Thursday, 22 February 2024

Walking Tour in Chinatown: An Old Place with a New Look

By Dararai

A few months ago, I had a chance to explore the route of the one-day Walking Tour of Chinatown, Bangkok, and found it quite interesting. This area is one of the earliest Chinese communities in Thailand. It bears a lot of interesting aspects-history, architecture and commerce-which are worth promoting as a valuable heritage.

Realizing this, the River City Shopping Complex, the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Samphanthawong District Office thus cooperated to launch this project of Walking Tour.

Now follow me to explore the route. From the starting point at the southern end of the area which was formerly a commercial centre and berths for junks and now is the River City Complex, the first place you will find is the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. It is called by the local people as the Kalawar Church. The word Kalawar is a corruption of Calvary, which is derived from the name of the hill near Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified. It was built in 1897 in the Neo-Gothic style of architecture. The colourful stained glass of this church depicting stories from the Old and New Testament is still in its original condition though it is 105 years old now.

From the Holy Rosary Church, turn left and continue walking for a while, you will catch sight of the Siam Commercial Bank, which is the first commercial bank of Thailand run by Thais. Built in 1904 (in the reign of King Rama V, 1868-1910), its architectural style is of the Art Deco. Each gable is unique with delicate patterns of stucco. The surroundings are shady with a large bo tree and a banyan tree.

From the bank, turn left and walk along the Sieng Kong Zone, the oldest auto spare parts business centre in Bangkok, you will arrive at Pathum Khongkha Temple. Built in the Ayutthaya period, it was commonly known as "Sampheng Temple". The present name "Pathum Khongkha" was given by King Rama I (1782-1809) when the temple was renovated for the first time. The ordination hall houses a decorated principal image of Buddha named Phra Buddha Mahajanaka in the posture of subduing Mara. Mural paintings on the east wall depicting the Buddha's victory over Mara were painted by the same artisan who painted the Buddhaisawan Throne Hall. At present, they have been restored to their perfect condition.

From the temple, walk to Wanit I Road and you will enter Sampheng shopping centre, an old Chinese community originally residing in the Grand Palace area but moved to outside the city wall by order of King Rama I who was establishing his capital at Rattanakosin Island in 1782. Various kinds of goods, mostly for wholesale, ranging from sewing instruments to souvenirs are available here. The narrow street is usually crowded like a marketplace.

Walk on and on, you will come to the end of Sampheng and face the intersection of Chakkrawat Road.

Cross the road to Siphon Han and Phahurat shopping area. There are plenty of jewellery shops in this area. Moreover, cloths, ready-made clothes, cosmetics, souvenirs and snacks are sold along the way.

Turn right into Chakkraphet Road, on your right-hand side is the Khlong Ong Ang Market where you can purchase almost any kinds of toys. Next to it is Nakhon Kasem Market, which is the retail and wholesale market of machines and musical instruments. Adjacent to this market is Khlong Thom Market where thousands of consumers come daily to buy electrical appliances and sundry goods. Everything here is believed somewhat cheaper than elsewhere because the stall-owners pay just a nominal rent to the metropolitan administration.

These markets are off Yaowarat Road, which was developed later than Sampheng. But before long, as international trade started to grow, this road became the first important business centre in Bangkok. Roast chestnuts and imported products, chiefly from China such as fruits and foodstuffs are symbol of Yaowarat. And if you feel hungry, there are many choices of food stalls and restaurants to select from, especially in the evening when it becomes a paradise for gourmets. Furthermore, Yaowarat is an ideal place for gold-lovers. Scores of gold shops here are famous for their fine craftmanship and high quality.

And after indulging yourself in shopping, you can walk through Mangkon Road for about 200 m to a Chinese temple called Wat Mangkon Kamalawat to pay homage to Chinese deities. This was once the biggest Mahayana Buddhist temple in Bangkok. During important festivals, like the Chinese New Year and Vegetarian Festival, thousands of Chinese Buddhists flock here to worship the Buddha.

Back on Yaowarat Road, walk further for 320 m, you will notice the archway of Traimitwitthayaram Temple (or Wat Traimit for short) on your left-hand side. The feature of this temple is the largest 5.5 ton gold Buddha image in the world whose name is Phra Sukhothai Traimit. This is an image of Buddha in the posture of subduing Mara made of pure gold. In the old days, this image was covered with plaster to hide it from the enemy invading Thailand at the end of the Ayutthaya period. Later, when the image was being moved to be enshrined in a new vihara, the covering plaster was accidentally broken, revealing the hidden radiance of gold.

From the temple, go for a further 50 metres and on your right is The King's Birthday Celebration Arch built by Chinese- Thais to show their loyalty to King Bhumibol on his 72th birthday anniversary on 5 December 1999. On the arch is written four big Chinese characters in the handwriting of HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, meaning "Long Live The King". This area is called Odien circle. It is the last point of this walking tour. Now walk along the Charoen Krung Road back to the starting point, the River City Complex.

Though this route is less famous than that around the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and other routes nearby, it is worth exploring because you will have a chance to witness the lifestyles of local people and at the same time, you will enjoy shopping and bargaining many items along the route.

Special thanks to River City Shopping Complex, to Rev. Fr. Joseph Suphakij Lertjitleakha of the Holy Rosary Church and to Phra Ratrattanadilok of Pathum Khongkha Temple for giving information to Thaiways- Ed.

For the correct pronunciation of romanized Thai words, see Romanization System of the Thai Language.

Related articles