Yaowarach or Chinatown is one of my favourite places in Bangkok, although it may soon be eliminated by a new subway station. In the backtreets of Chinatown, you’ll find the Charoenchai community – also known as Trok Mai Phai or bamboo. The name comes from the shape of the long, narrow road that cuts straight through.
It is well-known for selling Chinese origami paper, which is folded into different shapes for Thai-Chinese to use in various ceremonies when paying respect to their ancestors and Gods.
On both sides of the road, ancient shop houses are filled with this colourful paper that brightens the scene. Halfway down, there is a small museum called Baan Kao Lao Rueng – or ‘Story Telling Home’ . Locals have maintained the original architecture and display old brica-brac that illustrates the way they once lived.
Food is taken seriously in this old community – after all, the vendors have spent their whole lives in the neighbourhood. They now have to squeeze themselves behind construction fences to set up their stalls but if you look for the ‘Soi Charoenkrung 23’ sign, you’ll find a parade of food that locals love.
I always grab a stool and mingle with the locals. My favourites here are the Chinese springroll (po pia sod) Yao warach (chinatown) with sweet tamarind gravy on top, and the steamed flat noodles with black seiw sauce (kouy tiew lord). Or try the fish stomach in gravy with young bamboo shoots (kra proa pla).
I often eat backwards here, starting with the paeng tod – a fried pancake dessert – while waiting for the savoury dishes to arrive on the table. The pancake comes stuffed with beans or taro. They’ve been fried slowly on a flat, open pan, ensuring they’re crispy on the outside and tenderly sweet in the inside. Who needs a new subway station? This is civilised enough for me.