Transporting guests back to the golden age of Yaowarat Road and the Samphanthawong District, the world’s largest Chinatown outside of China
Located on the Odeon Circle at the start of Yaowarat Road, the Wat Traimit temple is a high structure crowned by golden roofs. While the world’s largest golden Buddha statue is to be seen on the top floor, the second floor of the Temple is dedicated to the Chinese community in a very well documented museum.
Chinese immigrants arrived in Bangkok with the foundation of the city. As King Rama I decided to build the Grand Palace in the northern part of Rattanakosin Island in 1782, a small Chinese community was consequently relocated further south along the Chao Praya River. The area became known as Sampheng and is part today of the Samphanthawong District.
As the King identified the need to have workers in construction and canal digging, Siam recruited Chinese immigrants who were reputed to be hard working. Chinese immigrants became the first foreign community in the Kingdom. Chinese were also involved in junk trade with Southern China, the primary export market for Siam.
The museum recreates the interior of a junkyard. It also shows a typical Chinese village in Bangkok with its shops. Trading in junk, however, was replaced by steamships from 1860s, bringing even more Chinese immigrants and goods to Sampheng. From 1893 to 1955, over 3.33 million Chinese settled along the Chao Praya River.
A room in the museum retraces the evolution of the Chinese condition in Thailand in the 20th century. Both King Rama V and King Rama VI granted the right to the population to have its institutions such as hospitals, temples and schools. The first wave of Thai citizenship attributed to Chinese took place in the 1930s.
Immigration declined and came to a stop from the late 1930s to the mid-1970s as the Cold War raged. Thailand as an anti-communist stronghold cut its links with Communist China until 1975 when diplomatic relations resumed. However, to assure the faithfulness of Chinese living in the Kingdom, the Thai government further integrated its Sino-Thai community, favouring economic development.
Large parts of the museum are dedicated to Yaowarat as the economic and cultural centre of Chinese Thais, especially in the 1950s, when the district was Bangkok’s window to the world.
Yaowarat had by then Bangkok’s first high-rise buildings; it was also the centre of gold trading, watches and clocks manufacturing, as well as rice export. The district also became synonymous with night entertainment.
The museum allows guests the opportunity to re-explore Yaowarat and to step back in time, learning of Chinese migration and the settlements along the river. Start with the museum and then get lost in the maze of streets and markets of Bangkok’s Chinatown.
Information: Chinatown Heritage Museum in Wat Tramit is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 8am to 5pm. It is 7 minutes away by walk from MRT station Hua Lamphong.
By Luc Citrinot