Bangkok/Yaowarat and Phahurat

Yaowarat and Phahurat (Thai: เยาวราชและพาหุรัด) is Bangkok's multicultural district, located west of Silom and southeast of Rattanakosin. Yaowarat Road is the home of Bangkok's sizeable Chinese community, while those of Indian ethnicity have congregated around Phahurat Road. By day, Yaowarat doesn't look that much different from any other part of Bangkok, though the neighbourhood feels like a big street market and there are some hidden gems waiting to be explored. But at night, the neon signs blazing with Chinese characters are turned on and crowds from the restaurants spill out onto the streets, turning the area into a miniature Hong Kong (minus the skyscrapers). Phahurat is an excellent place for buying fabrics, accessories and religious paraphernalia. A visit to the area is not complete without having some of its amazing delicacies that sell for an absolute bargain — such as bird's nest soup or some Indian curries.

Understand

Yaowarat Road

Compared to the rest of the city, this district is fairly compact and can best be explored in a full-day (and night) walking tour. You'll come across street markets, shophouses, gold shops, beautiful remnants of colonial-style architecture and some interesting temples. Instead of tramping from temple to temple, this neighbourhood is mostly about catching a brief peek into commercial Bangkok as it has been the last two centuries. Rushing through won't be rewarding—take your time instead, sitting at a plastic chair and watching local traders sell their wares. As the street markets are not targeted to foreigners, you will find a wide array of products: ceramics, fabrics, gold, tacky teenager ware, ant-killer chalk, Bollywood films, ginseng roots. Who knows what you'll end up with at the end of the day. It is best to come during weekdays, as many stores close during the weekends. Also keep in mind that most shops close at 17:00 after which most of the area gets pretty much deserted (Yaowarat Road being a noteworthy exception).

Orientation

Orientation in Yaowarat is even trickier than elsewhere in Bangkok. The area is filled with narrow alleys and obscure pedestrian-only routes, and is crossed by a few giant roads that feel like small highways. Finding your way around is difficult as road signs are blocked by the bulk of neon-signs and other merchandise that sellers hang up to attract customers. The perfect map for the district still has to be created, so adapt to the situation and expect to get lost often. Also take note that alleys often bear the name trok instead of the usual soi and that many have multiple names attached to them. For example, Trok Issaranuphap is often signposted as Soi Issaranuphap or as Soi 16, while Soi Phadung Dao is also known as Soi Texas.

Yaowarat is centred, as could be expected, around Yaowarat Road, a big road bursting with neon signs. North of it is Charoen Krung Road, which is also one of Bangkok's major traffic arteries. Running parallel to the south of Yaowarat Road is Sampheng Lane, which is also known as Soi Wanit 1, a narrow pedestrian-only lane with many small department stores. Crossing these three streets is the pedestrian-only Trok Issaranuphap, another interesting lane for shopping and having small snacks. Another small lane crossing Yaowarat Road is Soi Phadung Dao, the place to go when you're hungry.

Phahurat Road

Phahurat is centred around Phahurat Road, which starts immediately west of Sampheng Lane. It is crossed by Chakphet Road and Tri Phet Road, both major roads that have to cope with the immense traffic coming from the Memorial Bridge.

History

Yaowarat is one of the oldest Chinese communities in Thailand. The story of the Chinese in Bangkok starts in the late 1700s, when poor peasants from China's Chaozhou region (in Eastern Guangdong) moved to the Grand Palace area in Rattanakosin. They came to Siam to find work in Thonburi at the other side of the Chao Phraya River (which at that time was the capital of the country). The Chinese were requested to move outside the city walls when King Rama I set up his new capital in the Grand Palace area in 1782.

The new Chinese neighbourhood, nowadays named after Yaowarat Road, became Bangkok's main centre of commerce for the following two centuries. Formerly impoverished peasants worked their way up to become the backbone of trade in Siam. It also became known as a seedy area thriving on brothels, gambling houses and opium dens, though these activities are illegal nowadays and no longer to be found in the district. The business centre of the district moved from Sampheng Lane to Yaowarat Road and Charoen Krung Road in 1891, when those roads were built by a decree of King Rama V.

A few years later a fire broke out, which opened the way for the construction of Phahurat Road in 1898. King Rama V named it after his daughter Phahurat Maneemai, in remembrance of her early death at the age of ten. The area used to be an enclave of Vietnamese immigrants, who had lived here since the reign of King Taksin in the late eighteenth century. Construction of the road made way for the Indian community to move in and since then, this neighbourhood evolved its own South Asian character that persists today.

As Thailand became one of Asia's emerging economies, the commercial core moved from Yaowarat and Phahurat to the Siam Square area. However, this multicultural district still shows what commercial Bangkok has been like for almost two decades.

Get in

Map of Yaowarat and Phahurat

By boat

Due to its location at the Chao Phraya River, most visitors enter Yaowarat and Phahurat using the Chao Phraya Express Boat service. A single trip from Rattanakosin or Silom takes about 20 minutes and costs around 18 baht. The most important stops are the Rachawongse and Si Phraya piers, both of which are served by all lines. Rachawongse is an ideal stop for central Yaowarat, while Si Phraya is close to the southeastern part of the district. Phahurat can best be reached using the Memorial Bridge pier (Saphan Phut), which is only attended by no-flag and orange flag lines. Other piers that could be useful are Rachini and Marine Department, both of which are only served by no-flag lines.

If you're coming from Thonburi, you can cross the river by taking a ferry. There is a ferry service from Kanlayanamit to Pak Khlong Talat, from Dindaeng to Rachawongse and from Klongsan to Si Phraya. Ferries leave about every 15 minutes for just 3 baht.

By public transit

Yaowarat and Phahurat can directly be reached by metro if you are coming from Silom, Sukhumvit or Ratchadaphisek. The only station close to the district is Hua Lamphong at the eastern side. The metro ride from Silom takes about five minutes, while the ride from Sukhumvit takes about ten minutes. Trains leave every five to ten minutes for a fare of about 16 to 41 baht. From the metro station, it is a 20 minute walk to the centre of Yaowarat.

By bus

The bus system in Bangkok is complex, but it is actually one of the cheapest ways to travel around the city. Many lines run through the district, but let's start with a warning: as Yaowarat Road is a one-way road, bus lines only use it in westwards direction (to Rattanakosin). Buses going east use Charoen Krung Road instead!

Ordinary and air-conditioned bus 25 is the most important bus route. It starts in the far southeast of Sukhumvit Road, then follows that road northwest before heading through Ratchaprasong intersection (for Siam Square), Ratchadamri Road, Silom intersection, Rama IV Road, Hualamphong Train Station and then runs right through Yaowarat Road and Phahurat Road. This route can also be taken from the other direction, then it comes from Tha Chang pier (near the Grand Palace in Rattanakosin) and takes Charoen Krung Road instead of Yaowarat Road.

From Khao San Road, catch ordinary (circular) bus 56 which runs along Tanao Road at the eastern tip of Khao San Road and then goes south through Maha Chai Road and Chakphet Road (get off after the Merry King department store for Phahurat Road and Sampheng Lane; don't miss it, as it will cross the bridge to Thonburi right after). Ordinary bus 4 comes from Silom intersection along Rama IV Road and passes Hualamphong Train Station through Yaowarat Road and then goes southwest over the Phra Pok Klao bridge to Thonburi (as with all routes, in eastwards direction Yaowarat Road is skipped in favour of Charoen Krung Road).

By train

Yaowarat and Phahurat can easily be reached from Hualamphong Train Station, which is on the eastern border of the district. Trains come in and go to many destinations in Thailand, including Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, and Southern Thailand.

See

Sights abound around Yaowarat and Phahurat, but if you're looking for "must-sees", you might want to visit Rattanakosin first. While enjoying a relaxed walk through this district, you should at least incorporate a visit to Wat Mangkon Kamalawat and Wat Traimit. Other sights could be considered optional or more interesting for adventurous travellers.

Temples

Crocodile at Wat Chakrawat

Shrines

Leng Buai Ia Shrine

Museums and monuments

Chinese arch that marks the beginning of Yaowarat Rd

European-style buildings

Bangkok Bank Building

Do

Take the Yaowarat and Phahurat Tour, a full day walking tour around the most interesting sights, markets and restaurants of the area.

Festivals

Buy

Street markets

Sampheng Lane

Typical of Yaowarat are its small crowded lanes filled with markets, that sell... well, anything you could possibly imagine. You'll stumble on items for sale as diverse as Chinese medicine, snake blood, Buddhist paraphernalia, toys, ant-killer chalk, car spare parts, typical teenager stuff and more.

Parallel to the big Yaowarat Road lies   Sampheng Lane (sometimes signposted as Soi Wanit 1, 08:00-18:00 daily) which is probably the most characteristic (if tacky) shopping lane of the area. This narrow lane, at some places having a width of less than one metre, used to be a shady area thriving on brothels, gambling houses and opium dens, but has now turned into a crowded lane of endless ramshackle department stores. The lane can roughly be divided into three sections, all of them selling different kind of products at bargain rates. The lower eastern part of Sampheng Lane focuses on cheap teenager accessories, such as cheap jewellery, toys, and hair products. In the middle part, there is more of a focus on shoes, Chinese ceramics and lanterns. Indian merchants have mostly taken over the part west of Rachawongse Road, where you can find fabrics, silk and other clothing. Don't expect any quality here, just shop for fun.

Crossing Sampheng in the middle is Trok Issaranuphap, the most exotic of Yaowarat's shopping lanes. The part south of Yaowarat Road is known as   Talat Kao (04:00-11:00 daily) or "Old Market", which is not an understatement as it has been up and running since the late 18th century. This market is a more down-to-earth than Sampheng and more authentic, but get here early as it closes in the early afternoon. It is largely a food market with fresh meat, fish, vegetables, fruits and other food ingredients for sale. But there are also plenty of non-food products like ant-killer chalk, Chinese medicines and ginseng roots. The part north of Yaowarat Road is known as   Talat Mai (04:00-18:00 daily), which means "New Market" despite it being about one hundred years old. It has similar products as elsewhere on Trok Issaranuphap, but it has an even more exotic aura to it. Unlike Talat Kao, this market stays open till the early evening. As it is fully covered, it's a good place to sneak into if it starts raining.

Some of the smaller markets include:

Sieng Kong Zone

Gold shops

Yaowarat has been the home of gold and gem trading for a couple of centuries, and it is no wonder that some of the oldest buildings in the district are gold shops. Originally, the four "tycoon" gold shops were Seng Heng Li, Hua Seng Heng, Tung Jin Aeng, and Tang To Kang. Now there are more than 130 gold shops along Yaowarat Road alone, which is why it is known as the Golden Road. Generally, the gold is of high standard (approximately 23 karat) and most shops are a member of the Gold Merchants Association. As this district is out of the tourist eye, it is a lot safer to buy gems here than in other districts, but still be on the lookout for the gem scam. See the Stay safe section of the Bangkok page for more information about the scam and what to do once you've fallen for it. Some of the better trusted gem stores include:

Phahurat

Roses for sale at Pak Khlong Talat

Shopping in Phahurat is not rewarding for the average traveller, unless you are into Bollywood DVDs, betel nut leaves (paan) or Punjabi sweets. If you're looking for fabrics, however, Phahurat is definitely the place to be. And even if you're not specifically looking for fabrics, it is still a great adventure to visit the Phahurat Market. Besides fabrics, Phahurat is also an excellent place for buying accessories, such as bracelets, trinkets, and sandals. There are thousands of different kinds for sale, and all at a bargain, so mix and match as you wish. You'll also notice many stores selling religious paraphernalia like statues and pictures of Indian deities.

Eat

This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:
Budget Under 100 baht
Mid-range 100-500 baht
Splurge Over 500 baht

Shark fin soup

The Chinese in Yaowarat love shark fin soup. But the environmental effects are devastating. It hinges on the brutal practice of shark finning (catching a shark, chopping off its dorsal fin, then throwing the wounded shark back into the sea to slowly die) which happens largely unseen and unregulated at sea. As the Chinese economy booms, more and more Chinese can afford to eat shark fin soup. Shark specialists estimate that annually anywhere between 38 million and 100 million sharks are only killed for their fins. It is such a large number that it has the potential of significantly altering oceanic ecosystems.

Yaowarat is a haven for foodies. It has the city's best selection of Chinese restaurants, many of which specialise in expensive delicacies like shark fin, bird's nest or fresh seafood (often still swimming in tanks near the entrance). Gather the biggest group you can, preferably with a Chinese speaker or two, and head down for some ren'ao ("hot and noisy") banqueting.

Bird's nest and the controversial shark fin soup are two of the finest ways to flaunt your wealth. Bird's nest has been a delicacy in Chinese cooking for over 400 years. It is made from the solidified saliva of swifts found deep inside limestone caves across Southeast Asia. Climbers used to risk their lives on networks of bamboo scaffolding to extract it from the highest reaches of the caves, but because of increasing demand nesting houses are now purposefully built for it. Due to its scarcity and dubious health benefits associated with it, it has gained a following among the ultra-rich in Asia, but tasting it as a newcomer it's difficult to understand what the fuss is all about.

It's better to go for the high-end seafood. While pricey, it can be enjoyed here for relatively affordable prices compared with other large cities in the world. Most seafood dishes cost around 300-500 baht per head, but crab costs more than 1,000 baht. Seafood is best ordered in the large restaurants around Yaowarat Road and Soi Phadung Dao (often known as Soi Texas). These restaurants specialise mainly in Southern Chinese fare. Dim sum is a staple and some of the restaurants are fully specialised in it. Other popular dishes are Cantonese-style roasted duck, Peking duck and abalone in oyster sauce. Forget about any sort of ambience as these restaurants serve in very noisy rooms with overly bright lighting.

Travellers on a budget might want to venture into the little side-streets and take a bite at one of the numerous hawker stalls and street restaurants. The hawker stalls here have been internationally acclaimed among food enthusiasts. The street food here is very authentic as original recipes from Chinese immigrants have been passed on for three generations. Each street restaurant specialises in one particular dish and the owners have been fine-tuning it to perfection for decades. The street food scene lights up at sunset as queues of people line up on the road waiting to be seated. Simple meals are around 50 baht per dish, which are best shared in a group. Visit a couple of these, or ask a local for advice as everyone seems to have a particular hidden favourite.

Indian curries are served in restaurants around Phahurat Road and Chakphet Road. These roads tend to be deserted after dark, so you might want to head off by taxi when dinner time is over. If all this sounds too exotic or adventurous for you, there are some tourist-friendly Western and Thai restaurants in the Old Siam Plaza. It also has some fast-food outlets and a food court for those on a budget.

Budget

Mid-range

Seafood restaurants in Yaowarat

Drink

The daily life of the locals can best be observed at the area's remaining coffeeshops. Some of these have been passed on for generations and still have a similar noisy atmosphere as they had one hundred years ago. The Chaozhou coffee at Eiah Sae is locally famous as it is made from a secret recipe that has been in the family for four generations. If you want to go out in style, you can't go wrong with the live jazz sessions at Cotton Bar.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 1,000 baht
Mid-range 1,000 baht to 2,500 baht
Splurge Over 2,500 baht

Not many people spend the night in Yaowarat or Phahurat, but there are some hotels available for those who would like to explore the area in more than just one day. Yaowarat is an interesting medium-cost alternative for Khao San Road as the atmosphere is much more authentic. Many of the hotels have the same ramshackle feel as those found in the average Chinese city. Be aware that hotels along Yaowarat Road are far from public transit and traffic jams are very common.

Budget

If you need to catch one of the early trains (to Ayutthaya, Kanchanaburi or beyond), it can pay to spend the night in the area around Hualamphong Station. Its location is at the meeting point of three interesting districts (Siam Square, Silom and Yaowarat) and it is served by an MRT station. There are plenty of places here that want to store your luggage for a fee.

Hualamphong Station

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

Despite the crush of people on the street, there are not many options for public Internet access. Cotton Bar has Wi-Fi available for customers. Some of the hotels have Internet, so you could visit one of them and hope they allow non-guests to use it for a fee. There are a few Internet cafes near Hualamphong Station. Or you could just hail a taxi and surf the web in Khao San Road or Siam Square.

Go next

If you liked the street markets in Yaowarat and Phahurat, you should visit the much-larger Chatuchak Weekend Market in Phahonyothin. It is a vast market with more than 8,000 vendors under one roof. Another option is Pratunam, which has street markets all over the district. It is especially interesting for clothing.

Routes through Yaowarat and Phahurat


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, December 24, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.