Bangkok's Best Street Markets
Shopping is supreme in Bangkok, where sales fill the malls and every street sports a market, day or night - or around-the-clock. Yet even in this shopaholic city, a few markets stand out.
By Ron Gluckman/Bangkok
TWO MARKETS OF MENTION:
Chatachuk Weekend Market:
When and Where: Every Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., on the south side of Chatuchak Park; follow the signs from Mo Chit station of the new Skytrain. Or get out one stop before, at Saphan Khwai, and follow the tracks north, browsing amongst a hodge-podge of vendors who fill the sidewalk with old pictures, posters, coins, stamps, medals, Buddhist figurines and other collectibles.
Best Time: Mornings; it can be packed and hotter than a furnace by afternoon. Some stalls set up Friday, but weekends offer the genuine Chatachuk experience: huge crowds, lively chatter and cheap prices on everything from crafts and clothing to ceramics and woodcarving at what may be Asia's best market. It's definitely the biggest - featuring 10,000-15,000 stalls sprawling over a 70-acre site.
Best Dealers: Puk Thai Silk (Block 40) offers lovely silk scarves, both in Thai and Lao woven styles (500-5,000 baht); Hathasilk Mai Muang, nearby, serves up an astounding variety of wooden chopsticks (5 baht up), bamboo place-mats and wood serving bowls; Chinese Antiques (B 125, Soi 2) offers leather-covered opium pillows (wooden neck-rests used in old opium dens, many ornately decorated, 5,500-6,500 baht) along with Chinese art, pottery and figurines perfect for the mantle piece.
Who Goes: Matt Dillon and Angelina Jolie have shopped by, while filming in nearby Cambodia, and even Thai Princess Ubolratana browses. "Celebrities can blend into the shopping landscape and have as much fun bargaining, acquiring treasures, and meeting the locals as anyone else who visits Thailand," says Ron Krannich, author of travel-shopping guides to Thailand and a dozen other destinations (www.ishoparoundtheworld.com).
How to Pay: Cash with the smaller vendors, but a large number take credit cards; many levy a service charge of 3-5 percent.
How to Bargain: Haggling is essential (most vendors speak some English), says Nancy Chandler, a Thailand-based American who has been publishing maps to the market for 20 years. Cut the asking price in half for starters, she advises, but maintain a sense of humor and sportsmanship. "Thai shop keepers are usually delighted to participate in the ancient sport of bargaining."
Don't Miss: Handicrafts from around Thailand and the region, including great Burma lacquerware; a huge selection in section eight. And exquisite housewares of all kind: Nai Antique Shop (166, Zone C), rattan boxes, serving trays, picture frames and huge hampers (1,200-1,500 baht); GK Decoration (Section 9, Soi 1), huge selection of stainless steel cutlery and serving utensils, with hand-pounded plates and platters (1,000-4,500 baht).
Refueling: No problem, as this shopping metropolis has ample dining options. Try Café de Thongde, western sandwiches 30-50 baht and Thai salads, 65-80.
Getting it Back Home: Stalls selling large items like antique and furniture, can arrange shipping; likewise most of the houseware and handicraft stalls.
When and Where: Daily, noon-11 p.m., at Lumphini Park.
Best Time: After dark. Suan Lum calls itself Bangkok's "first official night bazaar;" it's cleaner and better organized than any others. Chandler (www.nancychandler.net), who also maps this market, says primetime is 7-9 p.m.
Best Dealers: Mekong Design (B65-66 and B74), antiques from China, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia, plus old ceramic jars, wood carvings and a huge assortment of Buddha statues; Clong Chang (C/109), beautiful Burmese lacquer, old photographs and nice hanging Chinese lanterns.
How to Pay: Cash at small stalls, but many take the range of major credit cards.
How to Bargain: Start low, but expect to settle for 20-30 percent of the asking price. "You will need some acting skills," suggests Chandler. "A poker face is very useful while looking so that your interest in any specific item is not too obvious."
Don't Miss: The herbal-organic soap and bathroom accessories vendors by the market entrance; gift-packs are ready-made presents. Also unique serving trays (250-300 baht) and hand-carved bowls (150-200) made of mango wood at aroma@home (B 22-23).
Refueling: Dozens of restaurants ring the market, but more fun is a central food plaza with scores of stands serving Thai treats like Pad Thai (noodles, sprouts, shrimp or chicken) grilled fish and salads, 35-80 baht per plate. Buy coupons and stroll around, picking out dishes and drinks. You redeem remaining coupons.
Getting it Back Home: Shops selling furniture and crafts can arrange shipping.
Ron Gluckman is an American reporter based in China, who has been roaming around Asia for over a decade for numerous publications, including Four Seasons Magazine, which ran this piece as part of a roundup of the best markets in the region in 2003.
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