My little sister once famously said that “whoever said money doesn’t buy happiness was shopping in the wrong stores.” (And that was before a Gossip Girl character famously uttered a similar phrase.) I knew then that she couldn’t leave Bangkok, already a shopper’s mecca, without visiting the Holy Grail: The Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Have you ever seen a happier shopper?
Bangkok is famous for both its dozens of chaotic markets, reminders of a different era, and its miles of gleaming upscale shopping malls, a beacon of the future. Being a bargain and spectacle lover, the markets are much more interesting to me (though I certainly won’t turn my nose up at an air-conditioned afternoon at Siam Paragon.) Each Bangkok market has its own unique personality, but most famous and formidable of them all is the aforementioned Chatuchak. So on my shopping-maven sister’s last day in Thailand, we were off to the market.
The statistics surrounding Chatuchak, also known as JJ’s (an abbreviation of its Thai name) are staggering: 35 acres of land and holding more than 15,000 stalls, visited by over 200 thousand people each weekend.
The variety of goods for sale is equally overwhelming. From clothing and accessories to ceramics and art, from animals and pet accessories to home decor and furniture, from typical tourist souvenirs to plants and gardening tools, you can literally find it all at Chatuchak. And the goods for sale aren’t the only source of entertainment- there are buskers and street performers vying for spare baht along the main sois.
All that shopping can work up a real appetite, and Chatuchak delivers on that front as well. Street vendors hawk cold drinks, 5 baht popsicles and other snacks while mini sit-down restaurants serve more hardy (or, in the case above, hearty!) fare.
So how does one tackle such a bewildering place? Answer: You don’t. My first to Chatuchak consisted mainly of wandering around aimlessly, absorbing the culture and the atmosphere and occasionally buying something I had not previously realized was sorely missing from my life. I had no idea which area I was in or what I was doing or, by the end of it, what my name was, but I walked away in love with the experience. My second time, with my sister and friends Zoe and Tom, I felt a little bit more confident. I tried in vain to be aware of my location but ended up getting lost anyway in the labyrinth of stalls. Still, I managed to seek out a few sections I was interested in seeing, like pets and animals.
I am a devoted animal lover and so I have mixed feelings about what I found. Dogs in tiny cages, cats too small to be away from their mothers, reptiles being sold like accessories. I want to make it clear that these photos aren’t meant to glamorize the conditions these animals are in, which can be somewhat shocking to Western visitors. Still, I must say I see similar conditions in suburban mall pet stores in the US, so it happens everywhere. In fact, just like with US pet stores, it is not recommended to purchase the animals for sale at Chatuchak. Often, according to my vet friend on Koh Tao, they are very ill at the time of sale.
Still, the variety and display and amount of animals for sale is unreal. During my weekend in Koh Pha Ngan last year I even met a man who purchased a pet alligator at Chatuchak.
Most infamous are the costumes that vendors use in an attempt to make their animals a bit cuter (as if that were possible!)
While you might not be after a baby sugar glider as a pet, you’ll certainly find something at Chatuchak that’s worth purchasing, so don’t be afraid to get your haggling on! Bargaining is not only accepted but expected at Chatuchak. Keep in mind that this market has increased in notoriety and tourist popularity over the years, so these aren’t the most dirt-cheap deals available on the planet. However, they are leaps and bounds better than anything you would pay in the Western World. (Just wait ’till tomorrow’s post where I show some of our finds!) So put on your game face and get ready to haggle, but also to walk away if you aren’t getting the deal you desire. Remember in Thailand that a friendly smile goes further than you could ever imagine, even in the midst of cut-throat negotiations.
As I mentioned before, it can seem daunting to try to “conquer” Chatuchak. Still, through the chaos there is some semblance of order. There is one main walkway circling the market and branching off into numbered alleyways (Soi 1, Soi 2, etc). The alleyways are grouped into 27 sections, though each section might hold a variety of different goods. So the system is fairly useless for finding, say, all the vendors that sells pet crocodiles, though it may help you locate where you are when you really need to use the bathroom. Free maps are available at the visitor’s center, and the clock tower in the center can serve as a useful visual reference.
Still, if you are looking for a particular category of item, it at least helps to have a rough idea of where to start looking. And while it’s impossible to list everything for sale at Chatuchak, the majority of goods can be roughly rounded up as the following:
- Clothing & Accessories (sections 2-6, 10-26)
- Handicrafts (sections 8-11)
- Ceramics (sections 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 25)
- Furniture and Home Decoration (sections 1,3,4,7,8)
- Food and Beverage (sections 2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 26, 27)
- Art and Gallery (section 7)
- Pets and Pet Accessories (sections 8, 9, 11, 13)
- Books (sections 1, 27)
- Antiques and Collectibles (sections 1, 26)
- Miscellaneous and Used Clothing (sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 25, 26)
Those looking for trendy clothing from hip young Thai designers should head to sections 2-4 where trendy boutiques stretch on for miles. This is where we spent the majority of our time and where almost all our purchases were made.
Visiting Chatuchak can keep even the most shopping-phobic travelers entertained for a day. A few things to keep in mind when you visit:
- Chatuchak gets HOT! Wear light and comfortable clothing and shoes.
- Bring a backpack or other re-usable bag for your purchases. The rampant abuse of plastic bags at this market is enough to send any tree-hugger into a coma.
- Bring enough baht (most vendors to not accept cards) and bring it in small bills. It helps to haggle when you can hand over the exact amount you want to pay.
- While this market is eons safer than comparable ones in, say, Vietnam, you still need to beware of pickpockets and watch your belongings.
- Pick up a free maps from one of the information kiosks… even if you just plan to wander, it will help you find your way out after!
To get there, hop on the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit station, take Exit No. 1 and follow the crowds! Those not on the skytrain line can take the MRT subway to Chatuchak Park station, take Exit No.1, then follow the crowd until arriving at the minor entrance leading into the market’s clothing section. The market is opens on Saturdays and Sundays at 9am and closes at 6pm. Plant sections are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 7am to 6pm.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the dirt cheap fashions I walked away with! Happy shopping!