Outdoor shopping hot spots offering everything under the sun (or moon)
From the moment you arrive in Bangkok you just know that you are in for the shopping trip of a lifetime. Internationally recognized brands stare out at you from the elegant displays in the windows you walk past in the dozens of high-end shopping malls dotted all around this mega-city.
But look past those glittering malls and pay a visit to one or two of Bangkok’s famous outdoor markets, and you’ll see another side of Thai life entirely. And two of the most wildly popular of these outdoor shopping hot spots are the infamous Chatuchak Weekend Market and the Rod Fai Ratchada Night Market. Granted, you’ll be joined by many other foreign tourists as you wander around the bustling stalls, but the majority of your fellow bargain hunters will be Thai, and you will be able to join in and enjoy an interactive experience together with them.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
A true Bangkok landmark, Chatuchak Market (also known as JJ Market) has changed markedly from its genesis as an open-air flea market in a suburban field (which became muddy underfoot during rain showers). In 1995 the walkways were paved and covered over to make it easier for people to shop, especially during the rains. Since those early days the market has continued to expand, and today it covers about 30 acres, making it one of the world’s largest weekend markets. It is divided up into 27 zones, and each zone is dedicated to a different shopping experience. You might think you’ve visited some pretty amazing markets in your lifetime, but none will come close to beating the sheer size and variety found here. It really is a sight to see, and it’s probably the best place in the city to buy unusual souvenirs—and all sorts of other things—as long as you’re prepared to join in the fun and get your bargaining head on. First of all, offer the vendors about a quarter of what you are first quoted, and if you don’t end up getting your purchase for two thirds (or less) of what you were first asked for you need to go back to bargaining school.
There are more than 8,000 stalls in the market, and Chatuchak attracts 200,000 visitors or more each Saturday and Sunday (open from 9am till 6pm). It gets plenty hot too during the heat of the day, but every few yards you’ll come across food vendors so take plenty of drink and snack breaks and you will enjoy your time more. And just as with the most popular street food places in the city, take your cues from the locals. If a vendor has long lines, you can bet that the food is good. A must visit is Viva 8 for a tasty paella, where the crazy Spanish chef Fernando holds court (he’s a tourist attraction all by himself!).
A word of warning at Chatuchak: steer away from anyone offering ivory or anything else from endangered species. Thailand has signed up to combat the illegal ivory trade, and they police it well.
Rod Fai Ratchhada Night Market
While Chatuchak has everything under the sun, you could say the Ratchhada Night Market has everything under the moon. It’s referred to in Thai as Talaad Rot Fai (“train market”), as it is similar to the larger train market in the outlying Srinakarin district. However, although this is a smaller version, it has quickly become a huge success with Thais and locals alike, partly because of the location—it’s set up in a paved area behind The Esplanade shopping mall on Ratchadapisek Road, which in turn is very close to the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT Station.
The Rod Fai Night Market is most famous for being a retro and antiques market, with lots of vintage clothing, and other cool retro items. The shops and stalls themselves make use of (and are occasionally housed in) vintage cars, scooters, and old Volkswagen vans. There’s also an area dedicated to motorcycles of all shapes and sizes—the most popular being the Harleys, and Brit bikes such as Nortons or BSA’s. Plonk yourself down on a seat at one of the bars or coffee shops behind the rows of the lined-up motorcycles, and you will soon discover that these biker guys are not at all intimidating, and will be very happy to share their biking experiences with you, as you down a drink together.
As you wander around the Ratchada night market you will come across stalls selling 50’s style radios and audio equipment, vintage telephones, retro fashion wear, old metal street signs from around the world, as well as stuff that has become the tops in fashion for the younger set. This is one of the places in Bangkok where trends are set, and the rest of the city soon follows step.
While this night market is primarily geared towards teens and twentysomethings, everyone can enjoy the multitude of food stalls, beer stations, little restaurants, and vans selling everything from crêpes to Japanese sushi, tacos, crazily-styled burgers, gelato ice cream, and a whole lot more.
But even with your shopping and eating done, there’s no reason to head for home because there are some great places to watch a bit of live music or bust your moves on the dance floor—with DJs spinning their own mixes, or the latest in deep house. If that doesn’t take your fancy, and/or you’re the wrong side of 30, just sit back, sip a cold beer or cocktail, and watch the goings on around you.
NOTE: Another great night market—with lots of retro goodies, food, drink, and live music—is JJ Green, which is walking distance from Chatuchak Market. It’s open Thursday to Sunday, from 5pm till 2am.
By Robin Westley Martin