Bangkok's Chinatown has been a center of trade since Chinese merchants settled here at the end of the 18th century, moving east from the village of Bang Kok to make way for what would become the new royal capital on Ko Rattanakosin. It remains a commercial center, though these days it's literally teeming, and a photographer's delight.
An easy starting point is Bangkok's 92-year-old (1) Hua Lamphong Railway Station, which is also the end of the subway line. From the subway, take Exit 1 onto Th Rama IV, cross the bridge, and take Th Traimit (Trimitr) left at 45 degrees. On the right you'll soon see (2) Wat Traimit, famous for its 700-year-old Golden Buddha image, a 5.5-ton, 10-foot-high (3-meter-high) work of solid gold that had been concealed under a plaster covering for hundreds of years until it was rediscovered in 1955.
Continue along Th Traimit and turn right at the (3) Chinatown Arch, marking the entrance to Chinatown. Walk along Th Charoen Krung, cross, and almost immediately veer left onto (4) Th Yaowarat where the road splits. This is Chinatown's main street, packed with human and wheeled traffic and lined with dozens of Chinese restaurants, food stalls, and myriad merchants. If you're hungry, the seafood stalls in (5) Soi Texas are famous, though you could stop almost anywhere and not go too far wrong.
A block along from Soi Texas turn right on Th Plaeng Nam, a typically bustling street filled with old Chinese shophouses, men pushing trolleys and, at its northern end, two local restaurants serving a huge and delicious array of pre-prepared Thai dishes.
Turn left onto Th Charoen Krung and step into the human traffic. After a slow 100 yards (91 meters) or so you'll come to a human bottleneck at the entrance to Trok Itsaranuphap. But before you enter, cross Th Charoen Krung to enter the lively (6) Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, an incense-filled center of Chinese worship. Okay, it's time to brace yourself for one of the most lively wet markets you're ever likely to enter. Indeed, entry is done one person at a time as you file into (7) Trok Itsaranuphap. This lane is a cornucopia of cooked and uncooked food, colors, smells and, most of all, people. It's slow going; be patient and wary of elbows.
At its end, cross Th Yaowarat and walk two blocks to (8) Wanit Road (also called Sampeng Ln). This is the dry goods market, which these days seems to specialize in textiles, Chinese household goods, and an unfeasible amount of bling. Mercifully, Wanit isn't quite as busy as Trok Itsaranuphap, but it's still slow going. Keep an eye out for the classic Thai-European style (9) Bangkok Bank building at the first corner.
Eventually you'll come to busy Th Chakrawat. Turn left, and stop into tranquil (10) Wat Chakrawat, before crossing the street and turning right into Soi Bophit Phimuk, just before the footbridge. This relatively quiet street of old shophouses ends when it crosses Khlong Ong Ang. Turn right and the path along the khlong (canal) is home to several cheap and famous (11) Indian and, further along, Thai restaurants—a relatively peaceful place to stop for lunch.
Turn left with most of the foot traffic and you'll again come to busy Wanit Road; turn left and it's only another 50 yards (46 meters) to the end. Cross the street and turn left on Th Chakraphet, following it toward the river and continuing as it bends around to the right. After about 150 yards (137 meters), cross Th Tri Phet and enter a world of flowers; the streets here are home to a (12) 24-hour flower market that's busiest at night but entertaining at all hours. Cross to the left and into (13) Pak Khlong Talad, Bangkok's biggest fresh produce and flower market, the wholesaler for many of the city's small food stalls. At its north end exit, cross the small bridge and turn left immediately, following the khlong down to the Tha Rachini riverboat stop. From here, take the boat south to River City (Si Phraya Pier) to connect with the free hotel ferries, or to Saphan Taksin for the BTS.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.