Chinatown brings up exciting images of exotic foods, colorful streets bedecked in lanterns, and stores filled with items imported from the Far East—silk robes, ink paintings, and ivory statues. Historically, Chinatowns have developed anywhere in the world where there have been enclaves of Chinese immigrants. In America, many of these Chinatowns developed with the advent of the railroads, and the influx of Chinese workers who built them. In other places like Singapore and Yokohama, these Chinatowns developed where Chinese traders and colonists planted their roots to perform overseas commerce. Today, Chinatowns around the world are an attraction in and of themselves. Let’s take a look at some of the world’s best Chinatowns. While there are many Chinatowns around the world, we’ve put these Chinatowns into this list because of their size, history, and number of attractions to see.
Chinatown San Francisco
The San Francisco Chinatown is legendary in history and in fictional depictions like the movie Big Trouble in Little China and the hardboiled detective fiction of Joe Gores. Today visitors can enjoy a walk along Grant Avenue, its main thoroughfare, starting at the Dragon Gate on Bush Street and ending half a mile away in Little Italy. Along the way visitors can enjoy browsing the many shops and emporiums. If they are feeling a little more adventurous, moving one street away from Grant Avenue to Stockton Street will make you almost feel like you’re in China. Portsmouth Square Park is a hub of activity, with dozens of people playing cards and Mahjong and an occasional musical performance with traditional chinese instruments in the gazebo.
Yokohama Chinatown is Japan’s largest Chinatown, although today only a handful of Chinese residents actually live there. There are, however, hundreds of Chinese-owned shops and restaurants that visitors can browse through. The Guan Yu Tempe is a colorful display of traditional Chinese architecture, as is the Goodwill Gate. One of the best times to visit Chinatown in Yokohama is during the annual Lantern Festival, which comes at the end of the Lunar New Year Celebration (Chinese New Year). Traditional paper lantern displays combine with LED light attractions to light up the night sky in the mainly pedestrian thoroughfares of this cultural enclave. The main attraction is a 262 foot long dragon made out of yellow lanterns, weaving its way above the main street.
Bangkok, Thailand, is certainly a city known for its urban excitement, especially the riotous nightlife. And Bangkok’s Chinatown is actually one of its star attractions, being the largest Chinatown in the world. In terms of culinary attraction, Bangkok Chinatown is particularly known for its seafood and street food vendors. Put the two together and you’re in for good food that’s also entertaining to watch as it’s prepared—the chef at popular food stall Fai-Kaew Yao Wa-Rat, for instance, is famous for lighting up the scene with fire. The world’s largest golden statue can be found at the Wat Traimit or Temple of the Golden Buddha. Of course, if you are in Bangkok, you probably want to do some drinking. Don’t miss the panoramic views of the city from the top of the Grand China Hotel.
One of the best Chinatowns to visit on the East Coast is right in the heart of the Big Apple. New York’s Chinatown (or Manhattan’s Chinatown, more accurately), is actually home to almost 100,000 Chinese residents, making it the most concentrated enclave of Chinese residents in the Western hemisphere. There are actually nine different Chinatowns around New York, but the area around Canal Street is the one that attracts the most tourists and foodies. If you’re looking for fun things to take home, Pearl River Mart is the first Chinese Department Store in the world. Foodies will have a field day exploring traditional Chinese venues, alongside cosmopolitan eateries influenced by culinary-fusion ideas. If you’re looking for a little family fun, the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center is one of the last arcades in the city, and famously (or infamously known) for the chicken playing tic-tac-toe seen in the Al Pacino movie The Devil’s Advocate.
If you’re visiting the Land Down Under, you’ll have an opportunity to visit the longest continually-inhabited Chinatown in the world, Melbourne’s Chinatown, established during the 1850s Victorian Gold Rush. There are several gateways throughout this Chinatown, and many historical buildings to admire, such as the gaudy facade of the Sum Kum Lee Building, which was built in 1870 and blends elements of European classical and Oriental architecture. If you’re into drama, you can combine your Chinatown foray with some theatrical performances, because the Princess Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre are nearby. If you want to learn more about the history of Chinese Immigration to Australia, pass between the traditional stone lion dogs that flank the entrance to the Chinese Museum.
Loved learning about Chinatowns around the world? Check out some of our other travel blog posts, such as the 50 Best Cities to Visit in Asia!