7 of the World’s Best Chinatowns

You know the neighborhood straightaway – Chinese signage, glowing red lanterns everywhere, maybe even some neon: you’ve stumbled into another urban Chinatown.

Nearly every large city these days has a Chinatown, each with their own vibrant feel, but distinct features of the look are common across most of them. Here are seven of the best Chinatowns you can visit; would you have identified the city just from the photo?

Sydney, Australia

The Chinatown in Sydney reflects on Australia’s bright, sun-drenched image: the neighborhood is one of the brightest and cleanest you will find. The current location in Haymarket is the third location for Chinatown; it started out near in Rocks are near the harbor, then moved to Market Street, and finally settled here in the 1920s.

A tourist must-do experience is shopping at Market City, full of specialty stores and factory outlet stores. Don’t miss the dining options in one of the massive food halls either; while it may seem daunting with all the choices and busy atmosphere, the low prices and tasty fare all make up for it. An annual highlight is the Chinese New Year festival, said to be one of the best in the world.

>>book a flight to Sydney and read about Getting Around in Australia

New York, United States

New York City takes top marks for its Chinatown because it has not only one, but three: the main tourist attraction in Manhattan, one in the neighborhood of Flushing in Queens, and a bustling community in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

Canal Street is the epicenter of the Manhattan action, with endless photo opportunities for the camera-toting tourists. Rows of shops offer up the traditional Chinatown fare: unusual Chinese gifts, tacky New York inspired souvenirs, fake watches and purses.

There are a large number of herbal remedy stores and the best-stocked Chinese grocery stores on all of the east coast. Visitors take note – while New York is the city that never sleeps, Chinatown closes its doors around 11pm.

>>book Airfare to New York City and read about the Famous New York Foods

San Francisco, United States

San Francisco’s Chinatown is a mega-attraction: it’s the largest Chinese community outside of Asia, the oldest Chinatown in North America, and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. With charming alleyways that wouldn’t look out of place in Hong Kong and the older men playing chess and performing Tai Chi in Portsmouth Square, it is no wonder this is a crowd pleaser.

Locals stream in on the weekends for food shopping and to soak up the local atmosphere around such gorgeous sights as the Bank of Canton and Sing Chong Building.

To learn more about the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown, pick up a copy of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club – she grew up in the area and the book describes life here in a series of vignettes.

>>book a cheap flight to San Francisco and read about Asian Festivals in San Francisco

Bangkok, Thailand

Known as just Sampeng or Yaowarat, after nearby streets, Bangkok’s Chinatown is as old as the city itself. In the late 1700s, as the young city of Bangkok expanded, Chinese traders were asked to relocate. They settled here near the river where they’ve been ever since.

The area has a number of examples of early Bangkok architecture in pristine condition, found down the various lanes and narrow streets.

Tourists will be quick to point out the Wat Traimit temple, which houses the world’s largest solid gold Buddha, weighing in at over 5 tons. Don’t miss the great shopping opportunities, especially the wares on display in the old Chinese pharmacy.

>>book cheap flights to Bangkok and read our Bangkok Itinerary

Brisbane, Australia

One of the more modern versions of a Chinatown, Brisbane’s Chinatown Mall opened in 1987. The colorful architecture was designed by Chinese architects and is guarded by a pair of massive stone lions straddling the area’s entrance.

The authentic feel of neighborhood makes it a popular stop for both tourists and residents, especially on weekends when market stalls line the streets.

Many of the shops could be considered more pan-Asian than decidedly Chinese; however the most popular food stop would be Yuen’s Chinese Supermarket, a favorite to both Chinese and Australian families.

>>book flights to Brisbane and read more about Brisbane

Paris, France

Unknown to many tourists, Paris actually has several Chinatowns, the largest being in the 13th arrondissement. The name Chinatown is slightly misleading, as many of residents are ethnic Chinese that emigrated from Communist-controlled Vietnam in the late 1970s.

Although not as aesthetically pleasing as Paris’s more notable districts, Chinatown has many hidden charms below the towering skyscrapers.

The Parisian influence was not lost on the Chinese, as you’ll find many shops with exotic household furnishings, plush but garish nail salons and garment stores. Many wear by the food supplies of La Boutique des frère Tang (The Tang Brothers), who supply most of the Chinese restaurants in the city. Visitors should note that most shops and restaurants are closed on Mondays.

>>book airfare to Paris and read about How to pack for Paris

Yokohama, Japan

Yokohama hosts the largest Chinatown in all of Asia; the neighborhood blossomed when the Port of Yokohama opened to foreign trade in 1859 as many of the traders were Chinese and settled here. The lanes and streets of Chinatown are marked by the nine gaudy but colorful gates found throughout.

Food is front and center, with over 200 restaurants serving up both traditional and more modern Chinese delicacies – be sure to try a plate of steamed pork buns, but you can be sure that anywhere with a queue is worth waiting for.

For those with a ravenous stomach, head for the Daisekai (Daska), a “food theme park” offering samples of various dishes from the city’s best restaurants. Be sure to take your Chinese or Japanese dictionary as English is not Yokohama’s strong suit.

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Photo credits:
New York by Walter Rodriguez on Flickr, San Francisco by jondoeforty1 on Flickr, Sydney by Alex ’77 on Flickr, Bangkok by triplefivedrew on Flickr , Brisbane by brewbooks on Flickr, Paris by roboppy on Flickr, Yokohama by rdesai on Flickr

Filed under: Destinations, featured