Bangkok’s Chinatown and Little India

For visitors to Bangkok who are looking for something a little different, a visit to Chinatown and Little India just might be the thing. We recently took my mom on a walking tour of  the two neighborhoods to show her another side of Bangkok.

We started in Chinatown’s crowded markets taking in the sites, sounds, and smells which give the neighborhood such an incredible vibe. The tight backstreets are full of Buddha kitsch, crackling street grills, two dollar disco-era wigs, gold stores, pomelo and pomegranate stands, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, herbalists, discount feather boas, cheap plastic crap, incense stands, hula-dancing Santa Clauses, dried shark fins, red paper lanterns, and whatever the Chinese mind can conceive of.

Off the crowded market lanes, Chinese temples entice visitors with cavernous, technicolor interiors crawling with mysterious dragons and phoenixes guarded by caretakers snoring away the day. It’s a Chinese world within a Thai world – and it’s a lot of fun to explore.

Need a quick break? Try the dim sum at Hua Seng Hong on Yaowarat Road. We gorged ourselves on jin doi, ha gao, dan tat and cha su bao before grabbing a taxi to our next stop, Little India.

Just a short distance to the west of Chinatown, Bangkok’s quickly expanding Little India seems a world away. The Phahurat Market in the alleys surrounding the India Emporium is full of textiles and trinkets straight from any Delhi bazaar. Walls lined with posters of Ganesh, Vishnu, and Shiva back market stalls peddling bronze statuettes, saris, and shoes with toes curled to meet the needs of even the most fashion conscious Jinn. Rising above the market chaos is an impressive, domed Gurdwara.

Thomas, my mom, and I confidently entered to explore the beautiful, multi-storied structure. After more than a year in India, Thomas and I knew visitors are always warmly received in Gurdwaras. This was no exception.

Our guides were Sikh musicians who had come to Bangkok to perform for a few months. Although their English was limited and our Punjabi was non-existent, they graciously led us to their beautifully displayed Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book that serves as the centerpiece for any Gurdwara. Of course, as is the custom, we were offered kara prashad, a paste of sweet flour and oil.

Tips for Exploring Chinatown and Little India

Visitors can easily spend a full day exploring the temples, back alleys, restaurants and markets in Chinatown. Many visitors are underwhelmed by the area because they stick to the main streets and completely miss the action and chaos of the phenomenal back alleys.

Lonely Planet Thailand describes a walking tour that begins at Tha Ratchawang and turns right into Sampeng Lane. This walking tour is an excellent introduction to Chinatown’s markets and temples. If you turn left into Sampeng Lane, you can follow the alley all the way to Little India if you can handle the crowds. (We can!!!)

Little India is quite small and can easily be explored in less than an hour. The India Emporium is a simple, rather drab mall. Follow Soi ATM around the back of the India Emporium and explore the shops and restaurants behind the Gurdwara. Don’t be afraid to visit the Gurdwara, Sikhs are incredibly welcoming people and love to introduce visitors to their unique religion. (I’m not a person who loves organized religion, but I always enjoy visiting Gurdwaras.)

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