If you’re in Bangkok over a weekend, add Chatuchak market to your itinerary. Covering 35 acres, it offers more than 10,000 vendors selling everything from clothing and art to live plants and pets every Saturday and Sunday. The variety of merchandise is staggering, and the low prices can be haggled even lower.
Resist the urge to buy the first thing you lay eyes on, since you’ll likely find several other shops selling exactly the same thing. The further you travel into the market, the better the prices can be.
The exceptions to this are the vendors selling handmade items, like the linen blouse I bought for $15. The embroidery was extremely well done, and the shop owner proudly told me that the women in her village spend as long as two weeks making each one. At such a low price, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a discount on two weeks’ work. It may have just been a sales tactic, but somehow I believed her, and it still felt like I’d gotten a bargain.
Some of Chatuchak’s wares are made on site at the market, and others can be customized on the spot. Samantha and I picked up several personalized items from Fantom Handmade including journals, key fobs, and wallets as gifts.
You’ll also find food vendors at the market offering Thai delicacies that include grilled satay skewers, freshly squeezed juices, and coconut ice cream with toppings like red beans and corn, which is a surprisingly good combination.
Not all of Chatuchak’s food vendors serve Thai dishes, however. One of the notable exceptions is Viva 8, where you’ll get dinner and a show, so to speak. Viva 8’s Spanish chef cooks massive pans of paella on the sidewalk as a live DJ spins music for the crowds that gather to watch. “A smile needs no words,” read the painting behind him, which he occasionally took off the wall and happily waved at those taking photos and videos of the performance.
As Samantha and I watched the crowd from the shade of Viva 8, we began talking to three American women who’d stopped to have a drink. One of them had been living in Bangkok for the past six years, and she gave us several recommendations for things to do while we’re in town. One suggestion was for a nighttime food tour by tuk-tuk, the three-wheeled auto rickshaws that serve as Thai taxis.
The shops of Chatuchak are divided into 27 sections, and a map will help you find exactly what you want if you’re searching for something specific. The real fun of the market, though, is wandering the labyrinth and discovering things you never knew you needed or wanted in the first place.
If you go, be sure to bring a backpack or zippered tote bag to carry your purchases. You’ll also want to bring your own toilet paper, since it isn’t provided in the restrooms, which you must pay two baht (roughly $0.06 USD) to access. Bottled water and snacks are plentiful, so there’s no need to bring those with you.
Be aware of your surroundings at the market since pickpocketing is possible, and consider wearing a money belt under your clothes to stash your larger bills and credit cards. I found it useful to put my money in several different pockets so I could pull out smaller amounts as I was negotiating. If salespeople see you have lots of cash, they’re less likely to drop their prices.
Chatuchak is quite a maze, and it can be easy to get lost. When you arrive, use your cell phone to drop a pin on the map in case you need to find your way back to where you started.
Today’s expat evaluation: +1 for variety of vendors, +1 for bargains, -1 for crowds