Bangkok hosts the largest weekend market in Thailand, and arguably the world. Sprawling over 35 acres, Chatuchak, also known as JJ Market is open on the weekends and draws in upwards of 300,000-400,000 shoppers each day.
Located in the Phahonyothin area near Chatuchak Park, it is easy to get to despite being slightly out of the centre. The BTS skytrain will take you straight to Mo Chit at the end of the line, and it is but a short walk from there to the market. Following the crowds on a Saturday or Sunday morning couldnt be easier.
It was established in 1948 and moved location a number of times before settling into its current site in 1982. In the beginning it was nearly empty because it was seen as too far out of the city centre, but the growth of the city, perseverance of the market traders and construction of the skytrain changed all that over the past ten years it has really come into its own.
Selling everything from clothes to souvenirs, Thai handicrafts, religious artifacts, collectibles, food and even live animals, this market has it all. Structurally the market is made up of concentric rings on the outer perimeter and then broken down into a grid system in the interior. At the centre of the market is a clock tower which is a popular meeting point.
A meeting point is necessary if you are with a group because it is almost impossible not to get separated. Stopping to browse through glassware or fine textiles you are likely to look up and realize you have lost everyone you know, and it is impossible to find them in teeming humanity that surrounds you.
Maps are available for the market, and it is actually broken down into zones and then broken down even further into eight categories so that you can head to certain areas for particular items. Trees, secondhand goods, pets, food and drink, fresh and dry food, ceramics, collectibles and home appliances, clothes and dresses and finally books have all been separated although it is hard to appreciate this once there and signs are put up to give directions to nearby zones.
The market is half covered and half open, and this means that not only do you need a strong sunblock but lots and lots of water, as the inside part in particular can become very stuffy and humid. There are numerous restaurants and snack shops scattered around, and rest stops are a necessary part of the whole shopping experience.
Haggling is a must. Your first offer should be approximately half the suggested price or even less and then you can negotiate up about half way. Haggling is an art but an enjoyable one if taken lightly. Sometimes it is a good idea to walk away, shaking your head sadly and wait for the stall vendor to come running up offering a price you are willing to pay. The danger in this of course is you may not be chased and have to forgo the item completely.
Although the main market only operates on the weekend, the nurseries and plant shops are open on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. If you have a garden or terrace and need to purchase plants there is no better place to go. From small pot-plants to full grown trees, from mulch to garden implements, this place has it all under one roof.
So next time you are in Bangkok dont miss out on a day at Chatuchak. And it is a day as time stops in this market and you will have spent hours and hours in there before you know it. But one word of advice if you see something you like, buy it there and then as otherwise you will find yourself walking around in circles until the light dims, with the stall never to be seen again.
Location: Phahonyothin, near Chatuchak Park. Skytrain: Mo Chit
Open: 8am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday
Plant shops open 7am-6pm Wednesday and Thursday