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Street of Gold

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There are gold shops on just about any major street in Bangkok, but there’s one street that can really be called “Street of Gold” here — Yaowarat.

By Percy Roxas.

Yaowarat doesn’t usually rank on top of the “must-visit” list of most Bangkok visitors. But if you’re in the city to buy gold, there’s no better place to be. It’s been said that there are more gold shops in this street than houses, although that’s probably hyperbole. There’s a raw energy in its atmosphere day and night, which you can feel as you walk through the tiny alleys, or browse through the many “weird” products in its markets, or as you join the many locals in enjoying food you probably have never thought you’ll be eating before.

Yaowarat Road is centered on Sampeng (Soi Wanit 1), which is famous for its Sampeng Market, in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Chinatown covers a large area around Yaowarat and Charoen Krung Road, and here are many small streets and alleys full of shops and vendors selling all types of goods.

But back to buying gold, which the Thais are so enamored of; Thais sooo love to buy gold, indeed. And many buy it mainly at Yaowarat. Why? Because most shops are members of the Gold Merchants Association of Thailand, and their gold products here are generally of high standard and quality; many are hand-made and intricately beautiful.

Those in the know say there used to be just four main gold shops on Yaowarat: Seng Heng Li, Hua Seng Heng, Tung Jin Aeng, and Tang To Kang, which foreigners will probably find hard to find these days as there are now more than 130 gold shops on both the sides of the road (and new gold stores coming up).

In particular, two gold shops boast a sterling reputation: Hua Seng Heng and Tang To Kang. The latter is the oldest gold shop in Bangkok, founded by Tohkang Saetang, a Chinese immigrant, in the 1880s. This shop was said to be the only gold shop in the Sampeng areas to be granted a royal appointment to use the Garuda emblem in 1921 during the reign of Rama VI.

Yaowarat has been the main center for trading by the Chinese community in Bangkok since they moved from their old site some 200 years ago. Chinatown is located in one of the oldest areas of Bangkok, representing the resettlement of Chinese on the western banks of Chao Phraya River, after Rama I moved the capital of the kingdom from Thonburi to Rattanakosin.

Part of Yaowarat Road is said to resemble a dragon’s curvy body, making it supposedly auspicious for business. Besides the many shops selling gold, Yaowarat is also popular for buying garments, textiles, stationery, souvenirs, second-hand parts and equipment, electric goods, computer parts, antiques, imported musical instruments, and local delicacies. In a way, it offers a glimpse of a local lifestyle unique to Bangkokians. This is more evident when you visit in the evening as see the roads and alleys transformed into something that looks different during the night.

In the evening as well, Yaowarat becomes a “food street,” and it’s amazing to see how many people turn up in the area just to enjoy the exotic delicacies both on the street and inside the restaurants. Expectedly, some of the best Chinese restaurants in the city are said to be in this area, at Soi Texas.

Like all Chinatowns elsewhere, Bangkok’s Yaowarat has that vibrant, chaotic, fun energy that gives it a zestful Oriental mystique that visitors will surely relish whether they are gold buyers or not.

Getting there:
Take the MRT (subway) and get off at Hualampong Station. Then take a meter taxi to the main street. From there, you can walk your way through and back. There are public buses plying Yaowarat, but if you’re not familiar with the Thai public transportation system or don’t speak the local language, you are better off with a metered taxi. Warning though: during the rush hours it can be very difficult to flag down a metered taxi.