New and old in Chinatown

5 04 2016

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Chinatown is old Bangkok – winding “troks” (or alleyways), steamy markets, shirtless old granddads playing mahjong in open-fronted storehouses piled high with cooking oil or barrels or mechanical equipment. There are stretches of gun shops and record shops, the colourful Indian enclave of Phahurat, aging department stores, thieves markets and corpse-snatcher temples. And, now, there is also a nascent hipster scene.

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Chinatown in the last few years has seen an unlikely rennaissance as the art gallery/dive-bar crowd hanging around some of the cooler spots in Bangrak  (think Speedy Grandma, JAM, Soy Sauce Factory) tentatively pushes North. Last year’s Bukruk street art festival focused on this area, and particularly the “Talad Noi”, a district of grimy spare parts stores, where concrete deco buildings painted blue, yellow and green house gleaming, oily piles of auto parts  – and now some of the city’s most striking artwork.

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Nearby, little Soi Nana, an inconspicuous stretch of traditional shophouses around the corner from Hualamphong Train station has sprouted a couple of superlative bars, like “Tep” (serving yadong liquor, with nightly xylophone shows), fashion crowd shabby-chic favourite “Teens of Thailand” and “Number 23”, which blasts Nirvana, Weezer and Morrisey all night in a space decorated with Chinese lanterns and wall-hanging stethoscopes, with a trapdoor ceiling.

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