We visit Bangkok for many reasons – the sumptuous Thai food; the luxury hotels; the stunning temples, and, on our way to the gorgeous white sand beaches that Thailand is so famous for.
But there is one particular place in Bangkok which surpasses almost all others of its kind across the globe. Chatuchak Market is huge, chaotic and confusing. The air is heavy with many tempting scents and strains of music ranging from classical Thai to dub reggae waft through the air. Welcome to Bangkok’s legendary weekend market.
What to expect at Chatuchak Market
Sprawling over an area of over 35 acres, most stalls tucked into tiny narrow sois (lanes) overspilling with produce, the market attracts over 200,000 shoppers, browsers and buskers to its 8000 stalls over Saturday and Sunday. And whether you’re looking for a customised motorcycle helmet, a pair of six-inch crushed velvet stilettos, a pampered puppy, a fake Fendi, a set of Beatles cushion covers, a shark’s-tooth amulet, or something else entirely, you are almost certain to find it (in a selection of colours, sizes and prices) here.
The three simple rules to shopping at Chatuchak market:
Rule 1: Know where you’re going
It is very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of lanes that is the Chatuchak Market. But help is at hand. Divided into 27 colour-coded sections, those seeking clothes should head for market sections 5 and 6, and then onward to sections 10 to 24. If you want to furnish your house with oriental furniture or hand printed bedspreads, you should make for sections 2 to 4, and, to peruse the antiques – of varying authenticities and provenances – to sections 22 to 26. Sections 8 and 9 deal exclusively in pets. Here you’ll also find baby chipmunks, tropical fish and songbirds galore. Trade in endangered species is banned globally and may attract stiff penalties, so be careful of what you buy.
Rule 2: If you love it, buy it
Should you find something you absolutely want to buy then do not keep it for later. Many a sorrowing weekend market shopper has tried to retrace his steps to the shop and found himself utterly lost. And, though landmarks such as the central market clock tower may help you orientate yourself somewhat, chances are a map of your exact wanderings after a day out at Chatuchak would resemble most closely a plate of pad thai noodles.
Rule 3: Learn to love bargaining
If you are a seasoned shopper then you are most probably well versed in the fine art of bargaining. Novices, however, please pay attention because we are about to impart an important lesson! Keep your bargaining cheerful, smiling and light-hearted, and the gentle back-and-forth of price negotiation (however much you might initially cringe at the idea) can become one of the most enjoyable elements of the entire experience. Keep plenty of cash in reserve (ATMs are few and far between) and you may well be able to negotiate two pairs of exquisitely-aged Levis for the initial asking-price of one.
Where to eat at the market
In your quest for the ultimate shopping experiences, you will, no doubt, expend a lot of energy. But refueling is easy. Slurp down a noodle soup with locals in one of the open-air stalls on the market’s perimeter, where dishes are served up still bubbling from vast cauldrons. Alternatively cool off with a pint of local Singha beer and a som tham (spicy papaya salad) in one of the market’s equally cool bars, or ask around to seek out a well hidden Thai tapas-style joint run by an ex-Thai Airways stewardess, whose yellow curries, sweet and sour soups, and fried catfish are simply out of this world.
Vegetarians, on the other hand, should make for organic-heavy Healthy Spice, whose rice noodle bowls are a perennial hit, or Wishing Well, where macrobiotic meals can frequently be accompanied by a tarot reading. Carnivores will have their fill perusing the manifold satay sticks, fried fish, barbeque rib and meatball stands stationed market-wide: perfect fuel for another few hours on the go.
This article was originally written by Amelia Thomas and first appeared on www.lonelyplanet.com in April 2011. It was refreshed in July 2012. To know more, see Lonely Planet India’s Thailand travel guide.