Having previously lived in China, I had to know what Bangkok’s Chinatown was like. I took the skytrain to Saphan Taksin (the last stop on the Silom line) and then rode the Chao Phraya River Express north to Tha Ratchawong where I could walk into Chinatown. I walked straight off the ferry dock, following the people and the pungent aromas into the heart of the activity. All of Bangkok is congested, but nothing like this. Chinatown in Bangkok takes a ‘lack of personal space’ to an entirely new level. I had yet to be somewhere in town (other than the JJ Weekend Market) that felt anything this crowded before.
I could tell I was getting closer by the smell, sweets meet sewage — dried fish meets dried fruit. When I arrived, food vendors lined the street selling everything from char-grilled fish and squid, dumplings, chestnuts, skewers of barbecued meat, moist rice squares with meat, veggie or sesame paste, fruit, watermelon seeds, and heaps of colorful, jelly-like worms to dried fish. My eyes drifted from the food to the GOLD (you’ll understand when you go!) stores in the background with red interiors. I continued walking and came face to face with what instantly took me back to China, the face of a pig: snout, ears, and everything else looking back at me, displayed prominently as the prize item on the table. I’ll never forget the first time I was served an entire fish—with face—while eating dinner in China. It was during my first week in country, and yet, it continued to happen at nearly every meal I had throughout the remainder of my time in the Far East. Nothing on the animal or fish is wasted in China: face, feet, inner tendons and ligaments are all is enjoyed as a ‘delicacy’ to someone. In fact, at formal dinners and banquets, the head of the duck or fish is often held aside to be presented to the eldest member of the dining party as a sign of respect, hence a highly treasured piece of food.
I turned down Sampeng Lane and began weaving through mobs of people in the narrow alley. Every once in a while, a giant push cart rolled through consuming the entire lane and quickly forced me off the path. Specialized stalls stretched as far as I could see. One man sold buttons, another sold beads. One woman sold women’s underwear, while another sold neon cell phone cases. Plastic baggies of any shape and size. Belts. Shoes. Purses. However, the majority of the vendors sold fabric. Rolls and rolls of fabric. All varieties of colors, styles, and fabric weights. This is the place to buy in bulk!
I couldn’t getaway from the smell of fish. Hadn’t I passed that area? Where was this coming from? It was everywhere. And there were more GOLD stores. Food surrounded me; I was getting hungry. I made my way to Yaowarat Road and had dim sum (very good) at the Shangarila Restaurant. On my way back towards the river, I saw the Chinese pharmacy and several tea shops (a must have in Chinatown), continued dodging people, and never ever escaped the smell of dried fish or lost sight of the easily identifiable GOLD stores. It’s worth the trip!