Ni Hao (Hello). Who doesn’t love going for a meal or to simply enjoy the atmosphere in Chinatown? I don’t think I have met anyone who doesn’t enjoy visiting a Chinatown. I’ve asked some other travel bloggers what is their favourite Chinatown from around the world. And without further ado, here they are.
Bangkok Chinatown, Thailand (Yaowarat)
Chinatown Bangkok, Thailand
Thailand is home to the largest ethnic Chinese community outside of China, accounting for around 11-14% of the country’s total population. So it’s little wonder, then, that the capital city, Bangkok, boasts one of the world’s largest Chinatowns.
Yaowarat as it’s known locally is a hotbed of culture, history and cuisine. It’s one of the best areas to stay in Bangkok if you love street food and nightlife – and there is certainly no shortage of atmospheric accommodations to choose from, including the iconic Shanghai Mansion.
Bangkok Chinatown was officially established in 1782 when the King gifted a parcel of land on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River to the area’s Teochew immigrants. Merchant families set up piers and warehouses, and the area quickly became one of Bangkok’s busiest trade centres.
Today, the sprawling neighbourhood centres on busy Yaowarat Road. It comes to life after dark, when the neon lights that line the strip flick on and the many hundreds of street food vendors set up their carts along the sidewalks. This is one of Bangkok’s culinary hotspots where you can taste both Thai and Chinese delicacies. Must-trys include the chicken curry at Jek Pui Curry Rice, dumplings at Mung Korn Khao Noodles, and fresh fish and BBQ prawns at local favourite T&K Restaurant.
By day, you can discover the area’s gorgeous gilded temples, admire the heritage shophouses in Talat Noi, browse the vibrant fruit and veg markets, and shop for tea and medicinal herbs at the many old-school Chinese pharmacies.
Contributed by Emily from Wander-Lush
Victoria Chinatown, Canada
Chinatown, Victoria, Canada
Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America just after San Francisco. Between Store Street and Government Street in downtown Victoria you will find delicious restaurants, boutique stores and shops tucked away in tiny alleyways. On the main strip, Fisgard Street, a traditional Chinese archway (paifang) greets you upon your entry, where you will find colorful historic buildings.
Victoria’s Chinatown was established in1858 and was a major entry port for Chinese immigrants during the gold rush and during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. It was the largest Chinese settlement in Canada until the first decade of the 20th century. Victoria’s Chinatown once had a seedy reputation for its opium dens, brothels and gambling dens in the late 1800s, but has become a cultural centre and designated National Historic Site today.
It is worth adding Victoria’s Chinatown to your Vancouver Island itinerary. Explore cute alleyways, discover trendy boutiques and dine at hip restaurants. Start your morning off with a coffee from Habit and enjoy authentic Chinese cuisine at Little Yunnan Restaurant for lunch. Don’t miss The Turntable, a hole-in-the-wall record store with rare vinyl and an excellent selection of music.
Contributed by Cecily Groovy Mashed Potatoes
Havana Chinatown, Cuba
Chinatown Havana, Cuba
One of Latin America’s oldest and once largest Chinatowns lies in the center of Havana, Cuba. Its entrance is easily recognisable because of the huge pagoda-like gate. The most known street is “Knife of Zanja”, where girls in red cheogsam will kindly invite you in Chinese-style restaurants and shops.
Chinese Cuban cuisine mixes the dishes, condiments, vegetables and sauces of both countries. In the same restaurant one can find fried rice, dumplings or shrimp with black bean sauce, but also ropa vieja and platanos. Another attraction is Iglesia de la Caridad, which features a statue of Virgin that some say has Asian features.
Chinese migrations to Cuba started in 1837. Officially, hundreds of thousands of Chinese labourers were brought to work in the sugar fields under 8-year contracts. In reality, they were forced to work in conditions of virtual slavery. However, after completing their contracts, some of them settled permanently on the island. The immigrants, called “coolie”, were almost all males (99%). They engaged in sexual relations and marriages with the enslaved African and Native Cuban women.
After Fidel Castrol nationalised businesses in 1959, most of the Chinese left the island. As a result, what once was “a city within the city” became a Chinatown with very few Chinese people. Today, there are around 114.000 Cubans with mixed Chinese heritage, but most of them live outside the neighbourhood. Nonetheless, the Chinese-Cubans strive to maintain their unique culture alive. The Lunar New Year is celebrated in Havana’s Chinatown with a dragon dance and the first Chinese migrants are commemorated every year. Also, the district was restored in 2019.
Contributed by Raluca from Travel With A Spin
Kuala Lumpur Chinatown, Malaysia
Chinatown Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown dates back to the late 1800’s when the Chinese came to the area looking to mine for tin. Today, the multicultural capital of Malaysia thrives with a sizeable community of Chinese Malaysians.
The epicentre of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is the lively and colourful Petaling Street. This is the best place to head and soak up the history and local culture of Chinatown Kuala Lumpur. There are family run restaurants and shops that date back to the 1930’s making it a great place to stroll, eat and just generally absorb the atmosphere and colourful history of the city.
This bustling hub district of KL’s Chinatown is known for the large covered market along the street selling all kinds of produce, clothes, trinkets and accessories. There are street kitchens, busy local roadside eateries and intact old architecture that make this Chinatown an interesting and exciting place to explore.
Bright red Chinese style lanterns line the market leading to a food court with smalls plastic tables and chairs and the scent of Chinese inspired street food wafting through the lanes. The bustle of KL’s Chinatown is contagious.
It’s easy to get to Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur using public transport. Maharajalela station on the monorail stops at the southern end of Petaling Street, or take the MRT from KLCC to the Central Market stop.
Contributed by Sarah Steiner from Away With The Steiners.
Mexico City Chinatown, Mexico
Chinatown Mexico City
When looking for the best Chinatowns in the world you may be surprised to find one in Mexico City. Unlike china towns found in other major cities, this is relatively small but the beauty of the area will not disappoint. So if you have some time to spare, add this area as a landmark to your Mexico City Itinerary as it is free to visit. You’ll find the Barrio Chino (name in Spanish) covers around two blocks and you can’t miss it due to the Chinese-style decorations, brightly could umbrellas and glowing lanterns hanging from above. The street itself is closed to normal traffic which allows visitors to walk freely around the streets. One thing I stumbled on that stood out to me was the Chinese Arc, you can see two huge white lions by either side of the entrance. Along the same street, you can find some Chinese restaurants and Chinese stores selling plates of food and other products. If you want a change from Mexican food you can find specialties such as BBQ Peking duck, and steamed bread. Not to mention other things like traditional Chinese medicines and herbs. All in all, whilst in Mexico City and you want to try something different, you can get a rare insight into the Chinese-Mexican culture in the heart of Mexico City.”
Contributed by Daniel James from Layer Culture
Los Angeles Chinatown, USA
Chinatown Los Angeles
There have been Chinese people in Los Angeles since the 1850s, and the original Chinatown started in the downtown area. However, it was moved a few blocks away to its current location in the 1930s to make way for the construction of the train station. Because it was a planned move, business owners and residents were able to help build the new neighbourhood, so Chinatown in Los Angeles was the first U.S. Chinatown to be owned by its Chinese residents!
Los Angeles is home to a thriving multicultural community, and Chinatown is at the heart of it all. The neighbourhood is located just northeast of Downtown L.A. and is easily reached on foot or from the metro. Parking there is limited, so come early or plan to take public transportation.
Chinatown L.A. has a little bit of everything: amazing food (Dim Sum is hugely popular here), art galleries, nightlife, boutiques, a museum and even a Bruce Lee statue. Bruce Lee once had a martial arts studio here, and it has recently been reopened.
One of the best times to visit is during one of Chinatown’s many festivals, but come prepared for crowds. Your ideal day in Chinatown Los Angeles would include a walking tour, some shopping, lunch and a stop at one of the delicious bakeries for a sweet treat.
Contributed by Julie Espinosa of Family Travel Lifestyle
Sydney Chinatown, Australia
Did you know Sydney is home to Australia’s largest Chinatown? Located in Haymarket (between Central Station and Darling Harbour), Sydney’s Chinatown is easily one of the best in the world.
But, Haymarket wasn’t always the suburb where Sydney’s Chinatown was situated. In fact, up until the 1920s, it was the Rocks before it moved.
With its origins dating back to the 18th century when the Chinese migrated to Australia for the Golden Rush years, many labourers and their families settled in Sydney and made Haymarket their home.
And, today it’s one of the best Chinatowns in the world. So, what makes it one of the best in the world I hear you say? Apart from its size, it delivers a vibrant mix of Asian culture, shopping and cuisine, and boasts lively markets, bustling grocery stores and world-class entertainment.
What we love most about Sydney’s Chinatown is how incredibly it showcases both traditional and contemporary Australian Chinese culture through its oriental architecture, grand sculptures, roaring archways, buzzing events, tantalising food, impressive attractions and art-led laneways.
It’s because of these reasons we believe it’s ranked up there. And, when you host epic Lunar New Year Celebrations, that are the largest of its kind outside of Asia, plus are a popular spot to film Hollywood Blockbusters such as Two Hands, Wolverine and The Matrix, who can disagree?
With so much on offer in this bustling neighbour, Sydney’s Chinatown delivers a memorable experience that mixes both past and present Chinese traditions perfectly.
Contributed by Danielle Mathie
Chinatown Yokohama, Japan
Yokohama is the second-largest city in Japan, which makes Yokohama station a great place to people-watch especially during rush hour as it has been rated in the top 10 busiest stations in the world.
Yokohama Chinatown was established in 1859 when the ports first opened for trade and has been a permanent fixture ever since. With approxinatley 600 stores in this precinct, it is currently the largest Chinatown in Asia. You can not go buy without trying one of Yokohamas legendary Panda-man buns; these buns are filled with many things, including matcha, hot chocolate and pork.
Also in this area is the Cup noodle museum and is a must if you are big into history. This museum brings to life the development of Ramen noodles and the invention of the cup noodle. The Cup Noodle Museum is a fun interactive museum for the entire family, with the opportunity to make your own noodles to take home.
My favourite time of year in this area, is Sakura (cherry blossom) season, where during this time of year, Yokohama (especially along the rivers edge) is full of the most picturesique places to visit. A wonderful photo opportunity during the day.
Like most of Japan, the food in Yokohama is full of history; many places opened to the public for generations. Whether you choose to visit this fantastic city during summer, winter or cherry blossom season, you will not be disappointed.
Contributed by Paula from Truly Expat
Melbourne Chinatown, Australia
Melbourne has a fantastic Chinatown with history, celebrations and of course wonderful food. Melbourne is one of the most diverse cities in Australia and there are pockets of cultures and communities all over with Chinatown found in Melbourne CBD (Central Business District) and adds another layer to the unique Melbourne culture. Chinatown dates back to the 1850s during the state’s gold rush and is the oldest Chinatown in the Southern Hemisphere. Try to visit during Chinese New Year festival with parades and celebrations throughout Chinatown, and across the city itself.
Even if you can’t visit at this time, all year round you’ll get the same sense of community and celebration. More of an experience than just eating in Chinatown, is to choose from an array of restaurants selling hotpots where you pick from a large row of shelves all the ingredients for your meal (meats, shellfish, vegetables, greens, noodles), get it weighed and paid and they bring it to you in a hot, delicious broth. It usually comes under $10 and if you don’t finish, you can take it away. Also, Melbourne’s Chinatown is open 24/7 so you can visit and enjoy the cuisine for lunch or the early hours after a night on the town but whatever time you visit, most restaurants are sure to be packed with locals and tourists.
Contributed by Shireen from The Happy Days Travels
Barcelona Chinatown, Spain
Even though Barcelona’s Chinatown is not an official Chinatown, there are plenty of Chinese delicacies and businesses to discover. This district of Barcelona still belongs to one of the most underrated things to see in Barcelona and is often overlooked by tourists visiting the city.
Over the last 20 years, more and more Chinese families moved to Barcelona. Many of them settled between the Arc de Triomf, Barcelona’s triumphal arch, and Plaza Tetuan. Especially along Carrer de Trafalgar and Ronda de Sant Pere streets, there is now a vast selection of Chinese businesses, restaurants, and supermarkets. Many businesses have their signs in Chinese characters only, so it can be difficult for people without Mandarin knowledge to figure out what kind of business it actually is.
Of course, the restaurants are also happy to cater to Spanish and foreign guests even though there are usually different menus in Chinese and Spanish/English. It’s worth a visit because you’ll find some of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in all of Barcelona. So if you are looking for authentic Chinese specialties, such as hotpot, this is the place to go.
A visit to this district of Barcelona is especially worthwhile during Chinese New Year. Because then there is a big parade in Chinese style and lots of events and performances.
Contributed by Vicki Franz
New York City (NYC) Chinatown, USA
NYC’s Chinatown in Manhattan started in the 1870s when many Chinese moved to New York to escape racism on the west coast after the end of the Gold Rush. Chinese people weren’t allowed to become citizens, so they created their own isolated community, with medical care, housing, jobs and other community support services. Until 1965, when immigration restrictions were limited, the ratio of men to women was 1,000 men to 9 women! Chinatown was one of the main areas in NYC where gang violence was rife in the first half of the 20th Century. After 1965, however, women and men arrived and NYC’s Chinatown quickly became the largest Chinese community in the US. Today, it is one of the safest areas in the city.
Manhattan’s Chinatown is constantly evolving. As rents have risen, many Chinese people have moved out of Manhattan and Flushing in Queens has become the city’s second Chinatown. The Chinatown in Manhattan remains a vibrant and expanding neighbourhood, however.
Like most Chinatowns, there are stores filled with dried fish, herbal remedies, and fresh produce, as well as bubble tea stores, and places offering Chinese massage. Don’t miss the Ice Cream Factory and be sure to try their black sesame and lychee flavours. Chinatown is also packed with restaurants and is especially popular for dim sum on the weekends.
The main street is Mott Street. However, be sure to also visit Doyers Street (AKA “The Bloody Angle”), a former center for gang violence and today home to basement bars and great restaurants. To see the non-touristy side of the neighbourhood, visit Columbus Park, the heart of the current community, where people come to practice tai chi, and play mahjong and Chinese chess.
Contributed by James Ian from Travel Collecting
London Chinatown, UK
London’s Chinatown is not only incredibly vibrant, colorful, and aesthetically pleasing, it’s also home to some of the most authentic Chinese eateries in town. It’s a must-visit for any fan of Chinese food and culture.
While this Chinatown was established in the 1970s, there was another Chinatown in a different part of the city which was established in the early 20th century, when Chinese sailors frequently arrived in London Docklands. Chinatown eventually moved to Soho, where it stands today, surrounded by some of the most photogenic places in town.
As you enter London’s Chinatown, you’ll be greeted by the beautiful Chinatown Gate, which was designed in the style of the Qing dynasty by Chinese artisans. It was shipped from Beijing and put in place in 2016. There are also lots of gorgeous lanterns hanging in the sky, and it’s truly a stunning sight.
Today, London’s Chinatown is home to more than 80 restaurants. While many locals visit for the famous Dumplings’ Legend restaurant, those who are familiar with authentic Chinese food will love Shu Xiang Ge hot pot on Gerrard Street and Bun House on Lisle Street. For a taste of authentic Chinese desserts, be sure to head to Chinatown Bakery in Newport Place.
Contributed by Jiayi Wang from The Diary of A Nomad
Chinatown in Singapore is one of Singapore’s largest districts. It began in the early to mid 1800’s when many Chinese immigrants moved to Singapore to earn more money. They came from many different regions and, even today, the island is home to many Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Haianese, Hakka, Henghuas and Foochow people.
Chinatown has loads of things to do including walking tours to admire all of the street art and shopping in the street markets. You can check out all of the amazing temples (only in Singapore could you get a Hindu Temple next to a Buddhist Temple and around the corner from a Methodist church!) and visit some of the museums in the area including the incredibly informative Chinatown Heritage Centre which is located in a renovated shophouse and introduced you to the people who would have lived and worked in a shophouse in the 1800s and 1900s.
Of course, no visit to Singapore’s Chinatown is complete without tasting some of the culinary delights on offer! Chinatown Complex Food Centre is home to many hawker stalls (it is one of the biggest hawker markets in Singapore!) including Liao Fan Hawker Chan who was the first hawker to receive a Michelin Star! You can also find some other Singapore staples such as char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles), chilli crab, all sorts of dumplings (soup dumplings or xiao long bao are amazing!) and nasi lemak (fried chicken with coconut rice). If you’re looking for something more like a restaurant, head to Chinatown’s Food Street which is filled with restaurants and kiosks selling all manner of delicious Chinese food.
Contributed by Emma Morrell from Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
And there you have it, 13 of the favourite Chinatowns from around the world. Which one is your favourite? Or is there one that should be added to the list – please let me know in the comments below if you have another favourite Chinatown.
Sharyn McCullum has travelled all her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. She loves travelling to different countries to immerse herself in the culture and in particular, enjoy the food. She currently calls Melbourne, Australia home.