Bangkok’s sprawling Chatuchak (or Jatujak) weekend markets is, for some, the absolute idea of hell. But if you really dig in and, importantly, know where to look, you’ll be dumbstruck by the utterly amazing and unique pieces you can find. Spread over 27 sections (more than 110,000 square m or 35 acres), the market is one of the biggest in the world, and surely must rival the Souks in Morocco for its ability to completely confuse you.
On the surface it’s what you might typically find in a market in Thailand – mass reproduced Hmong fabrics, teak furniture and embroidered handicrafts, as well as mountains of simple household items which draw in the locals, however, if you roll your sleeves up and hit the right areas in this maze of stalls, you’ll be spoilt for choice. After going there a few times, here are my tips for getting out of the markets alive (with a bundle of goodies).
Choose your section wisely. As I mentioned, the market is made up of 27 sections with similar products co-located together, if you set off in the wrong direction and find yourself in section 9 for example (household appliances) you’ll be knee deep in toasters, your face will melt off and you’ll be ready to retire to your hotel quicker than you can say ‘taxi’. My favourite sections have to be 5 and 6 for clothes (6 is where you will find all the vintage stalls), and sections 22 – 26 for homewares and antiques.
Vintage vintage vintage. Generally the clothing and accessories being sold are similar to what you’ll find in most Asian markets (cute, girly and often frustratingly one size), and for that reason I think it’s best to hone in on the vintage on offer. I was absolutely awestruck by the amount and quality of vintage pieces in Section 6 – mountains of levi’s from the 70’s, enough vintage bomber jackets to sink the titanic, reworked dresses and skirts, rack upon rack of Hawaiian shirts, distressed denim jackets, logo tees by the arm load – I could go on all day. Apparently there are more than 400 stalls in section 6 selling vintage, including lots of mens pieces as well as women’s. A true hipsters dream!
You won’t visit the same store twice. You might think you have but no doubt you will have wandered miles from where you originally were. So if you like something, bargain, and then buy it.
Stay hydrated. You won’t believe how hot the aluminum sheds can get (even if the humidity of BKK hasn’t managed to ruffle your feathers), so keep up the fluids, and when you’re done stop off for a drink at Illy Bar for a cold Singha or pitchers of margaritas. The Saturday afternoon/night we were there the locals randomly staged a runway show, drag queens and all, they simply rolled a red carpet out onto the road and went for it. It’s those completely unplanned moments that you remember the most.
After hours. I noticed that after hours the pedestrianised roadways around the market came alive with jewelry and clothing sellers, obviously those people wanting to avoid the cost of an actual stall – and lots of them had great stuff. Although the markets are supposed to close at 7pm, I found when we left around 9 they was still a bit of action.
Bargain. Although not entirely perfect, the universal ‘half the first offer and then expect to get to somewhere around 2/3 0 3/4’ is a pretty safe bet, although the rules of ‘dont let your eagerness show , ‘know the most you will pay’ and ‘be prepared to walk away’ are also useful.
Eating. There are loads of food stalls around the markets, with roasted pork being a delicacy of choice. If you’re looking to take a load off, head to the food stalls on the outer edge of the market (just outside from section 6), grab a salad or a stir fry and eat it in Chatuchak park. Perfect way to relax.
Other stuff. Bring cash – you’re going to need lots of it. Also, catch the sky train to Mo chit, and arrive by ten when stalls start setting up to enjoy the market pre-crowd.
For those of you who are interested in what I picked up, I bought a whole heap of high waisted Levi’s which will be perfect for turning into cut offs and embellishing for summer, two totally out there bomber jackets, a vintage nike logo tee and a mickey mouse tee. I could have bought so much more but I would have needed a forklift to get it home. If you’ve been to the market and have some insight, I would love to hear!