Red lanterns swing above narrow alleyways, where street hawkers sell everything from incense to noodles, and golden cat figurines wave from windows – but this isn’t China, it’s Chinatown. The sights and smells of the world’s biggest Chinese neighbourhoods seem ubiquitous, but look closely and you’ll see that each has its own unique feel.
Here’s a list of Booking.com travellers’ favourites, with all the coolest places to stay. These 11 locales are all about bargain-hunting, people-watching, and, most importantly, eating incredible food.
Chinese temples are framed by skyscrapers in Singapore
In a city as polished as Singapore, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a neighbourhood where you can slosh back noodles and buckets of beer at plastic tables. Chinatown offers just that. The busy streets house family-run goldsmiths and trinket stalls, and the many food stands are a mecca for all things delicious. Sauteed, fried, simmered in broth – you’ll want to try everything here. You can sleep it off at Hotel Mono. The sleek black-and-white interior of this heritage hotel is a calming contrast to the colourful hustle outside.
Skewers of pork, chicken, tofu, and crab ready for the grill
If you’ve never had Myanmar’s Chinese-style barbecue on a stick, you’re missing one of life’s greatest pleasures. Chinatown’s 19th Street in Yangon is home to charcoal grills serving up every kind of smoky skewer you can think of. Just put what you’d like in your basket and it’ll be cooked to perfection and brought to your streetside table. This area is also the locals’ preferred watering hole, so expect a lively buzz and plenty of big Burmese beers. Stay close to the action at Check In @ Downtown Yangon, known for its super-friendly host, Linda.
Incheon, Korea, South Korea
Incheon's Chinatown bustles with shoppers on a summer day
Incheon’s Chinatown is the only official one in Korea, first settled in 1883 for trading goods during the Ching Dynasty. Nowadays the residents are mostly second and third-generation Chinese who, luckily for you, own some fantastic restaurants. The food tends to be a fusion of traditional Chinese and Korean flavours. Think sweet and sour pork, noodles with black soya bean sauce, and comforting gongal (pita-style bread) – all with a distinctly Korean twist. As far as places to sleep go, Hotel Atti has quiet rooms just a short walk away from Chinatown, next to leafy Jayu Park.
San Francisco, California, United States of America
SF's Chinatown is especially magical after the sun goes down
San Francisco has the largest Chinese community outside Asia, so it makes sense that its Chinatown is so big and beautiful. Right in the centre of the city, the neighbourhood spans more than two kilometres and is home to a mix of temples, shops, markets, and bakeries. As you explore its crowded streets, stop off for potstickers or dim sum – some of the dumpling houses will have lines around the corner!
In a city this cool, you should stay at a cool hotel. Hotel Zeppelin does the trick, with funky rooms just a short walk from Union Square.
Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory, Malaysia
Thean Hou Temple houses a medicinal herb garden, tortoise pond, and Bodhi tree
Kuala Lumpur serves up Malaysia’s diverse heritage all on one mouthwatering plate, and nowhere is this more true than in Chinatown. Super-crowded market streets are framed by skyscrapers, hawkers selling everything from flip-flops to flip phones. At the food courts, you can have freshly pressed watermelon juice and spicy pork noodle soup for breakfast – and then come back for your dinnertime fix, too. Icy buckets of beer and a view of the night shoppers on Petaling Street is all part of the experience. If your holiday is all about treating yourself, the Shangri-La Hotel is a superb choice. You can sleep off your meals in luxurious beds and then unwind by the pool.
Bangkok, Bangkok Province, Thailand
Scout out your dinner after nightfall, when temperatures are cooler
Bangkok’s Chinatown is all neon lights, whizzing tuk tuks, and pink taxis. It’s an incredible place, a sensory overload in the best way possible. Get lost in the market streets, smelling the aromatic spice and tea stalls, stumbling on peaceful gardens and temples amid the hustle. As you take in the sites, stop off at street stands on Yaowarat Road for fried noodles, Thai-style Chinese curries, and oyster omelettes. The silken rooms of Shanghai Mansion hark back to Shanghai in the 1930s, and its Chinatown location only adds to the sense of time travelling.
Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
Yokohama has one of the world's biggest Chinatowns
This 150-year-old Chinatown may not have many Chinese speakers left, but the lively markets and food stalls are as authentic as ever. Enter one of the brightly painted gates and follow your nose. Will you go for hearty nikuman (meat buns) and fried sesame balls, or perhaps some shumai (pork dumplings) and peking duck? In between snacks, you can explore tiny shops selling charms, lanterns, and traditional clothing. The Hotel New Grand is just two minutes’ walk from Chinatown and is, as the name suggest, quite lavish. For a more budget-friendly option, Yokohama Central Hostel has comfy dorm beds.
Queens, New York State, United States of America
Flushing's Chinatown is known for its shopping centre food courts
Flushing is undoubtedly NYC’s best Chinatown. All the way at the end of the number 7 line, this Queens neighbourhood is home to the largest Chinese population in the city – and the flavourful food is worth the trip alone. Be sure to hit up plenty of dumpling stands, tea houses, and bakeries, where you’ll find the best egg custard tarts in the city. NYC is nothing if not a beautiful mash-up, so don’t forget to try Korean BBQ and Indian food in these parts too. A stay in Long Island City positions you conveniently between Manhattan and Flushing – so you can divide your time between the two. Boutique-y Boro Hotel has skyline views in both directions.
Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu, Malaysia
Fried chicken and rice, Malaysian-Chinese style
It makes sense that this pretty seaside city has such a good-looking Chinatown. Many of the centuries-old shophouses have intricate wood carvings and bright murals painted on the alley walls, so be sure to bring your camera. There’s even a lane with a rainbow of umbrellas as a rooftop! But KT, as it’s often called, isn’t just about looking good. It’s a foodie city, and the heavenly seafood dishes extend to Chinatown’s narrow streets. After dinner, stroll two minutes to Jen Homestay, which has bright rooms and water views.
Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom
Some of Birmingham's best restaurants are in the Chinese Quarter
Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter is all about eating and entertainment. After an afternoon snack of Bubble tea and Hong Kong Black-forest cake, scout out your favourite restaurant on the winding market streets. There’s plenty to choose from, with Northern Chinese, Malaysian, and even chicken feet on menus here. The clubs start filling up after dinner, so you can party the night away – or head to the karaoke bars for a laugh. The spacious apartments of Aparthotel Adagio make a great base, and you’re only five minutes’ walk from the heart of the Chinese Quarter.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
The Chinatown Friday Night Market on Dixon Street makes for a tasty evening out
Sydney’s Chinatown centres around Dixon Street, lined by hawker stalls where you can walk and shop, with a traditional Paifang at each end. This is a good base for scoping out your next meal, with not only Chinese but dishes from all of Southeast Asia. For post-feast stroll, find the tree trunk sculpture by artist Lin Li – it was created in 1999 to bring good fortune to the Chinese community.
Amora Hotel Jamison has everything you need for a good pampering on your Sydney break – a day spa, swimming pool, and a bar with an extensive wine list.
**These destinations were chosen due to their popularity with Booking.com guests who endorsed the destinations for ‘Chinatown’, while the properties were chosen based on their Booking.com recommendation scores in each destination.