Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the city’s top tourist draws, and for good reason. The soft glow of neon signs tints clouds of steam as they roll up from food stalls cooking everything from fresh-roasted chestnuts to bird nest soup. The languages swirl around you – Dutch, English, Chinese, French, Japanese – while people point, sample, slurp, and snap photos. The neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most important temples, most expensive land, and most unique architecture. But things are changing. Fast.
Over the past few decades, old buildings have been replaced by newer ones, which have in turn been replaced by even newer ones. All too often, little thought is given to the buildings and monuments that are being replaced. In recent years however, a heritage preservation movement has become apparent with several notable restoration projects completed and underway.
One thing more than any other has been responsible for accelerating the changes over the past year – the extension of the blue line subway. If you click here, you can manipulate a Google Map of Bangkok’s existing and planned transit lines. You can see that the blue line will run parallel with Chinatown’s main Yaowarat road, only one block away. This means higher land prices, more tourists, and shifting demographics.
Not all the changes are from outside forces. Many of the old shophouses – ornate, historic buildings, some dating back a hundred years – were left empty (but not sold) as Chinatown grew and owners moved to more modern accommodation. Today, entrepreneurial young Thais are starting to see the value in their grandparents’ musty old buildings. Hip new bars – like Soul Bar, El Chiringuito, Tep Bar, 23 Bar, and Teens of Thailand – are opening on long-forgotten side streets, offering everything from live Thai folk music and ya dong cocktails to Spanish tapas… to overwhelming selections of imported alcohol prepared by inventive mixologists.
Even the grand Hualumphong railway station, which is on the edge of Chinatown, will be converted into a museum when a new terminal opens in northern Bangkok in 2019, after over 100 years of faithful service.
All of these events provide new reasons and methods for visitors to explore Chinatown – but in order to accommodate these new and diverse crowds, Chinatown itself will have to change.
It’s all part of a city’s natural growth, and while some lament the changes, others accept them. Indeed, one can imagine a day in the future when old gaffers in Chinatown look back to the glory days, when their neighborhood only had one subway line, and wasn’t so crowded.
No matter how you look at it, an iconic area of Bangkok is evolving faster than it has ever before. The cool little bars, cafes, restaurants and galleries popping up in Chinatown may soon rival those in Toronto’s West Queen West and Bushwick in New York City (with an inevitable Bangkok spin of course). If you haven’t visited lately, you’ll find a whole lot of more interesting experiences, and if you’ve never explored Bangkok’s Chinatown, now’s a great time! Join one of our Bangkok day tours here.