Eiah-Sae coffee business. From its first branch in Yaowarat, the 85-year-old business has expanded to include nine branches and two franchises. Nevertheless, the original venue retains its charm and serves as a gathering spot for mostly older locals. Though Sivakorn doesn’t live in Yaowarat anymore, he still visits the shop here on a daily basis.
How has Yaowarat changed?
Many businesses have gone as young people choose to not continue their family businesses. Recently, though, I’ve seen many Chinese from the mainland move here to do business.
Why did you decide to continue your family business?
My family worked very hard and I wanted to help them continue their work. Personally, I also enjoy offering good service to customers.
What do you think your business brings to the neighborhood?
Regulars at the shop in Yaowarat tend to be older people who live in the area. It’s become part of their lifestyle. Though we have expanded to include younger customers in other branches, the shop in Yaowarat retains its character.
What is the charm of Yaowarat?
The people who live here. We have a close community, though we speak loud as if we are shouting at each other and sometimes we have disagreements. We share good friendships and are willing to help each other.
1612 Songwat Road, Open Tue-Thu 4pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 4pm-1am, closed Mon
Samsara is a riverside restaurant tucked down a little alley behind Wat Pathumkongka. Set in one of those charming wooden houses you pass as you ride the express boat along the river, the restaurant offers a nice and relaxing ambience suitable for both dinner and drinks. With a vibe that’s halfway between a gallery and a friend’s house, it’s brimming with personality: expect to find colorful vintage furnishings and all sorts of cat-related curios and paintings hanging on the wall. Most tables are out on the terrace and reservations are a must for those with the best views. The tasty Thai cuisine is augmented by Japanese touches.
101-103 Yaowarat-Padsai Rd., Yaowarat, 02-221-0549. Open daily 4am-8pm
Hidden in Padsai street not too far from the main Yaowarat Road, Eiah-Sae is a small Chinese coffee shop with real authentic character. Run by the Thongvisirakul family for over 85 years, Eiah-Sae made its name from its coffee beans, roasted and blended using its own secret techniques. It remains the spot for local Thai-Chinese gatherings, evident in the large number of elderly regulars (mostly men) who come to chat and do business over coffee. The setting is very retro-Chinese, with simple wooden chairs and some old paintings on the wall. The shop is open for breakfast at 4am, serving soft-boiled eggs (B20) and toast (B25-30) with coffee. It also offers traditional drinks such as nor kao, which is a mix of tea and coffee and heng yim, which is an almond-flavored drink. Be warned the cold drinks are very sweet but the atmosphere is definitely unique.
Double Dogs Tea Room
406 Yaowarat Rd., 086-329-3075. Open Tue-Sun 11am-10pm
Situated in a shophouse on the main Yaowarat Road, the décor of Double Dogs sets it apart from the neighbors. Decorated with Chinese-style wooden tables, chairs and tea accessories, the smart café is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the air-con with a cup of tea. Choose from more than 40 different types of tea from China and Japan, with the owner (See Q&A, this page) happy to help you choose depending on your character and mood. Chinese teas are priced at B80-B240 a pot and matcha powder tea is B130. There are two Chinese baked tea cake sets available at B95 and B160 which let you enjoy snacks such as peanut roll, sesame fritter, and almond biscuit with your tea.
Jongrak Kittiworakarn, 43
Originally from Teochew, Jongrak’s family moved to Yaowarat over 60 years ago. He grew up in Yaowarat, only leaving in his twenties to study Molecular Biology in France. After graduating, he worked as a professor at Mahidol University and was involved in a number of research projects. Two years ago, he came back to Yaowarat to open the unique Double Dogs Tea Room.
What made you come back and open a tea shop in Yaowarat?
It was actually an unexpected opportunity. My mother told me this shophouse had become available so we wanted to do something here. And we thought Yaowarat still lacked a nice place to sit down and relax.
What do you think your shop brings to the area?
My shop is for serious tea drinkers. Though I serve a variety of traditional Chinese tea, most of my customers are not locals. I have many Japanese customers. To locals, it might not make any difference.
How has Yaowarat changed since when you were young?
The good food has gone. Twenty to 30 years ago there were more quality restaurants serving original Chinese food. Restaurants today cut corners by using lower quality produce. But I understand they have to survive.
What are your favorites?
I like Kampu Neung Sod Wan restaurant [fresh steamed crab claws] near Yaowarat Soi 8. Steamed claws are not particularly Chinese but they are so fresh. After you order, they ride a bicycle to the nearby market to buy fresh crabs to cook for you. They also do authentic Hakka Chinese food. I also like New Kuang Meng restaurant on Phadsai Road, the small beef noodles stall on Phiphaska 1 Road and duck boiled rice in Soi Plangnam, which tastes like something your mum would cook for you.
Pa Jin Cockle Soi Texas
Soi Phadungdao, Yaowarat Road. Open daily Mon-Sat 6.30pm–1am, Sun 5pm–1am. 081-795-1839
If it’s just a beer and some seafood snacks you are after then this is the place. Located in the middle of Soi Texas, Pa Jin has been running her stall, which sells soft boiled cockles and mussels, for over 35 years. She reveals that the secret is the freshness of her shellfish which are from a farm in Petchaburi province. The real highlight, though, is the three different sauces. The spicy and sour seafood sauce is the most popular among locals, while some might find the ancient style sweet and sour “mix sauce” with crushed peanuts easier to handle. Finally, the sweet sauce with crushed peanuts is available for wimps. Priced at B100, a dish is good for two to share. Singha, Heineken and Leo beers are available at B80-120.
Jae Aun Bua Loy Nam Khing
Yaowarat Road, 081-860-1053, 081-612-5700. Open Tue-Sun 7-11pm
Bua loy nam khing (dumplings with ginger tea) is a must-try dessert when you are in Chinatown. Running for over 20 years, Jae Aun is one of the best places to sample them. The top seller is the sesame dumplings which you can choose to pair with either ginger tea or sweetened milk (B30). There are also taro dumplings (B40) and tofu pudding (B15). We recommend the assorted dumplings (B50), which lets you try both the sesame and taro dumplings in one go.
Tasty Toast Yaowarat
Across from Jae Auan Rad Naa and Bank of Ayudhya, Yaowarat Rd., 08-7598-0888, 08-1492-5131. Open Tue-Sun 6:30pm-midnight
You will be lured to this stall by the sweet aroma of buttered toast. Though there are a few tables, the young crowd that makes up the majority of its regulars usually order to go. The stall offers three styles of toast: crispy, steamed bun, and crispy on the outside but soft inside. There are many toppings you can choose from including sangkaya (Thai egg custard), chocolate, peanut butter, sweet chilli paste, condensed milk, pineapple and strawberry jam. (B17). The stall also sells hot milk, coffee and tea which you can pair with your delicious toast.
Yim Yim (or Jim Jim) Restaurant
89 Padsai Road, Behind Hua Seng Hong gold shop, Open daily 11am-2pm, 5pm–10pm
Situated on the second floor of a building in the corner of Yaowapanich and Padsai roads, Jim Jim restaurant has been running for over 90 years, offering authentic Teochew Chinese food made from recipes brought over by the owners’ family from China a century ago. The restaurant certainly looks its age, indeed without a recommendation you might not want to walk up the shabby stairs. Still, Jim Jim’s customers are not here for its ambience but the food. Highlight dishes are the roast whole pig with crispy skin (B1,700), seasoned shrimp roll (B25/roll), and oyster omelet (B300-400).
Hua Seng Hong
371-373 Yaowarat Rd., 02-222-7053. Open daily 9am-1am. www.huasenghong.co.th
Set right on Yaowarat Road with roast ducks, fresh crabs and king prawns hanging out front, Hua Seng Hong is a long-term favorite due to its consistency and variety—a fact backed up by their 13 branches in malls throughout Bangkok. Its Thai dishes are authentic enough but it really specializes in traditional Chinese treats such as braised goosefeet in a clay pot. Other best sellers include roast duck (B200-640), steamed crab with grass noodles and stir fried crab with yellow curry powder (B900-1,050). The seafood here is fresh, the crab is wonderfully meaty and the dim sum well worth trying.
Kuay Jub Nai Lek (Auan)
02-224-3450, 08-1611-6920. Open Tue-Sun 6pm-12:30am
In the corner of Yaowarat Soi 11, there are numerous stalls selling Pad Thai, rice and curries, fruit and desserts. Kuay Jub Nai Lek is easiest to spot, though, as it’s by far and away the busiest, selling rice noodles (kuay jub) in a clear soup with crispy pork and pork entrails. You might have to queue up to get a seat and you might have to share a table with strangers ranging from university students to hisos but Nai Lek’s kuay jub is worth the hassle. The highlights have to be the delicious crispy pork (B40) and the strong peppery kick of the soup.
Seafood Soi Texas
Soi Phadung Dao, Yaowarat Road. Open daily, 6pm – 1am
At the beginning of Soi Phadung Dao, locally known as Soi Texas, there are two popular seafood places facing each other across the street. T&K Seafood has its staff wearing green outfits while R&L Seafood is the one with its staff wearing red outfits. We have tried both and their taste, freshness of seafood ingredients and prices are not much different. You can enjoy ample grilled prawns, crabs and scallops and end up paying less than B1,000 for two people. Our recommendations are steamed sea bass in lime juice (B350) and spicy tom yum kung (B150) at T&K restaurant; and amberjack in pandanus leaf (B250) and spicy seafood tom yum soup (B150) at R&L.
Preeda Parathachariya, 49
Third generation local Preeda’s in-depth knowledge of his origins, which he shared with the team building the heritage center at Wat Traimitr, saw him enter the Fan Pan Tae (Real Big Fan) TV program in 2003 on the subject of Yaowarat, where he took top honors.
What do you like about Yaowarat?
It's my hometown. I like the traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation. I like all of the Chinese festivals here and I’ve been involved in organizing a lot of them. I even had my own dragon puppet troupe before. I also like the variety of businesses and restaurants here.
Is there anything you want to change in Yaowarat?
The community is not organized here. I think we should have separate zones for different purposes, such as a cultural zone where old people get together for a chat or to play chess. I think we should have a quality control mechanism to make sure that the food and products we offer here meet a good standard. We need support from the government for this.
What do you think about the forthcoming opening of the MRT station here?
This would make the world smaller for us. It will be easier for people to come to Yaowarat, as well as for locals looking to travel elsewhere. Chinatown will become more international, too, with different kinds of businesses, but I hope we can work together to preserve our traditions. I hope the MRT station has signage with a dragon image or something Chinese. I hope to see more Chinese language signs in Yaowarat.
Your favourite restaurants in Yaowarat?
I like Shangri-la restaurant, Hua Seng Hong restaurant, and the dimsum in front of Mongkol Samakom temple on Plangnam Road.