From the beginning, the centre of the Chinese community was Sampheng Lane,near the heart of today’s Chinatown. At the turn on of the century, the area was infamous for its vices – gambling, prostitution and opium – and a point of interest for almost all visitors. The two story shop-houses that lined the street would become the standard Bangkok-style dwelling, spreading far into Siam’s provincial cities.
The green lanterns of Sampheng’s many brothels achieved nationwide notoriety, and the phrase “woman of Sampheng” became an epithet for a prostitute. Ernest Young describes the scene in The Kingdom of the Yellow Robe, 1898.
The one truly native quarter is a long narrow bazaar known as Sampheng. It is about a mile and a quarter in length, and contains a very mixed population of Indians, Siamese, and Chinese.
This long, narrow bazaar… is not without its own attractions. Here are gathered together specimens of all the native produce, and here too work a few exponents of each of the native crafts. Blacksmiths and weavers are plying their several trades; workers in gold and silver are fashioning boxes and ornaments for the rich, and the lapidaries are polishing stones for the jewelers to set.
Peep-shows and open-air theatres tempt the idle to linger, and numbers of busy toilers jostle each other as they make their way to and fro over the uneven, roughly paved foot-path. At night, the shops are closed, but the gambling-houses, opium-dens, and brothels are thronged by the lowest of the low.
Souce: Tales of old Bangkok, Chris Burslem