New vs old

12 08 2017

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12 08 2017


After a few weeks at the trusty Nice Palace, my boyfriend arrived in town and we decided to relocate to Chinatown for a different Bangkok flavor. We had chosen an airbnb above a tapas bar (!) in a hundred-year-old Chinese shophouse on Soi Nana, the newly hip and happening core of ‘cool’ Chinatown, where old buildings have been turned into cocktail bars ( Tep, Teens of Thailand) and art spaces (Cho Why) and a sprinkling of flat-white-serving Melbourne inspired cafes had opened. I was worried – was Chinatown about to be gentrified? Wasn’t “hipsterfication,” afterall, essentially homogenization? Didn’t all these “cool” cafes look pretty much…the same? Chinatown already character and soul. It didn’t need a new one.


As it turns out though, my worries were premature. On long, loping nocturnal wanderings it quickly became clear that this cool and farang-friendly “new” Chinatown was confined to almost a single block, while the old untamed Chinatown stretched on for miles – miles of tangled alleyways and sleeping cats, chillis drying in the sun, motorbikes roaring through tiny lanes, dusty shops fragrant with herbs, Monkey King shrines, bubbling woks and vendors selling camphor wood and sea slugs, monkfruits, spices and herbs I couldn’t identify, with shoppers haggling in Teochew.


And street food. Visiting Chinatown with a Chinese person was a new experience: my boyfriend knew exactly what he wanted to eat. We had beef and duck noodles by day and at night, along a brightly lit Yaowarat thronged with festival-like crowds, grazed on chestnuts and pineapples, whole coconuts which has somehow had their husks removed to leave only a juicy white orb, and in the decayed foyer of a porno movie theatre, slurped on pigs tongue noodles.


This was the Chinatown we had come for.

The skinniest building in Chinatown

12 08 2017


Chinatown rooftop tour

8 07 2013

One hot and sweaty afternoon (aren’t they all in Chinatown?) we headed off for a wander around the area near Ratchawongse pier, the stopping point before the main Chinatown ferry station under the Memorial Bridge. The streets here aere filled with specialised shops selling endless varieties of stickers, or backpacks, or hair clips interspersed with faded, tattered old buildings. Looking for a place to rest from the sun we stumbled into a Pekingese restaurant in what had seemed like a dated mall – the kind with no aircon and escalators that haven’t moved in years. Instead though we found a strange atmosphere more akin to an elderly citizens community centre – table after table of elderly gents, many in flamboyant vintage shirts, playing intent games of mahjong and “go” chess and other groups gossipping around pots of tea.

There was another surprise too – the view from the ninth floor above the carpark, which we decided to check on a whim. It is a complete panorama of the riverside neighborhood, low enough to catch many of the fascinating details lost from the tops of the skyscrapers with their swanky bars. What an amazing bar venue this would be, with its clattering tiles and phlegmy Teochew gossip below and sweep of the skyline up top.