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Yaowarat Road Chinese heart of the capital

It's not just during the Chinese New Year celebrations that Bangkok's Yaowarat Road comes alive this landmark street is also an important trading and living area for Thais of Chinese descent. Window on Phuket takes readers for a look at life on both sides of this road and learns that, even when the spectacular New Year celebrations are over, there is still plenty to see and experience.

Odeon Roundabout: This used to be an empty patch of land next to the Odeon Cinema, but in 1958 the Prime Minister, Field Marshall Sarit Dhanarajata ordered the construction of a roundabout with a fountain in the middle.

The structure was demolished in 1998 because the area around it had become a squatter community and people were using the fountain for bathing and washing.

In its place was built an archway, called China Gate, that has been praised for its design and which many believe has improved the feng shui of Yaowarat Road.

There's another local belief that money will flow to you if you stand next to the brass plate with the Chinese character ti (land), look up at the character tian (heaven) and hit your wallet three times against the white stone depiction of mountains and dragons.

Wat Traimitr: Walking away from Hualamphong, the temple is just before the Odeon roundabout. The highlight of this temple is the beautiful golden Buddha. Locals claim that there's a huge amount of pure gold in the Buddha and that it's the largest such Buddha in the world.

Mae Kuan Im Shrine: This is the base of the first rescue foundation in Thailand, the Thian Fah Foundation. Inside is a wooden carving of the goddess Kuan Im, believed to have been made in China at the time of the Song Dynasty. It was brought to Thailand in 1958.

Wat Leng Noi Yi: This temple has the Thai name Wat Mangkon Kamalawas and is almost always full of candle smoke and the smell of burning incense, as both ethnic Thai and Chinese like to come and pray to the god Tai Suay Ea who, it's believed, can bring luck. This temple is on the Charoen Krung Road side of Yaowarat. Turn off Yaowarat Road into Trok Mangkon and walk for about 50 metres, then turn right and you'll see the temple.

Gold: Yaowarat is Thailand's biggest gold trading centre, with more than 100 gold shops on a 1.5km stretch of the road. Apart from gold shops, there are also many stalls selling Chinese herbs, and both sides of the road are packed with shops selling Chinese music, books and magazines.

There are also street-side stalls selling amulets and lucky decorations - both Thai and Chinese - to bring good fortune into the buyer's home.

Fashion: Just off Yaowarat is Sampeng, a wholesale centre that people say is the heart of the fashion industry in Thailand. Sampeng is a narrow little alley but is so long that you may collapse of exhaustion before you reach the end of the street, especially at weekends when it's jam-packed with people. However, the rewards for your efforts are the sometimes unbelievably low prices for decorations, gifts, clothes, shoes and watches.

Great food: Yaowarat is bustling all day long as the street is full of traders occupying almost every conceivable space. All these people need to eat, so there are snacks and full meals available all the way along the road. Noodles, rice dumplings and dim sum are all for sale along the busy pavements. There are also mobile trolleys with fried, grilled and barbecued goodies to choose from. Chinese chestnuts, desserts and strange hard-to-find Chinese fruits can be found on Yaowarat Road.

For those who are not so keen on street food, there are plenty of upscale Chinese restaurants such as the Chiang Karela Chinese Restaurant near the Grand China Hotel junction or the Scala near the Chalerm Buri intersection.

How to get there: Yaowarat Road is best reached by public transport. Take the subway to Hualamphong station and it's an easy 15-minute stroll from there.

The street is also served by many public buses, but unless you are familiar with the bus system, taking a taxi or tuk-tuk is probably easier.

You can also take a boat, getting off at Tha Ratchawong pier. From there walk through Sampeng to Yaowarat Road.

  Photo gallery : Yaowarat Road Chinese heart of the capital


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