Shop for watches by day, eat fish intestine soup by night. Bangkok’s Chinatown shifts its focus from the wrist and wallet to the mouth and stomach over the course of 24 hours. Yet it is the nighttime offerings that are bringing in the visitors.
“Best food in all of Bangkok,” is the modest claim of one 58-year-old native Bangkokian who is carrying a shopping bag full of produce for the next day. “You can find everything here, depending on what you want,” is the cryptic yet somehow convincing follow up.
His bold statement about the food refers to any number of delicious things: the aforementioned fish intestine soup (ca por pra), the squid/pork noodles outside the old Chinatown Rama cinema (qued theo lot) or the rolled-up-like-a-bugle fat noodle loaded with pork skin and black pepper (cuay chap).
Though cuisine is the decided draw for this area of an already food-obsessed city, it wasn’t always. Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the oldest parts of this metropolis, first established as a trading point from the Chao Phraya River between Siam and China in the late 18th century. The winding streets — constructed about 100 years later, during the reign of Rama V — resemble a dragon’s curving body, and were the beginnings of a business aesthetic that until recently predominated the area.
All that Glitters
Yaowarat Road, with Sam Peng Market in the centre, is the main thoroughfare of what is a historically wealthy part of Bangkok. Because of the limited amount of land space, the real estate around Yaowarat Road is some of the most expensive in not just the city, but Thailand too. Upper class Thai-Chinese families have traditionally inhabited the area, controlling businesses that are noteworthy even in the late night street food eating frenzy. Gold, jewellery, and watch shops flood the main road and the surrounding streets that include Charoen Krung Road, Mongkon Road and Song Sawat Road.
But an apparent side effect of the area’s collected wealth is the flight of internationally educated young professionals away from the local family business. According to one young man who was raised in Chinatown but studied photography abroad, it can be difficult to return to the family jewel shop. He recently relocated to the city centre, as many of his generation have, leaving their home neighbourhood in the hands of street food vendors and out-of-towners.
However, this is not the whole story. Some of the younger generation sense the new opportunity resting just beneath the surface of this historic area. One business that sticks out for not being a delicious street food stall nor an abandoned bank is called Double Dogs Tea Room.
Body and Mind
Though you may just wander in because it looks like one of the few places in Chinatown that offers a clean bathroom at night, you’ll want to stay once you realise the gem you’ve stumbled upon. If your tour of the tea room starts in the back (by the bathrooms), you’ll notice the second half of the building is an open calligraphy workshop, where the owner and his friends practice their hobby to break up the evening. The large tables, paper, ink, and swaying curtains set the relaxed vibe for the front of the house, which serves drinks and dessert. ‘Serving’ in the sense of providing nourishment, but also in providing an education. The menu doubles as a teaching text that could be entitled An Armchair Expert’s Guide to Tea of Thailand, with a breakdown of region, ideal oxidation level and a how-to-pour-it for each of the dozen blue, green, red and black teas available. In addition to all this smartness, ‘hip’ is written into the menu with the list of tea and coffee cocktails and traditional treats.
From business to food, over the years Chinatown has seen a shift in the nature of its magnetic pull. But if Double Dogs Tea Room and the young guys behind its counter are any indictors, a shift back to a new generation of innovative business owners may be in store.
If you’re interested in checking it out, Double Dogs Tea Room is at 406 Yaowarat Road between Mongkon Road and Yaowa Pahnit Road and like everything in this world, you can find them on Facebook
Getting to Bangkok is one of the easiest journeys available out of Vietnam. When you’re in the Thai capital, go to Hua Lamphong Railway Station to get to the Chinatown area. Charoen Krung Road runs directly to the station.