15 January 2016

How We Created our Best Bangkok Walking Journey Yet

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A look behind-the-scenes of our unique Boutique Bangkok Chinatown walking tour experience in Bangkok – the ultimate in local life on a full-day highlights excursion!

Late last year, the Buffalo team proudly announced the introduction of a brand new tour line: Essence. With a careful combination of the highlights and local experiences, Essence was the product of our best destinations and best local knowledge at work. But that begs the question – what does local knowledge in action really look like?

So, we went to the source – one of our best local experts tasked with creating one of these Essence journeys. What we found was a passion for culture, personal stories and childhood memories all rolled into one of our best Bangkok walking tour experiences yet. Go behind-the-scenes with Prawpun Euekittiroj (or as we call her, Praw) to find out how we created our Essence of Bangkok: Boutique Chinatown tour.

The upward view from Chinatown's busiest walking street.
The upward view from Chinatown’s busiest walking street.

First, why did you and your team choose to create the Boutique Bangkok Chinatown walking tour? Why was it different from our other tours?

Bangkok is such a fascinating place to go beyond the highlights. A walking tour in Bangkok’s Chinatown promises a languid look at this fascinating, very old area of Bangkok – it really has a history of its own, distinct from the rest of the city. When the Chinese migrated here, settled down and began living in harmony with the Thai people, that’s when a sense of shared identity and pride in the area flourished. That said, the Chinese in this area still retain a lot of the same traditions and heritage. A good example of this would be Chinese New Year, which is celebrated in this area with more colour and vibrancy than the rest of Bangkok combined!

Needless to say, the architecture and home decorations here feel wholly distinct from the rest of the capital city. This really is a stand-out area of Bangkok. But if anyone isn’t convinced about the culture and architecture, they will surely want to head to Chinatown for one important thing: Bangkok’s Chinatown food! This is, hands down, the culinary hub of the city. Even the locals (myself included) love to head here for a great meal.

So when the idea of our Essence tours – and a unique walking tour of Bangkok’s Chinatown district – began, I knew we needed to showcase this incredible part of the city. We wanted this tour to be an illuminating discovery of the stories and traditions that make this part of town so special. We wanted to mix in elements that the standard passers-by would never see – like a gold museum and shop on the 6th floor of a hard-to-find staircase. Plus, with this being a private excursion, we felt like this would be such a great opportunity to give our guests that really special feeling of seeing something that no one else has.

What made you a perfect person to be a part of the team designing this tour?

I’d say that my heritage plays a big part in my passion for this part of Bangkok. I was born and raised in Bangkok, but I have Chinese heritage from my grandfather and grandmother, who migrated from China to Thailand and settled in Chinatown.

Many of the traditions that we feature on the tour are what I practiced when I was younger. Different from my pure Thai friends, I would burn offerings for my ancestors with my family (a Chinese tradition). I could probably walk around Chinatown with my eyes closed – I know it like the back of my hand! We still have an old house here, so creating a tour here wasn’t just a matter of ticking off the boxes – I was creating a tour that explored a part of my childhood memories.

Even today, my father sells crab in the market in Chinatown, so I still have a strong connection to the area and its story. Naturally, this came out in how I created the tour. This was certainly a labour of love for me.

Thailand China Town - Woman praying
Chinese traditions live on in this unique district of Bangkok.

When you create a unique city tour like this one, what’s the process of creating the experience?

With any great tour, you start with the highlights. What are the areas and sights that a visitor just can’t miss? We flag these on the map to give us a sense of what routes we could take to connect the dots. With the Boutique Chinatown tour, a given was Wat Traimit and the massive golden Buddha. For us, it was a perfect starting point to explore the district.

The next question is always about food – because you simply can’t explore culture without tasting it, too! In Chinatown this is even more important, because its one of the most important cultural features of the area. I knew I wanted to feature some of my own childhood favourites, including dim sum, which simply can’t be passed up here.

And finally, after the highlights and the food, we get to focus on the fun part – the local experiences. For the Buffalo team, this is what we love doing most! It’s where we get to be the most creative, and where we get to bring our own experiences and stories into the tours we create – most of us are locals, after all! For Chinatown, this meant featuring the incredible collection of gold shops here (with a very special surprise on our tour) which is what the area is most famous for besides food. This also meant strolling through the local wholesale market, which is a really great place to see locals going about their daily lives beyond the eyes of tourists!

Once we have of these elements planned out, the final step in the creation process is to get out from behind our desks and experience it. We decide what mode of transportation makes sense, how to maximise local interaction along the route and how to make it both illuminating and comfortable for our guests. Obviously, the best way to figure all of this out is to go out and try it for ourselves!

Spectacular food is a stand-out feature of tasty Chinatown district.
Spectacular food is a stand-out feature of tasty Chinatown district.

What is your favourite part of the process?

Though I am a Bangkok local, I still love getting outside and exploring – so naturally, my favourite part is getting out there to try it out! We call this our “inspection”, but it includes so much more than just making sure everything goes smoothly. There’s always some new surprise along the way – often because we are the very first tour company to go to some of these areas – so it’s exciting to iron out the issues while also figuring out new elements to feature along the way.

In the same vein, I really do love doing these inspections with other people who were not involved in creating the tour. It’s very exciting and rewarding to see others experiencing this journey you so carefully created. It’s part of why I love my job.

How did you bring your own story and experience into the tour?

Those local elements I talked about – the gold shop, the wholesale market and the dim sum restaurant – those were my “finishing touches”. These are places I loved exploring as a child (and even as an adult) so they were my selections when we built the tour. In every tour we create, we always feature local’s favourite spots so that our guests can get a real sense of life in our destinations. Thankfully this is easy for us – we’ve spent so much time visiting these places ourselves that we know exactly what to choose!

Thailand Chinatown Tuk Tuk
Chinatown’s photogenic main commercial street.

So, what makes our highlights tours different and unique? What makes Boutique Chinatown such a special journey for you and for our team?

Buffalo Tours prides itself on the fact that we work with local experts in all of our destinations. We can create local experiences because we are locals, and there’s a lot of heart that goes into our tours. In Thailand specifically, all of our tour designers have a sincere passion for travelling and do what they do because they love to share this passion with others. Combine this with local tour guides that also have a story to share along the journey, and our highlights tours bring the magic of the Buffalo family into each tour.

So what surprises are in store on the Boutique Chinatown tour?

It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you! I suppose you’ll have to wait and see!

Make the Boutique Chinatown tour part of your customised Thailand itinerary – ask our travel experts how!