Dragonul Rosu: Bucharest’s Chinatown

We’ve discussed Bucharest’s Chinatown on these pages before, although until this week we have to admit to never having been there.

With our father-in-law in town however, keen to find the source of Romania’s cheapest socks, we decided that a visit to the much-fabled Dragonul Rosu in Colentina, often referred to as Bucharest’s Chinatown, was in order.

Dragonul Rosu, Chinatown Bucharest

You may remember that Dragonul Rosu was opened earlier this year with great fanfare by Romanian Prime Minister, Little Emil Boc. (Have you ever noticed how the same politicians who rush to open things are never quite so keen on attending closing ceremonies? We doubt for example that Boc will be cutting any ribbons when Nokia closes the doors of its Cluj factory for the last time next month).

Dragonul Rosu is to be found at the end of Bucharest, in the suburb of Voluntari.

[mappress mapid=”39″]

Getting there is best done by car, but there is a free minibus from Costin Georgian metro station, and even trains from Gara de Nord (one per day) and Bucur Obor (four per day): Dragonul Rosu has its own station (officially called Pantelimon Sud).

Dragonul Rosu - Pantelimon Sud Station
Dragonul Rosu (Pantelimon Sud) Station

The timetable of the trains stopping at Dragonul Rosu / Pantelimon Sud station is here.

However you arrive, the first thing that you will probably notice about Bucharest’s Chinatown is that it is about as Chinese as Ghana.

Certainly, many of the merchants who sell their wares here are Chinese, and we would guess that 99 per cent of the goods sold here come from China. But if you are expecting an authentic Chinese experience however, forget it.

(Please note that by ‘authentic’ we are not talking about daft pagodas and dragon statues and such nonsense, but instead good, cheap Chinese eateries, grocery stores and the like).

Never having been here before we excitedly headed to the Chinese Supermarket expecting to find all sorts of freshly imported Chinese produce and were somewhat disappointed to find a rather limited selection of frozen, dried and canned ingredients. (We should add that we did spend a bit of money here, on some things you can’t find elsewhere in Romania, such as rice noodles with aniseed and some highly pungent dried mushrooms, but we left the supermarket feeling somewhat let down).

The rest of the enormous site (and it is enormous) is given over to a number of warehouses inside of which is the biggest selection of Made in China toys, clothes and shoes you are likely to find anywhere in Europe.

Made in China
Made in China

Unfortunately for the bargain-hunter, however, most merchants only sell en gros. Quite why anyone would want to buy ten children’s ski jackets is beyond us, unless of course they have ten kids all of the same size. A few of the stores will sell piecemeal (la bucata), but you need to hunt around a bit.

Other things worth noting:

There are No Smoking: Danger of Fire signs everywhere, but in practice smoking appeared to be compulsory.

The whole place closes at the ridiculously early time of 2pm each day. On Sundays it is closed all day.

Our father-in-law reported that the fishing supplies section is first class, cheap, and that everything is available piecemeal.

So is Bucharest’s Chinatown it worth a trip? Yes, for the sheer scale of the place and for the bedlam of it all if nothing else.

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  • Dina

    The new Chinatown in Afumati actually has a website: http://www.chinatownromania.ro/

    • Looks like Dragonul Rosu with a few tacky pagodas…

  • Parmalat

    I’m @ James Joyces’s in search of fish & chips but fish & chips is not available today so I got myself a burger and a beer.

    Wonderful burger 😀

  • Ayce

    That is not Chinatown. The Chinatown that Boc inaugurated (too early if I may say so) is in Afumați, and it’s different from Dragonul Roșu, which is just a place for en-gros commerce. At Chinatown they have yet to build the living quarters.

    • So what is at the Afumati Chinatown? I can see that I need to go there…

      • Ayce

        Presently, not much, it’s still only past Phase 1, but I’ll keep a look out for news bytes. Whenever they finish the whole thing, it will certainly be all over the news that day.

  • Parmalat

    It wasn’t developed for the average visitor in the first place.

    Dragonul Rosu is where small businesses from allover the country come to buy their supplies so most vendors have wholesale prices and they only do wholesale.

    I think it opens around 4 o’clock in the morning in order for people coming from across the country to fill their vans and leave back for their towns so that they’ll be able to replenish their stocks of merchandise before regular business hours.

    The premises had lived to see better days, especially 8-10 years ago when tax evasion was rampant and so was the sale of counterfeit merchandise (perfumes, glasses, clothes, shoes, bags etc…). I’ve been there last time about 3 months ago and the place looked deserted compared to how it used to be.

    Many merchants were driven away by raids from the police and Garda Financiara who would confiscate merchandise and issue fines in the tens of thousands of lei. Not even the prices are what they used to be a few years ago, when I could rate most products as “cheap -> dumping” while nowadays I would rate them as “acceptable -> cheap”.

    And while you can still find some fake merchandise between regular merchandise, the quality and quantity are obviously nowhere near what they used to be 10 years ago. Back then you could find fake jeans and shirts of stunning quality and almost everywhere, but nowadays nobody would risk, they will only bring cheap fakes and if the customs confiscate them the loss is small.

    A few years ago the fakes from Dragonul Rosu were sold even at Unirea Shopping Center, I remember I bought 2 fake GFF long sleeve t-shirts which I now use as pajamas but their quality is stunning, they’re hardly different from the time when I bought them. Now if you want to buy fakes of that quality you have to buy them from China cause nobody will import them by the container anymore.

    • But if you are a shop merchant from somewhere in Romania, why would you buy from Dragonul Rosu? If you want to buy wholesale from China why not get it direct from the importer, or direct from China?

      • Jeroen

        Quantity and ease. Lots of traders only want small amounts and can’t import things by the container from China which requires planning and advance payments.
        In Johannesburg there are at least 6 massive warehouse complexes on the city rim, all named ‘China Mall’ or the like, selling to traders from across southern Africa; there are special multi-day bus services from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Namibia to Johannesburg only for that purpose, arriving early morning and staggering back to their home countries late afternoon laden with bags of Chinese wares. Big, big business.

      • Parmalat

        Indeed, big Chinese importers prefer to sit more to the back and allow wholesellers to do the selling. I’m sure you noticed the wholesellers are both Chinese and Romanian.

        Quantity is the reason for which small business owners prefer to buy from Dragonul Rosu, Jeroen is right.

        But if you want to meet the big Chinese importers, look for them in the casinos 😀

        • Mr Rearguard

          Can you get a decent massage from a Chinese sort?

          • Parmalat

            They’re not exactly in their 20s so I wasn’t that eager to try :))