There are many things – some wonderful, some wayward – that bring visitors to Bangkok. The sumptuous Thai food, the luxury hotels, the stunning temples, and not too far from the city, there is access to gorgeous white sand beaches.
But there is
one particular place in Bangkok which surpasses almost all others of its kind across
the globe. Huge, chaotic and confusing, suffused with tempting scents,
whirligig colours and the strains of music ranging from classical Thai to dub
reggae, Bangkok’s weekend Chatuchak Market is the market to end all markets.
incredible 35 acres of shopping, most stalls tucked into tiny narrow sois (lanes) overflowing with produce,
the weekend market attracts some 200,000 shoppers, browsers and buskers each
Saturday and Sunday to its roughly 8,000 stalls. And whether you are 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).
There are three
simple rules to shopping at the market: first, know where you are headed since,
though wandering is half the fun, dedicated shoppers will want to make sure
they hit their targets. 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. Anyone interested in decking out their home in Eames-inspired furniture
or hand printed bedspreads should make for sections 2 to 4, and, to peruse the
antiques – of varying authenticities and provenances - on offer, 22 to 26. If
you are seeking a rhinestone collar for your poodle or Pomeranian, check
sections 8 or 9 (where you will also find baby chipmunks, tropical fish and
songbirds galore); green-fingered visitors, meanwhile, might be keen to stroll
through sections 3 and 4, where tropical plants run riot.
you find something you absolutely cannot live without, do not make the mistake
of deciding you will pop back for it later. Many a sorrowing weekend market
shopper has found — to their peril — that upon attempting to retrace their
steps through the labyrinthine lanes, that perfect little floral dress or
hand-made candelabra has apparently vanished into the heady market air, never
to be seen again. 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.
seasoned Chatuchak shopper knows it is crucial to embrace the art of bartering.
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) since
that perfect pair of vintage Nikes may suddenly be available at a 50% discount;
those cute bubblegum-pink sandals might become as affordable as they are
covetable; and you may well be able to negotiate two pairs of exquisitely-aged
Levis for the initial asking-price of one.
all that commerce has worked up a decent appetite, visitors to Chatuchak are
faced with an equally bewildering selection of dining and drinking options. 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, whose 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, before heading homeward, arms heavily laden, to refresh, relax, and
perhaps regroup for a second Chatuchak shopping spree on Sunday.
The article 'Saturday at Bangkok’s Chatuchak market' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.