Bangkok’s famous shopping destination Chatuchak is not a mall so please don’t go expecting a lovely air-conditioned mini-vacation from the heat. The Chatuchak Weekend Market, also known as J.J., is more like a city, covering 35 acres of land. A chaotic jumble of more than 5,000 stores, stalls and tiny outdoor restaurants squeezed in between vendors this is, without question, one of my favourite places in Bangkok.
Our lovely friend Jenny, from our Mexico days, volunteered to take us on our first trip. This was an especially generous offer as Chatuchak is some people’s idea of hell on earth. It doesn’t need to be, though, if you follow some very simple suggestions.
1. Go early in the morning
Aim to arrive at Chatuchak at around 9:15 a.m. Most shops will be open or just opening by then.
2. Take the MRT (Underground)
Get off the squeaky clean and efficient underground system, known as the MRT, one stop after Station Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the market. If you take the BTS (sky train) and get off at the Mo Chit Station, you will have a bit of a walk to reach the market and you will not to arrive at Chatuchak sweaty.
3. Hydrate often
You can take a bottle of water with you or buy bottled water at the market.
5. Bring a map (and a list of things you are looking for)
Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok has a section devoted to Chatuchak. The market is so enormous that in four hours, we covered less that one quarter of the market. The map will also help you plan your shopping route as it is labeled with different types of stores such as furniture and ceramics.
The vendors will expect you to barter. Take a moment and think about what this item is worth and what you are willing to pay for it. Have some fun but always be respectful of the vendor as this is his/her livelihood.
8. Take a break to eat
About noon, I was feeling a bit market-weary, so we chose a little restaurant situated under a cluster of trees. We sampled the pad thai (with chicken, no shrimp, please) and, as the orders were large, we shared two plates between the three of us. More amazing pad thai! This was also a good opportunity to rest under the cool shade of the trees.
9. Enjoy your day
Stop and watch a man doing magic tricks with carnation milk. Ask the vendor some questions about where his/her goods were made… and how. Take photographs. This is some of the best people-watching I have encountered in Thailand.
10. Know when it is time to go home
We hopped in a taxi at about 1:30 p.m. We had bought a set of dishes, drinking glasses, a large painting on four panels for our dining room and numerous other precious bits so we hired a woman with a cart to take our purchases down the road to the taxi stand.