YOUR ESSENTIAL TRAVEL GUIDE TO THE CHATUCHAK MARKETS IN BANGKOK
I recently spent a few days in Bangkok and couldn’t help but fall in love. A colourful city packed with chaotic traffic and crowded streets, it offers the perfect blend of old and new Thailand. For tourists, it’s a melting pot of sightseeing, tradition, eating, shopping and exploring. It’s almost always sweltering hot and during monsoon season, it’s not unusual to see people walking through the heavy rain of an afternoon storm as though nothing is happening. One of the biggest draw cards to Bangkok is the Chatuchak Market. Spread over 35 acres with more than 8,000 stalls separated into 27 sections, Chatuchak is the largest market in Thailand, and one of the largest markets in the world. For some people, it’s their worst nightmare. For others, it’s a paradise full of treasures waiting to be discovered and bartered for. Whichever, arriving at the market can be quiet overwhelming and intimidating for the first time.
Whilst getting lost through the stalls is part of the charm, it does pay to have an action plan. With over 200,000 people visiting the markets each day (Saturday and Sunday) it’s very easy to get disoriented. To ensure you have the best time you will need to roll up your sleeves up and tackle each section with gusto. If you’re brave enough, I have created an essential travel guide to the Chatuchak Markets to ensure you don’t miss a thing!
HOW TO GET THERE Chatuchak is easily accessible by taxi or Sky Train (get off at Sapan Khwai Station or Mo Chit Station). I highly recommend both modes of transport, as they are just as equally easy to navigate.
Bonus Tip: Get to the market early! If you cant get there till the afternoon, avoid getting into a car or taxi during monsoon season. Whilst taxis are very cheap, you don’t want to be spending your valuable holiday sitting in bad traffic for up to two hours. Trust me. Always get the Sky Train!
WHEN TO GET THERE The market is open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 6am to 6pm. However some stalls set up earlier and leave later, it’s quite relaxed. My best tip is to get there early. Most stalls take a couple of hours to set up so I suggest arriving between 8am and 9am.
WHO TO GO WITH If possible, try and get a local to guide you through the market. I was lucky and had two friends show me the market. It also meant we didn’t miss out on eating the famous coconut ice cream! Meandering through the market unaided is a lot of fun as well. So roll your sleeves and get amongst it.
WHAT TO WEAR If you want to indulge in some vintage shopping, make sure you wear something light so you can try clothes on top. Most of the stalls don't have change rooms so I would suggest wearing a light summer dress for the girls!
WHAT TO TAKE I highly recommend wearing a backpack. By taking this, your hands will be free to grab and inspect items, you’ll be able to bundle up loads of vintage in your arms (more on that later) and its far easier when you need to pay for your treasures when handling cash. You also absolutely need to pick up a hand held paper fan before you arrive; whilst the stalls are mostly covered, they are incredibly hot and these offer a little respite from the sweltering heat.
You will also need water, lots of cool bottled water. There are plenty of stalls selling cold water, freshly squeezed juice, flavoured ice blocks, dragon fruit shakes, fresh coconuts and local Singha beer. However beer was the last thing I needed in that heat so I recommend sticking to water! Don’t worry if you run out quickly, there are literally drinks to choose from at every second stall - but do keep your fluids up! As with most markets around the world, stalls only accept cash, so remember organise cash before you arrive and bring lots of it.
HOW TO BARGAIN I am not the most confident person when it comes to bargaining at a market, but its mostly always expected so get in there and have a go. The general rule of thumb is to offer half the asking price and be flexible with going up to about three quarters of the asking price. Don’t be aggressive or too eager. And be prepared to walk away if you can’t agree on a price. I loved a vintage rock tee but the asking price was AUD$50. This was way above my budget but the stallholder wouldn’t budge, and either would I, so I walked away. Sometimes they may come after you with a better price, sometimes they won’t. The risk is yours!
CHOOSE YOUR SECTIONS At first, Chatuchak looks like a typical Thailand market – lots of fabrics, crafts, touristy souvenirs, and bits and pieces of household items, woodcarvings, silks, ceramic wares and furniture. However once you dig deep, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you uncover. Firstly, start at Gate 2! Here you will walk straight into Section 6.
Section 6: Vintage I was a bit skeptical about the quality and extent of vintage available at the market, but once I arrived and started walking through the stalls I was pleasantly surprised. I came across piles of denim jeans, cut offs and jackets, rock tees, logo tees and holiday tees, Hawaiian shirts, printed dresses and army jackets. The biggest surprise? Leather, and lots of it! It was hot, I was sweating, but I didn’t care. After roaming around for quite some time, I found an excellent stall and tried on jackets, skirts and pants. I ended choosing a beautiful leather mini skirt. And yes, it did seem very odd buying leather in the middle of monsoon season… The lady who owned the store showed me bags upon bags of leather vintage ready to be shipped to various vintage stores in Sydney! In case you want to find it, her stall number is 234 61/2.
Bonus Tip: There are hundreds of vintage stalls and they inevitably start looking the same. So if you see something you like, bargain for it on the spot. If you don’t I can guarantee you’ll forget where it was as soon as you walk away.
Section 5: Clothes After spending time unpicking the mountains of quality vintage, head on down to Section 5 where you’ll find more Asian style fashion. This is absolutely not my style but my Thai friends had a blast and I loved seeing their final purchases. It was a lot of fun!
Bonus Tip: In the hub of section five, walk to the outside area of the market and here you will find the best coconut ice cream stand. If you struggle to find it, just ask the people carrying around coconut shells filled with ice cream. After rummaging through Sections 5 and 6, you will want to reward yourself with something cool to eat.
Section 4: Gardening Sadly you won’t be able to clear any plants through customs but I am a bit of a green thumb and had a blast exploring this area. Cross over to Sections 18 and 20 for more variety.
Section 23: Food By now you will probably start feeling a little hungry, so head down to the food section where you’ll be able to find many different cuisines to choose from – stir fries, fresh vegetables, sweet local treats, more ice cream, coffee cakes, roasted pork and salads.
Section 24 to 26: Antiques, Homewares and Furniture Modern, eclectic, vintage, eastern – you name it. This section is a lot of fun and I could have spent hours there but sadly I was unable to take anything home with me to Australia. Worth it to explore though!
TRAVEL NOTES What: Chatuchak Market Where: Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok, Thailand When: All year round!