Writers: Rajvin Chawla & Jaspreet Narang
If there’s one thing you can be rest assured that Bangkok does well, its the markets. There are easily a 100 different markets all around town in Bangkok, and I’m not even exaggerating. As a tourist, choosing the right markets to go to can get quite challenging, so we’re here to help you out and give you a local insider perspective of our favourite 5 markets in Bangkok.
JJ or “Chatuchak” Market
No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market or Jatujak Market or JJ Market as it is more popularly known. Chatuchak market is Bangkok’s most famous open air weekend market and has become a tourist landmark on its own. The market covers almost 68 rai of land (approx. 35 acres) and boasts over 8,000 market shops and stalls. So as a tourist in my own city I went to check out the iconic JJ market one Sunday afternoon. The easiest way to get to JJ market is by train, be in the BTS Sky train at Mo Chit station or the MRT Kamphaeng Phet station (although there is a Chatuchak Station on the MRT line, most people are misled as the Chatuchak station exits into Chatuchak park and not the market itself). Once inside the belly of the beast I would suggest any and all visitors to grab a map of the market for any information counter. The map shows the sheer size and diversity of the market with almost 30 zones of products located in a sort of circular fashion around a lighthouse, which will eventually serve as a center point for your shopping compass. Apart from the expected variety of antiques, handicrafts, arts and paintings, spa products and incenses, souvenirs, ceramics, leather, clothing and home decoration; Chatuchak also offers a neat collection of vintage goods and the market even has a pet and exotic pet section where I was offered various pets such as sugar gliders, porcupines, snakes, turtles and I am sure if you look hard enough you might end up finding something that is on the endangered species list. The treatment and legality of these animals have often been debated and might be reason enough for animal lovers to avert the place. Shopping bags aside, the food stalls and shops displayed a variety of must try food and all I could do was hope that my appetite was matched by ability to digest the buffet of goodies displayed.
Exhausting as JJ is on one’s sole (and soul, as all men who have gone to JJ with their significant other will tell you); my tourist mission was not over until I walked the Talad Rot Fai as well.
In my search for the Talad Rot Fai or the Train Market (which to my disappointment upped and moved from its usual spot due to the ever changing facade of Bangkok’s ever growing BTS line) led me to stumble upon a local gem in the heart of Chatuchak, “JJ Green”, an upcoming night market located right behind Chatuchak Park. At first glance JJ Green felt like poor man’s JJ as the entrance to the market itself is laden with road vendors selling tidbits. However, once inside JJ green felt like an extension of JJ market minus the tourists. The market has a local hipster feel to it and is filled with live music bars and restaurants for visitors to therapeutically drink away all the accumulated JJ shopping guilt. My misadventure was rewarded with the discovery of JJ green and some well needed brews.
They say life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get, well the same can be said for Bangkok’s open air wholesale market in the heart of Chinatown, “Sampheng”. Tucked in between alleyways and sois, Sampheng market is an assortment of shops which manage to surprise visitors at every turn. At one point you might be going through shops selling girlie accessories, hair clips, headband earrings and handbags and the next shop might be selling heavy machinery and equipment, plastics and electrical supplies. Not only are the sights and sounds of Sampheng visually loud, the vividness and life on Chinatown coupled with the copious amount of food and the infamous Shark fin soup along Yaowarat road makes Sampheng market a sight to behold. Gold shops lined up along stationery shops and roadside food stalls with multicolored taxis, rumbling tuk tuk engines and the blurs of orange motorcycle taxis zipping by the sea of people shopping on carts pushed around make walking in Sampheng market an experience in itself. I once read on Lonely Planet (giving credit where credit is due), ‘that it takes a gymnast’s flexibility to squeeze past the pushcarts, motorcycles and other roadblocks’ and I think they got that bit spot on. So be prepared for a hot, sticky, pushy shopping and eating session in the heart of Chinatown.
I hated my alarm for waking me up at 3.45am, but I pulled my unwilling self out of bed, because I needed to see it to believe it. My crankiness vanished the moment I arrived at the flower market at 5:00am. The rush, the energy, the vibrant colors, and the loud screams from vendors and long-tail boat drivers were enough to peak my curiosity of Pak Klong Talad, also known as the Bangkok Flower Market. Surprisingly, 5:00am is the busiest time at this market. Fresh flowers are delivered before sunrise everyday on trucks and boats from neighboring provinces. Plastic bags, paper bags, foam boxes, cardboard boxes, ropes and strings line up along every alleyway as the uploading, unpacking, and shop set-up begins. Yellow is all around me, with bursts of bright blues, purples, reds, and pinks. I’m no flower expert, so unfortunately I won’t be able to name them. However, the assortment is exquisite, and I can confidently say there are millions of flowers in this confined space. Organized in an elaborate mess of mazes, there are plenty of surprises waiting to be discovered. The flower market also happens to connect to a huge fresh vegetable market, so if you have the time and the willpower, get yourself out of bed and go exploring here.
Unique to the culture of Thailand, floating markets are a sight to see. I’ve visited 3 floating different floating markets since I’ve lived here, all of which I have to admit aren’t the biggest or most popular ones, but on the bright side, they were authentic. Boats along the river are piled with fruits, vegetables, and food stalls (i.e. tom-yum, som-tum or noodle shops on boats), ready to take your order and serve up a meal along the riverside. These markets tend to open only during the weekends, but there are some exceptions, so be sure to do a bit of research on the floating market you plan to hit up, to know the exact opening days and hours! Since these markets are just as popular among the locals as they are the tourists, expect to be part of a massive crowd, wiggling your way through the streets alongside the river, where the boats are docked. In some floating markets (not all), you’ll be able to charter a long-tail boat ride, which can be a nice and relaxing getaway from the crowded spaces. Oh, and bring your bargain face on, because you will find yourself haggling with the shop keeps, especially if what you’re looking to buy is not food related.