Travelling back in time through Bangkok’s Chinatown
The streets and alleys of Chinatown are lined with Art Deco buildings from the ‘20s and the ‘30s – seven to nine storey constructions that were once Bangkok’s skyscrapers. The buildings have changed so little that during the 1998 to 2000production of the film In the Mood for Love, set in 1960s Hong Kong, director Wong Kar Wai decided to shoot the movie’s richly atmospheric night-time shots in Bangkok instead.
It is at night that walking around Chinatown can really feel like travelling through time. While a large number of patrons still frequent the famed restaurants on Soi Texas (located a few hundred metres into Yaowarat Road), the crowds start to fade and eventually disappear the further you get from the main thoroughfares.
Roads like Sampeng Lane (also known as Soi Wanit 1), where Bangkok’s entire Chinese population once lived, are bathed in the glow of warm oranges and reds from streetlights and Chinese lanterns. The streets get narrower until their names get downgraded from soi (street) to trok (alley), where the canopies from the buildings on one side almost touch the windows on the other.
At night, walking around the sharp turns of the alleys can feel thrillingly forbidding. As in the day, the best plan is to walk around without a plan, stumbling across fantastically decorated schools and deserted shrines.
The houses in Chinatown look their age, but sceptics of the claims that this is some of Bangkok’s priciest real estate would do well to notice the subtly placed security cameras. Many of the neighbourhood’s storeowners and homeowners have lavish houses on the outskirts of Bangkok, but have maintained the neighbourhood that they associate so closely with their ancestors. It is this determination that may well save Chinatown.