Bangkok's Chinatown: Subway & big changes coming soon

Bangkok's Chinatown: Subway & big changes coming soon

People sit and eat on a sidewalk along a street in Bangkok's Chinatown, one of few city districts yet to be devoured by malls and high-rise condos. But change is coming and fast. A new underground train is now ploughing straight into the heart of the historic quarter. (AFP photo)
People sit and eat on a sidewalk along a street in Bangkok's Chinatown, one of few city districts yet to be devoured by malls and high-rise condos. But change is coming and fast. A new underground train is now ploughing straight into the heart of the historic quarter. (AFP photo)

Bangkok's historic Chinatown with its bustling, vibrant maze of old alleyways to get subway connection to rest of city soon, so big changes coming.


Bangkok's Chinatown: Subway & big changes coming soon

AFP News agency

Change is coming fast to Bangkok's Chinatown.

Chinatown is one of the few districts yet to be devoured by malls and high-rise condos, consisting largely of an old bustling and vibrant maze of alleyways.

The Blue Line extension of the MRT subway soon will plough straight into the heart of Chinatown's historic quarter.

A tunnel under construction along the current extension of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MRT) subway 'Blue Line' into Bangkok's historic district of Chinatown. AFP PHOTO, CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT


In the process, the subway line will transform a chaotic, but charming, area into a property goldmine.

"We can't do anything," the 92-year-old Mr. Thanuan Amnueilap said from a noodle stall tucked inside a lane of shophouses.

His neighbourhood, known as Charoen Chai, lies near the proposed new subway station, which is set to open in 2018 and will link the riverside district to Bangkok's glitzy downtown.

A girl running past old houses in an alleyway of Bangkok's Chinatown. / AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT


Around 60 families have lived there for generations selling joss paper and other wares, but now they fear eviction as the property developers -- and their influential Bangkok backers -- close in.

Scores of homes across the street have already been knocked down to clear a path for the Blue Line, and land prices have soared more than 20% over the past five years.

People buying food from a street vendor in an alleyway of Bangkok's Chinatown. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT


The cards are stacked against Mr Thanuan and his neighbours, whose land is owned by a charity run by Bangkok's governor.

"If they want us to leave, we have to leave," Mr Thanuan said before sidling back to his modest home, where a sign still bears the name of the clinic his father ran before hospitals were widespread.

The governor's charity would not comment on its plans for the area.

But it has stopped offering long-term leases in favour of monthly leases since the subway plans were set.

That has left the community in constant fear of eviction, a fate that has befallen tenants across the district.

Food vendor prepare chicken April 12 at their street stall in Chinatown. (AFP photo)


Chinatown emerged in the 18th century [meaning 1701-1800], when throngs of traders transformed the area into a commercial hub.

It has been the destination point for one of the world's oldest and largest Chinese diasporas.

Some Chinatown inhabitants trace their ancestry to boat migrants who fled famines in southern China and arrived with meagre savings, often sleeping dozens to a room.

Elders still chatter in their Teochew dialect of the Chinese language.

People eating at a street restaurant in Bangkok's Chinatown. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT


Bangkok's financial sector has since shifted east in Bangkok, but Thailand's business elite is still dominated by tycoons who grew up on Chinatown's streets, some of the country's most- striking rags-to-riches stories.

Yet some of those same figures are now behind the conglomerates gobbling up swaths of Chinatown's desirable riverside land.

TCC Land, a company run by Chinatown-bred Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, one of the country's richest magnates and owner of the Chang beer empire


TCC Land has already bought up a clutch of shops famous for selling auto parts and musical instruments down the road from Charoen Chai.

Plans for that area, known as Woeng Nakhon Kasem, are still under discussion. But fear abounds that the company will build a mall similar to the one it erected down the river.

Unable to outbid Bangkok's billionaire developers, Charoen Chai residents have instead focused on making the case for their neighbourhood's historic value.

Sirinee Urunanont, 45, took the lead and turned a shophouse down the street from hers into a museum showcasing the simple, dimly lit abode where a Chinese opera troupe used to live.

"We need to show people why we want to keep this area," she told AFP.


Yongtanit Pimonsathean, a professor of architecture at Bangkok's Thammasat University, has spent years lobbying the government to safeguard Chinatown's historic structures.

"The conservation system in Thailand is more about preserving temples, not common property like shophouses or markets," he said from an office stacked with colour-coded maps marking the neighbourhood's treasures.

While the government only lists 26 Chinatown buildings as heritage sites, Mr Yongtanit and his group of preservationists say there are nearly 7,000 that need protection, including those in Chaoren Chai.


The biggest challenge, he says, is getting city planners to listen to local residents rather than the developers.

"It's very hard to get voices from the community to reach those people," the professor explained.

Despite grassroots resistance, communities across Bangkok are facing extinction as authorities escalate a campaign to sanitise streets known for their character. Much-loved outdoor markets have been dismantled overnight, drawing condemnation from locals and visitors alike.

The head of Bangkok's city planning council dismisses these sweep-ups as minor. Instead he points to his ambitious plan for Chinatown, laid out in elaborate presentation posters and cardboard models featuring leafy parks and tidy waterfronts.

But Ms Sirinee and others bracing for eviction say their voices are not being heard.

"I want people to know that we have sent a letter to many organisations," she said, listing off various government bodies she's petitioned to help save the community. "But after that nothing happened. So many times like this, but never any action."

A worker checks alignments in a tunnel under construction along the current extension of the Metropolitan Rapid Transit subway Blue Line into Bangkok's historic district of Chinatown. (AFP photo)

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  • abode: the place where someone lives - ที่พัก, ที่อยู่อาศัย
  • alleyway: a narrow road or path between buildings, or a path in a park or garden, especially with trees or bushes on both sides - ตรอก, ซอย, ซอกซอย
  • architecture: a particular style or way of designing buildings - สถาปัตยกรรม, รูปแบบการก่อสร้าง
  • backer: someone who strongly supports someone or something - ผู้สนับสนุน
  • befallen: happened to -
  • billionaire: having more than a billion pounds, dollars (or a billion baht in Thailand) - คนที่รวยมากๆ มีทรัพย์สินพันล้านดอลล่าร์
  • breed (past form: bred): to keep animals or plants in order to produce young ones in a controlled way - ผสมพันธุ์
  • bustling: full of busy activity - อึกทึกครึกโครม
  • cards are stacked against: the situation does not favour it; everything in situation works against so that it is unlikely to succeed -
  • chaotic: happening in a confused way and without any order or organisation - ยุ่งเหยิง วุ่นวาย
  • character: all the qualities and features that make a person, groups of people, and places different from others; strong personal qualities such as the ability to deal with difficult or dangerous situations - ลักษณะพิเศษ
  • charity: an organisation to which you give money so that it can give money and help to people who are poor or ill, or who need advice and support - กิจการกุศล, มูลนิธิ
  • charming: very attractive and pleasant - น่ารัก, สวยงาม
  • chatter: when people are talking continuously without stoppping - ที่พูดไม่หยุด
  • clear (verb): to move things away from a place or area - ทำให้ว่าง๒, ลบล้าง
  • clinic: a place where a person goes to receive medical treatment -
  • close in: become closer to arresting criminals -
  • comment (noun): expressing an opinion - การแสดงความคิดเห็น
  • commercial: for business purposes - เกี่ยวกับการค้า
  • community: the people living in one particular area - ชุมชน
  • condemnation: a public statement in which someone criticises someone or something severely - การประนามหยามเหยียด
  • conglomerate: a large company formed by joining together different firms - กลุ่มบริษัทในเครือ
  • conservation (noun): the protection of plants and animals, natural areas, and interesting and important structures and buildings, especially from the damaging effects of human activity - การอนุรักษ์ธรรมชาติ, การป้องกันความสูญเสีย, การสงวนไว้
  • consist: to be made of or formed from something - ประกอบด้วย
  • constant: continuous; all the time - ต่อเนื่อง
  • desirable: that it is good to have or that people want to have -
  • destination: the place where someone or something is going - จุดหมายปลายทาง
  • developer (noun): real estate developer, a person or company that builds new "real estate developments" including buildings, houses, shopping centers, etc - นักพัฒนาที่ดิน
  • devour: to eat something very fast because you are hungry - กัดกิน
  • dialect: a form of a language that people speak in a particular part of a country, containing some different words and grammar, etc - ภาษาท้องถิ่น
  • diaspora: when the people of an ethnic group or country leave the country, moving to other places around the world, scattering, dispersion - การพลัดถิ่น การกระจัดกระจายของชาวยิวจากอิสราเอลไปยังบาบิโลเนีย และจากบาบิโลเนียไปทั่วโลก
  • dimly: having little light - ไม่สว่าง, ไม่แจ่มชัด
  • dismantled: taken apart; having the parts of something separated so that they no longer form a single unit - ส่วนที่แยกออกมาก
  • district (noun): an area of a country, town or province, especially one that has particular features - เขต, อำเภอ, บริเวณ, แขวง
  • dominated: controlled - ถูกควบคุม  ถูกชักใย บงการ
  • downtown: In the city - ในตัวเมือง
  • dozens (noun): large numbers of; a lot of people or things (1 dozen = 12) - มากมาย, เป็นจำนวนมาก
  • elders: people who are older - คนที่อายุมากกว่า, คนที่เป็นผู้ใหญ่กว่า
  • elite: the richest, most powerful, best educated or most highly trained group in a society - คนที่มีอภิสิทธิ์ที่สุด
  • emerged: appeared - ปรากฏออกมา
  • empire: a group of commercial organizations controlled by one person or company - เครือบริษัทที่ยิ่งใหญ่
  • erect: to put the parts of something together so that it stands upright - ตั้งขึ้น
  • eviction: the process of forcing someone to leave a building or place where they have been living or working - การขับไล่ออกจากพื้นที่   การไล่ที่
  • extension: something that is added to make something longer, bigger, etc., in this case as electrical extension - สายพ่วงไฟ, สายต่อปลั๊ก
  • extinction: a situation in which a plant, an animal, a way of life, etc. stops existing - การสูญพันธุ์
  • famine: a lack of food during a long period of time in a region - ความขาดแคลนอาหาร, ความอดอยาก
  • fate: the things that happen to someone/something, especially unpleasant things - ชะตากรรม
  • figure: someone who is important in some way - บุคคลสำคัญ
  • financial: involving money - เกี่ยวกับเงิน, ทางการเงิน
  • generation: a group of people in society who are born and live around the same time - รุ่น (คนรุ่นต่างๆ)
  • glitzy: appearing very attractive, exciting and impressive, in a way that is not always genuine; bright, exciting, and attractive but not always having real value - น่าดึงดูด, ฉูดฉาด, บาดตา
  • gobble up: to take control of -
  • governor: a person who is chosen to be in charge of the government of a state or province or a government agency - ผู้ว่าการรัฐ, ผู้ว่าราชการจังหวัด
  • grassroots: involving the ordinary people rather than their leaders - ในระดับรากหญ้า, ชาวบ้าน
  • heart: centre (of an activity) - ศูนย์กลาง
  • high-rise: a building is very tall with many floors or levels - อาคาร ซึ่งมีหลายชั้น
  • historic: old and of historical importance - ที่สำคัญในประวัติศาสตร์
  • hub: the central and most important part of a particular place or activity - จุดศูนย์กลาง, จุดรวม
  • in favour of: preferring to choose someone or something that you believe is better -
  • in the process: carrying out a series of actions to do or make something - ในกระบวนการ
  • influential: of a person or group who has the power to affect a situation - มีอิทธิพล
  • inhabitants : people or animals that live in an area - สิ่งมีชีวิตในบริเวณ
  • knocked down: to destroy a structure such as a building so that it does not exist anymore; take apart -
  • lane: one of the parts that a wide road or motorway is divided into, marked by painted lines and intended for one line of traffic - ช่องทางเดินรถ
  • largely (adverb): mostly -
  • lease: a legal agreement in which you pay money in order to use a building, piece of land, vehicle, etc. for a period of time - สัญญาเช่า
  • lobby: to try to influence a politician or the government and, for example, persuade them to support or oppose a change in the law -
  • magnate: a powerful and rich person in a industry or business; tycoon -
  • making the case for: supporting doing something with reasons and an argument -
  • maze (noun): a system of paths separated by walls or hedges built in a park or garden, that is designed so that it is difficult to find your way through - ทางคดเคี้ยว, ทางวกวน
  • meagre: a small amount or quantity - ขาดแคลน
  • migrant: moving from one place to another - อพยพ
  • modest: fairly small - พอประมาณ ค่อนข้างเล็ก
  • museum: a building where objects of historical, scientific or artistic interest are kept - พิพิธภัณฑ์
  • neighbour: someone who lives near you, - เพื่อนบ้าน
  • neighbourhood (noun): a particular area of a city or town or other area - ละแวก, ย่าน
  • opera: a drama or play with lots of singing -
  • outbid: offer more money to buy something -
  • outdoor (adj.): outside, not inside a house or building - ข้างนอก, นอกบ้าน
  • path: a way or track for people to move or walk along - ทาง, ทางเดิน, เส้นทาง
  • petition: a document signed by a large number of people demanding or requesting some action from the government or another authority - การถวายฎีกา,การร้องเรียน
  • plough into (verb): to crash into something with great force - กระแทกกับ
  • point: a place -
  • preserve: to take care of a place or building in order to prevent it from being harmed or destroyed - สงวน, อนุรักษ์
  • professor: a university teacher of the highest rank - ศาสตราจารย์
  • property: a building or buildings and the surrounding land - อสังหาริมทรัพย์
  • proposed: suggested as an idea for a group to consider - ถูกเสนอ
  • quarter: a part of a town where you find particular buildings, activities, or people - ย่าน, เขต, แถบ
  • rags-to-riches stories: story about poor people became rich -
  • resident: a person who lives in a particular area - ผู้ที่อาศัยในท้องที่
  • resistance: a refusal to accept something - การต่อต้าน, การขัดขืน
  • run: to be in charge of a business, etc - ดำเนินธุรกิจ, ประกอบธุรกิจ
  • safeguard: something which protects something/somebody from loss, harm or damage; something which keeps something/somebody safe - สิ่งป้องกัน, สิ่งคุ้มกัน
  • sanitise (verb): to clean something thoroughly using chemicals to remove bacteria - ทำให้ปราศจากเชื้อโรค
  • savings: money that people keep or "save" for the future - เงินออม
  • scores: large numbers of - จำนวนมาก
  • sector: a part of a country’s economic or business activity - ภาค (เศรษฐกิจ)
  • showcase: to show the best qualities or parts of something - แสดง,ทำให้เห็นจุดเด่น
  • sidle: walk in a secretive, shy, not easily seen way, especially sideways -
  • soar: to rise very quickly to a high level - มีความหวังสูง,พุ่งพรวดขึ้น
  • stall: a large table or a small building that is open at the front, used for selling things (or for giving people information) - รถ หรือแผงขายของ
  • straight (adj.): going from one place to another in a line without moving around or winding back and forth - ตรง, ไม่โค้ง, ไม่เบี้ยว
  • striking: very noticeable and surprising -
  • swath (noun): (or swathe) a long strip or area of land or sea - แนวหรือแถบกว้าง
  • tenant: a person who pays rent for the use of a room, building, land, etc. to the person who owns it - ผู้เช่า
  • throng: a crowd or large group of people - ฝูงชน, ประชาชนจำนวนมากที่มาชุมนุมกัน, กลุ่มคน
  • took the lead: to be the leader of a group, activity, etc. - เป็นผู้นำ
  • trace: to discover the cause or origin of something by examining the way in which it has developed - สืบหาร่องรอย
  • trader: someone who buys and sells things - ผู้ค้า
  • transform: to change from one form into another - เปลี่ยนไปสู่อีกสิ่งหนึ่ง
  • treasure: something very valuable - ของมีค่า
  • troupe (noun): a group of people who work together, a group of actors, singers, etc. who work together - คณะ, คณะผู้แสดง
  • tuck: to put something into a small space, especially to hide it or keep it safe or comfortable - สอดเข้าไป
  • tycoon: a person who has succeeded in business or industry and has become very rich and powerful - นักธุรกิจที่ร่ำรวยและมีอิทธิพลมาก
  • value: how much something is worth in money or other goods for which it can be exchanged - มูลค่า
  • vibrant: lively and exciting - ซึ่งมีชีวิตชีวา
  • voice: to express your feelings or opinions - ออกความคิด
  • wares (noun): things that somebody is selling, especially in the street or at a market - สินค้า
  • widespread: happening or existing in many places, or affecting many people - อย่างแพร่หลาย
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