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Created in 1782 when a large Chinese population was moved here from Ko Rattanakosin to make way for the seat of government, Bangkok's Chinatown is today colourfully chaotic and clogged with pedestrians, shoppers and vendors exchanging gold or selling textiles, car parts, coffins, electronics, nuts and bolts, shark fins, traditional medicine, tea and a huge variety of food. It's a serious whirl of activity and those averse to large crowds and congested alleys may want to give Chinatown a miss completely as the area can quickly become exhausting to navigate, with few spots to rest in the heat.
Avoid traipsing around in the middle of the day, when the crowds are thickest, the traffic dreadful and the heat frankly unbearable. Before 9am is the best time for seeing Chinatown's wet markets, which are worth a look in for the wriggly-things enthusiast, while retail shops open a little later.
The most promoted section of Chinatown is Samphaeng Lane, a narrow alley where pedestrians get whacked in their Achilles heels by take-no-prisoners trolleymen as they duck in and out of stores selling absurd hairbands and Hello Kitty paraphernalia. But if you have the energy, explore the other little streets crisscrossing Chinatown, including stretches north of the key road, Yaowarat, not to mention Yaowarat Road itself. And don't forget to look up! A lot of interesting architecture remains in this part of town, including glorious shopfronts that are easily missed if you're simply staring in shop windows (or watching out for your Achilles) and not intermittently looking skyward.
At the end of Samphaeng Lane lies Pahurat, or Little India, with a great array of vibrant Indian fabrics, pungent spices, foods, jewellery, incense and DVDs for sale. This is home to a large number of Bangkok's Indian community, which is mostly Sikh.
A handful of atmospheric and historic temples still actively used can be found down various sidestreets in Chinatown and Little India and you can drop in to get a flavour of life among the communities here. Do observe the usual etiquette and niceties and ask before snapping that perfect swirling incense shot.
After 7pm, Yaowarat explodes with cheap streetside eateries, including excellent seafood stalls that are worth travelling across town for. You'll gulp quite a bit of exhaust with your meal, but those Mercedes aren't queuing up for takeaway for nothing.
A short tuk tuk ride away is Pak Khlong Talaat, or the Flower Market, a Travelfish must-see. Head here after 10 pm to see truckloads of fresh orchids, roses and other flowers being offloaded, all displayed under naked yellow bulbs: both photogenic and fragrant.
During the vegetarian festival, Chinatown is particularly lively and of course a great spot to go wild enjoying fabulous vegetarian food. The rest of the year, critters rule here though some streetside stalls will still cater to vegetarians. And there are always the fruit vendors, hawking their watermelons, pineapples, green mangoes and seemingly quite a few extras in this part of town.