Chatuchak Market in Bangkok offers an array of clothes, jewelry and accessories for sale. // © 2014 Chatuchak.org
Feature image (above): The market is one of the largest in the world, covering approximately 35 acres. // © 2014 Chatuchak.org
Chatuchak Market in Bangkok was once popular only among wholesalers, but has grown into a worldwide tourist destination for the masses. As Thailand’s largest outdoor market — in addition to being one of the largest in the world — it covers approximately 35 acres, is divided into 27 sections and holds more than 15,000 booths selling various types of merchandise. About 200,000 people visit Chatuchak Market each day.
Open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Chatuchak Market offers a unique shopping experience unlike any other. Be prepared to set aside at least half a day to shop here; a full day is ideal if you have the time. Whether you’re looking for handcrafted Buddhist amulets, the latest fashions or fresh livestock, you’re guaranteed to find all that you’re looking for and more at the best prices that Bangkok has to offer.
A Brief History
Chatuchak Market’s origins can be traced back to the late prime minister of Thailand, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who originally came up with the idea of establishing a flea market. Bangkok’s first-ever flea market took root in Sanam Luang, a public square, before relocating to Saranrom Palace.
After eight years in its second location, the market was then moved back to its original location at Sanam Luang due to limited space. That same year, the Thailand government issued a policy turning Sanam Luang into a public park that would host the 200-year anniversary of Bangkok in 1982 — the same year that Chatuchak Market officially opened its doors. The changed name was due to its proximity to Chatuchak Park, where it later moved to and still stands today.
Getting to and from Chatuchak Market is extremely convenient. If you’re taking the SkyTrain, get off at Mo Chit. From there, it’s only a five-minute walk to the market. Almost all of the bus lines make a stop at Mo Chit as well, and if you venture via taxi or tuk-tuk, simply tell the driver that you are headed to Suan Jatujak (i.e., Chatuchak Park).
How to Bargain
Keep your cash close, and be prepared to bargain according to the universal rule: Divide the first offer by two, then pay an additional 25 percent on top of that. For example, if the original price is 100 baht, offer 50 and ultimately, expect to pay around 75.
Some vendors are trickier than others, but if you don’t appear too eager and are willing to walk away, you’re more likely to get a good deal.
Where to Go
Chatuchak Market may seem a little daunting at first, but from my personal experience, wandering around and taking the occasional detour is part of the adventure. Hint: The clock tower serves as the center point for the market. You can also download a map of the entire place from Chatuchak Weekend Market’s website, in the event that you want to organize your journey from start to finish.
Section 1 houses amulets, books and collectibles, as well as numerous food shops and a cafe. Sections 2 through 4 sell mostly home decor, paintings and ceramics (more are sold in sections 17 and 19 as well).
You’ll find everything from McDonald’s memorabilia and multicolored enamelware to Coca-Cola and Pepsi glasses, along with other household goods such as pillows, blankets, lamps and wicker furniture. There is also a botanical garden that sells everything from gardening tools and fertilizer to full-grown mango and guava trees, fresh off the farm.
Sections 5-6, 10-24
This is where the bulk of clothing, jewelry and other accessories can be found. Vendors offer everything from imitation designer bags to secondhand Levi’s jeans, along with T-shirts, hats and merchandise bearing images of late rappers, popular American logos and everything in between.
You can also find fresh meat (e.g., boar, deer and tortoise) for sale, as well as fresh or dried fruits and vegetables, along with Chatuchak’s famous kapi shrimp paste (available in section 22).
There is also a section for livestock and pets, where you can purchase elite canine breeds including Poodles, Boxers and Saint Bernards, along with Thai and Persian felines, birds, fish, tree snakes and iguanas. Vendors also sell pet accessories, and the market has an on-site vet clinic.
Sections 7-9, 22-26
There are plenty of Thai antiques, handicrafts and Buddhist relics for sale, although the majority of them can be found in Section 26. Shop for cabinets, beds and decorative pieces with Buddha’s image plastered across them.
The final stop on your long shopping journey, this last section consists mostly of books, food and dessert shops, along with some collectibles. The collection of books is astounding and features school textbooks; philosophy books; and Thai, Chinese and English novels, magazines and journals.
A local once told me that at Chatuchak Market, it is possible to find both the latest book to hit the stalls as well as ancient literature that is hundreds of years old.
Food and Drink
Chatuchak Market is home to more than 400 food shops and stalls. Satisfy cravings for spicy Vietnamese food or Muslim curry dishes at various food vendors located throughout the different sections.
For more of a sit down dining experience, head on over to the “Dream Section,” which has limited seating for patrons who want to look over a menu and be tended to by a waiter. Having spent the majority of the day on my feet, it was nice to sit down and rest while sipping on an iced Thai tea — before resuming my shopping marathon.
Other food stops I recommend include the Japanese food in Section 3; the noodle shops and southern Thai dishes in Section 19; and the array of fun desserts and take-home snacks including Lod Chong Nam Krathi (i.e., tapioca flour noodle in sweet coconut milk), Thong Yib (i.e., pinched golden egg yolk) and Khanom Chan (i.e., a layered jelly dessert) that are available in the Dream Section.