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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.

Chatuchak Market BangkokHave 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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

Most infamous are the costumes that vendors use in an attempt to make their animals a bit cuter (as if that were possible!)

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Map

via chatuchak.org

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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!

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

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.

Chatuchak Market Bangkok

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post about the dirt cheap fashions I walked away with! Happy shopping!

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18 comments… add one

  • Margaret
    April 7 2012

    Hey Wandering Guru – I leave for Costa Rica in a few days! What can you tell me? We are staying in the Manuel Antonio National park and so far my to do list only includes Canyoning.
    Thanks!
    Love, Margaret

    • Alex
      April 9 2012

      Gosh- it’s been so long since I’ve been to Costa Rica I can barely remember the details of what we did. So sad it was in my pre-blogging days! I know Arenal Volcano is a popular stop, but it looks like its about 3 hours from where you are staying. We also took a day trip to Tortuga Island, which was stunning and left from Puntarenas, not too far from you. This place made for a really nice day trip with waterfalls and botanical gardens and such. Oh! Also really cool was Poás Volcano National Park. Guess I remember more than I thought! Have fun and take lots of photos….

  • Emma
    April 7 2012

    I love that place…it’s one of the things I miss most about Thailand. I have such good memories of just wondering around and coming out with bags full of goodies, lots of which I still have 5 years later. And there used to be a tiny little corner that was full of used English books that you could buy for about 10-20 baht, a necessity in those pre-kindle days!
    I can’t wait for your next post to see what you bought!

    • Alex
      April 9 2012

      Oh my goodness, I am still a Kindle holdout and Mark has threatened to kill me in the past for how many books I put in our bags when traveling. I just can’t stand the thought of being without something to read!

  • soni
    April 7 2012

    Nice article, I hope I get something from this market!

    • Alex
      April 9 2012

      I’m sure if you get there you will not be able to walk out empty handed!

  • Andrea
    April 7 2012

    Those elephant paintings are gorgeous! I’m planning on going to Bangkok next year–do you have any recommendations for hostels? Love your blog! :)

    • Alex
      April 9 2012

      Hi Andrea, congrats on planning your trip! You are going to love it. I don’t have any specific recommendations in Bangkok- I stay with friends whenever possible- but the main backpacker hangout is Khao San Road. If you’re looking for something a little different though I recommend staying in the Sukhumvit area. Great restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and public transit access!

  • Jay
    July 9 2012

    I’ve been there once, taking BTS from my hotel to Mo Chit Station and the market was there. Very crowded but also very interesting. I loved the pet zones, all the puppies made me crazy as I wanted to have them all LOL.

    Anyway, I ended up buying some clothes and they are very cheap.

    • Alex
      July 10 2012

      Yes, one thing I love about the market is it is very convenient to reach from public transit!

  • Deenise
    November 15 2012

    Hi there! I really like the quirky and earnest style of writing! Great photos too!

    • Alex
      November 15 2012

      Thanks Deenise :) Glad to have you as a reader!

  • David @ That Gay Backpacker
    December 2 2012

    Alex – this market looks bloody awesome. The boutiques look like they are right up my street. Can’t wait to visit when I’m in Bangkok – less than a month now! :)
    David @ That Gay Backpacker recently posted..5 Places for a Daytime Date in East London

    • Alex
      December 3 2012

      Bangkok has some unbelievable markets… check out my post on the Vespa market as well, it’s a must-do!

  • Jade
    December 6 2012

    Alex, thank you for this blog!! Your tales and photos get me so excited to start my travels ahh!! Anyway, now that I’m done fangirl-ing, I was basically wondering if it was better to make a full day of it or if i could still explore tonnes starting at 1pm (I land in bangkok at 11 on the 19th (of Jan) and want to try make my way down – not sure whether this may be too ambitious for day 1….)

    • Alex
      December 11 2012

      Hi Jade, thank YOU so much for reading! :) You could definitely get a sense of Chatuchak in an afternoon, considering how overwhelming it is a full day might be too much for some people. However, it depends on where you are coming from and how long the flight is — you might be totally jetlagged!

  • Naf
    August 24 2013

    Ah! Totally love your blog. I’m going to Bangkok within like 10 days! I’m so excited.
    I just wanna know how much should i take when visiting much markets?
    and also, whats the price ranges of tops and bags and pretty stuffs like that?

    • Alex
      August 25 2013

      Hey Naf, check out this post to see some of the stuff we walked away with and how much we paid for it! Also, there are ATMs at the entrance of the market so don’t worry about running out of cash :)

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