Bangkok's Chinatown is full of history and color. It's a fascinating place to explore and an excellent choice if you only have one day in Bangkok.
To get to Chinatown, take the MRT subway to its last stop: the Hualamphong Railway Station. From here, take Exit 1 over to Rama 4, cross the bridge and head onto Traimit Road, where you will quickly come to Wat Traimit, Chinatown's most visited monument. This revered temple contains a 700-year-old, 5.5-ton Buddha image - the largest in the world - and is also home to a museum on the history of Chinatown that is well worth the 100 baht admission.
Dining streetside in Chinatown — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
If you continue down Traimit Road, you will reach the Chinatown Arch, which is the gate that welcomes visitors into the heart of Chinatown. Charoenkrung Road and Yaowarat Road take off to the right of the arch, branching apart, and Yaowarat is the main drag you should follow.
There are plenty of colorful shops, restaurants and markets to explore in the area, but it's worth pausing here to eat and drink. A few blocks down, Yaowarat brings you to the intersection with tiny Padungdao Road. On this corner, you can find throngs of people sitting out on the corner and eating giant prawns, crab and all sorts of delectable seafood at the bustling, vibrant and legendary T & K Seafood restaurant. Prices are fair, the seafood is excellent and the atmosphere is wonderful.
Eiah Sae coffee shop — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Just around the corner from here is Eiah Sae, another Chinatown institution. This hole-in-the-wall cafe with Art Deco purple walls, old portraits of the Thai King playing the saxophone and plenty of old men smoking has been serving up the owner's great grandparents' dark Thai coffee recipe for decades. Even if you aren't a coffee drinker, it is well worth it to drop in here just for the ambiance and retro feel.
Continuing your explorations, you should check out the nearby Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple, which is usually thronged with pilgrims making merit and is full of incense, chanting and lotus flowers.
Making merit at Wat Mangkon — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis
Also worth a visit is the narrrow Sampeng Lane, in which a tiny alleyway becomes a chaotic and atmospheric wholesale market each day. The crowds are dense in here, but it's worth the effort to visit this former gambling den/opium house area turned shopping plaza.
Other than all the food, street markets, temples and endless gold shops that are everywhere, another thing to keep your eyes peeled for is a traditional Chinese opera. Chinese operas take place during festival times and holidays, and are a lot of fun. They are free of charge and are a very colorful spectacle. These can often be found on street corners in makeshift, impromptu theaters.
Chinese opera — Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis