The days of Bangkok’s Chinatown merely being a street-food heaven are long gone. Attracted by low rents and a slower pace of urban life, Bangkok’s hipsters have flocked to this area and have started snatching up dilapidated shophouses to turn them into something cool. Nowadays, Chinatown’s nightlife scene rivals that of Thonglor and Sukhumvit. The list below consists of the most exciting players in the game.
A cocktail bar is not a very likely place to go for a ‘Thai cultural experience’, yet TEP Bar is the perfect place to visit for one. Located at the very end of a dark alley, this glitzy establishment takes elements from traditional Thai culture and puts them in the spotlight – without it ever being kitsch or tacky.
Expect traditional Thai tapas-style snacks, a traditional Thai live band (with tunes we never thought we’d love) and cocktails that pay homage to distinctively Thai flavors. Try the expertly crafted ya dong shots, home-infused herbal moonshine bearing names such as ‘Pussy Whipped’ and ‘Lion King’ that might or might not come with aphrodisiacal effects.
And even though this nightlife spot has already made its appearance in the Lonely Planet, it’s a far cry from the typical backpacker haunt.
69-71 Soi Rammaitri, Maitrijit Road, Bangkok
Chinatown is mostly known for century-old family recipes and truly authentic Thai food – but you’re not going to find any of that at 80/20. Their fusion-style menu is filled with inventive dishes, unusual ingredients (crickets!) and surprising cooking techniques. Think green curry granita, chili ice-cream and steak with Isan style herbs – every single one of them being a feast for the taste buds and the eyes.
The name isn’t chosen at random, but represents the restaurant’s mission: Eighty percent of the ingredients are either made in-house or sourced from markets and shops around the area (the coconuts, for example, are provided by a local family just one block away from the restaurant) and only twenty percent is brought from outside of town.
With an ever-changing menu, there’s no point in recommending a specific dish or drink. The amicable chefs have a contagious enthusiasm for (Thai) food and hearing them present their dishes and experimental cooking techniques made me feel confident that you’ll likely never have a bad meal here.
1052-1054 Charoen Krung Rd, Bangkok
Bā Hào is the latest addition to the quickly gentrifying Soi Nana area, and easily the coolest kid on the block. This self-proclaimed “co-living space” features a cocktail bar, a living room, and two spacious bedrooms on the 3rd and 4th floor. Check out our review of Ba Hao
The neon-lit bar on the ground floor is a true crowd pleaser. Decked out with old-school Chinese paraphernalia (we’ve spotted porcelain dragon figurines, retro board games and vintage calendars among others), every element stays true to the theme. For example, all of the cocktails on the menu are based on old Chinese ingredients such as herbal medicinal liquor and five spices powder. Order some Chinese comfort food on the side – the spicy duck wontons are divine.
8 Soi Nana, Maitrijit Road, Bangkok
Bangkok’s Chinatown isn’t exactly the place where you’d expect a cafe like Wanderlust to pop up. With its bare lightbulbs, whitewashed walls and lofty vibe, it wouldn’t look out of place in Melbourne’s Fitzroy area. That ‘Melbourne vibe’ is no accident: Wanderlust’s chef, Phunchita Kamonto, lived and worked in the Australian city for over 15 years, which reflects in both the interior design and the menu.
Expect simple cafe-classics such as smashed avocado on toast, pancakes and chia pudding, all with a local twist. The drink menu isn’t too shabby, either: coffees come cold-brewed or slow-dripped and the smoothies are inventive. We particularly loved the Metro, a surprisingly tasty combination of espresso, tonic and orange juice.
The tables are spacious, wifi is fast, and on weekdays the place is usually fairly quiet, making it a perfect spot to get some work done on your laptop.
149 – 151 Rama 4 Rd, Bangkok
The folks behind FooJohn were lucky enough to get their hands on one of the most interesting buildings on Charoenkrung and decided to renovate everything but the name. This resulted in by far the chicest nightlife spot in this part of Chinatown: a touch of 1970’s Hong Kong with a thick French accent.
The bistro on the ground floor is fixed up with cozy booths, retro furniture, and dimmed lighting – the perfect setting for cold cuts, cheese platters, foie gras and a good glass of wine. If you’re in the mood for some serious snacking, order one of the various sweet or savory crepes whipped up in the tiny kitchen behind the bar.
To turn it up a notch, walk up the mirrored stairwell in the back, and discover the speakeasy-style cocktail bar ‘Foudejoie’. The bar is helmed by French mixologist Antoine Loubry, and the menu features concoctions with a focus on classic cocktails and French spirits. The staff is friendly and happy to discuss other drink options.
831 Charoen Krung Rd. 31, Bangkok
Whether you drop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner or beers, Little Market is your one-stop-shop in Chinatown. Decorated with a colorful mishmash of retro movie posters, Thai trinkets, and Chinese bamboo lanterns, this hole-in-the-wall diner serves up everything from Thai rice porridge to fluffy pancakes.
However, it’s the burgers that steal the show here. The classic steak burger, consisting of a 270-day grain-fed Australian black angus patty and a perfectly soft bun is so amazing, you’ll want to help yourself to a second serving. Not just because it’s so freaking delicious, but also because it’s a teeny bit on the small size.
In a city where cafes are usually incredibly over-styled, we love that Little Market is unpretentious and easy-going. A true hidden gem.
1056/7 Charoen Krung Rd. 28, Bangkok
Soy Sauce Factory
Compared to the other establishments mentioned in this article, Soy Sauce Factory could be considered a veteran in the Chinatown nightlife scene. Run by Thomas Menard, the brain behind the Speedy Grandma gallery a few blocks down the road, Soy Sauce Factory was already welcoming party-goers long before this part of town became ‘hip’.
Part bar, part Thai restaurant, and part exhibition space, this place draws crowds from all walks of life. One night you could be sharing the dance floor with crust-punks from around the world (which I, strangely enough, have never seen anywhere else in Bangkok), while the other night you’re brushing shoulders with the in-crowd of Bangkok’s contemporary art scene.
Check out their Facebook page for their events calendar, as on a ‘normal’ night, the place can be a bit too empty.
11/1 Charoen Krung Rd. 24, Bangkok
Teens of Thailand
The mixologists at Teens of Thailand know a thing or two about gin & tonics. Hidden behind a beautifully carved wooden door (which reminds me of the ones we saw in Lamu), this hole-in-the-wall spot pours some of the best Gin & Tonics in town.
Taking inspiration and ingredients from Chinatown’s bustling markets and spice trading shops, the cocktails are one-of-a-kind. On the ever-changing drink list, you’ll find creations such as the Thai Tea G&T and Chrysanthemum G&T, but occasionally some very experimental versions as well – anyone in for a ‘Deep-fried pepper garlic pork G&T’? (“It’s a one time kinda thing – waste of good pork”, according to the owner).
Note that the bar is hardly a secret spot, especially since it has already conquered a place in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars after just six months of being in business. Due to its tiny size and big popularity, you’ll likely have to queue up for one of the 16 seats on a busy night.
76 Soi Nana, Maitrijit Road, Bangkok
You don’t have to guess twice about what you’ll be drinking at Píjiǔ Bar, especially if you know that Píjiǔ means ‘beer’ in Mandarin. If you don’t speak any Mandarin, just like me – the giant ‘BEER BAR – BOTTLE SHOP’ signage on the window makes it pretty clear, too.
Set up by the team behind Beervana, one of Bangkok’s biggest craft-beer importers, this cozy bar pours a wide range of special brews, both from local and international craft beer suppliers. With 5 beers on tap that rotate regularly, and many more beers available by the bottle – its craft-beer collection is probably the biggest in this part of town.
The interior is simple, and transports you back to a China in the ‘50s, perfectly blending in with the rest of the neighbourhood.
16 Soi Nana, Maitrijit Road, Bangkok