Monday, April 7, 2014

10 Tips for the Chatuchak Market, Bangkok

Outside of the Chatuchak Market from the train station.

You would think that the largest weekend market in the world would be something that I would have known about before arriving in Thailand. You would be wrong. I'm sure that many people know about this wonderful place before visiting, some may even plan whole trips around this location, but I was in the dark until I happened to look at a map sitting on my hostel common area table. In the corner was a map of a market that seemed to have everything you could possibly think of. It sounded like the perfect way to spend a Saturday, so off I went in search of some deals and a whole lot of people watching.

Practical information can be found on this website  I wish I had known about it before because I would have mapped out my experience much more carefully.

Don't be fooled by the market on the outside of the market. That's just amateur hour as I like to call it. Before you can even find your way to the real deal, you have to make it through throngs of crowds and vendors lining the streets. If I hadn't read about this place ahead of time I would have thought that was the market. It is not, press on because much more awaits inside.

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When you first arrive, you are immediately hit with stall after stall of the same item, in my case clothing, used clothing. Some things looked interesting, but it was all western clothing that had probably been donated by people like me. After weaving your way past the 50th stall, you begin to find yourself wondering why you shouldn't buy a used pair of sneakers from 1985. That was my cue to find something else, anything else.

I spent the whole day there, I could have spent a whole week there. I didn't even cover a fraction of what the whole place entailed. I had a train to catch otherwise I would have stayed and eaten and wandered until I couldn't stand up anymore. Which is sort of what ended up happening anyway. I apologize for the terrible pictures. I wish I had at least one where you could get the whole scope of the place, but once I was in there, it was like being an ant in a mansion, a good picture just wasn't happening. Take my word for it when I say that it was a fantastic day talking to vendors, wandering aimlessly trying not to get lost and watching other people shop. This was not a tourist market; this was very much a Thai market where tourists would go. If I lived there I would probably go at least once a month that's how awesome it was.

One of the many food vendors

My loot at the end of the day consisted of 4 dishes, blue flower tea, saffron, tom yum paste, a small ceramic pot for a plant, a decorative string of lights, a pair of awesome pants like the ones they give you during massages here and a bag with elephants on it to carry everything home.

10 Tips for a Successful Market Day
Going to this market will more than likely take the whole day, so you want to make the most of it. Here are some tips for making it a grand success.

1. Stick to a budget, it is so easy to get carried away with all of the choices and unique items. You could easily spend hundreds.

2. Know how much room you have in your luggage and how much you are willing to carry with you depending on how much longer your trip is. I really wanted dishes, but they are heavy. I had to carry them around with me and worry about them breaking for the rest of my trip. Perhaps I should have mailed them home. They have that service as well. You just have to find it.

3. If you love something, buy it on the spot. Sometimes you see an item and just have to have it. Don't talk yourself out of it because you want to "look around." You may never be able to find that stall again. Even if you think you will. You probably won't.

4. Go with a plan, or don't- It's really important to have some sort of game plan whether it is knowing what sort of items you want to buy or if you are really ambitious you can map out where you want to go and how long you want to spend in each area. The market is so big, there are maps and numbered lanes.  If you don't have a plan and want to wander aimlessly that's fine too, but you may want to remember where the exits are. It can be tricky finding your way out.

Don't buy plants, you can't take them with you

5. Choose a meeting place- I did this when I went, but there was no way I would have been able to find this spot once I was inside the market. The best place to meet is along one of the main walkways next to a numbered sign. That way if you can't remember where it is, you can easily ask someone. Asking where the exit is won't work because there are several.

6. Haggle, Haggle Haggle- The first price is very rarely the last price. The worst that can happen is that the price stays the same. The vendors, seeing that you are a westerner will sometimes jack up the price, so give it a try.

7. Don't spend too much time in one area- the market is organized mostly by items, so if you want to see a variety of things, keep moving. The place is enormous. You would honestly need a few days to get it all in.

8. Stay hydrated- it's going to be hot, and with all of those market stalls so close together, it can be a sweaty place. There are lots of places to stop for a coke or some fresh coconut water.

9. Wear comfortable shoes- This one is a no brainer, but seriously you won't just be walking around the market, there is all the area around the market as well.

10. Mail your items home- I always thought that it was sort of a travel badge of honor to lug all of your purchases around with you for the whole trip. It brings back memories of schlepping 4 bottles of wine around Europe for a month in my early 20's. Let's face it, there is no prize at the end of the trip for who can carry the most luggage. Find the nice booth with the packing services and mail the dishes home like I should have in the first place.