Shopping Trips

Shop 'Til You Literally Drop at Bangkok's Chatuchak Market

I left with arms full of goodies, feeling both conqueror and conquered.

By Sarah Rufca Nielsen April 25, 2017

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One stall down, 14,999 to go.

It is not an accident that all the vacations planned around my recent marriage were in top global shopping destinations. Bachelorette in Cabo? No thanks, I'll bring my girlfriends to San Miguel de Allende, where we can load up on Talavera pottery, jewelry and other Mexican handicrafts during the day and drink champagne on rooftop bars at night. And for my honeymoon it had to be Thailand, where the street markets are legendary.

But even I wasn't ready for Bangkok's famed Chatuchak weekend market, the largest market in the country. Once purely a wholesale market, Chatuchak (or Jatujak) is where everyone in Thailand goes to buy and sell anything. Does this sound like hyperbole? It's not. There are over 15,000 booths on 27 acres that host 200,000 visitors every Saturday and Sunday. After six hours of exploring, I'd barely scratched the surface. I left with arms full of goodies, feeling both conqueror and conquered. 

Chatuchat is divided into 27 sections that are nominally devoted to a certain type of good, each with internal alleys (sois) and aisles, though popular goods like T-shirts and essential oils pop up in each zone. The sections can be surprisingly specific: I found several shops with vintage Hawaiian shirts in Section 5, and Lonely Planet notes that Section 13 features several shops that only sell clothing for pets. I distinctly recall a colorful paper zone, a fake flower zone and a kitchen utensils zone among the more unexpected specialties.

Tourists may want to focus on Section 1's antiques and the celadon ceramics in Section 8, but my favorite was Section 2, sometimes described as the "hipster" section, which feels a little more like a mall, with stalls like tiny, crowded boutiques selling clothing, jewelry and accessories from local brands. I bought a pair of Loeffler Randall knockoff sandals for about $8 and picked up some earrings for my friends for about $3 each. The one thing tourists won't want to buy is Buddha figurines, which are widely considered disrespectful when used as decor.

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Chatuchak Market in Bangkok

General rules of bargaining apply: the more you buy, the more leverage you have, but I found most vendors held firm to knocking only about 15 or 20 percent off the prices, and as I wasn't buying pricey pieces, haggling over pocket change didn't feel like the best use of my time. 

Chatuchak is an outdoor market, so you'll want to come early to avoid the worst of the afternoon heat, but there are also a few enclosed and air-conditioned shops selling expensive (not expensive for Thailand, just expensive) home furnishings, which you can loudly pretend to consider while discreetly trying to get the sweat to evaporate off your back. 

After walking for miles, you'll be tempted to collapse into the first foot massage stand you see, but hold out for one in an enclosed space with A/C. As this is Bangkok, street vendor carts are plentiful in the central food court, but there's also a spacious café that's the perfect place to leave your husband while you spend an extra hour browsing the hipster stalls.

One last thing I bought before I left at sunset: an extra duffel bag, to carry home all my hard-earned Thai treasures.

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