The chances are that you are going to have to visit Bangkok before you make it down to Koh Phangan island. One of the experiences you shouldn't miss in Bangkok is Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is quite far out from the center of Bangkok. You have to sit on an overhead train for about 30 minutes to get there from Sukhimvit. Once at Mo Chit Station (BTS) you just follow the crowds heading to the market. The heaving masses of people don’t start to thin out before you get into the heart of the market.
Chatuchak Weekend Market covers 27 acres of land and has more than 15,000 booths. It is a square with a walk way around the market. It can be very disorientating at first. Around the walk way there are shops, bars, food stands as well as musicians, buskers and the sad sight of children begging. Around the outer fringe are many shops but the majority are in the center.
The shops are set out in a grid system that confusingly goes off at acute angles. There are meant to be areas in the market to help people find what they want, but of course these are only rough guidelines. There are sections for electronic devices, flowers, antiques, clothes and pets. The latter is attractive and repulsive. Lots of cute dogs and kittens are cramped into small boxes and cages. The further up the evolutionary chain you get as an animal the more you no doubt hate your captivity, not to mention the heat and the constant parade of prying fingers through the bars.
When you first enter the center part of Chatuchak Weekend Market the numbers of people are overwhelming. It is very difficult to move; if you have a backpack or kid in a pram even more so.
Following the crowd or just going wherever grabs you can be fun. You are sure to come across a shop selling something that interests you. It is a great place to find souvenirs, clothes, spices, art work, decorations, small furnishings, silk and hundreds of other things. There isn’t much hi-tech stuff. This isn’t the place to go for iPods or pirated software or movies.
If have something particular in mind that you want to buy it can be infuriating. You just seem to find shop after shop selling the same things that aren’t quite right. If you do find what you want the chances are that the price will be wrong. Since becoming a favorite tourist destination many of the shop owners have got wise to the fact that they can charge more and haggle less. As a general rule the further in you go, the cheaper the prices seem to get. You can pay in one shop 750 THB for an item that costs 100 THB at another. If you hold off buying thinking that you could get a cheaper price only to discover that the first place was better value you might have a headache retracing your steps. It all starts to look the same after 40 minutes in the market.
However, for the experienced shopper and professional shopper there are still some real bargains to be had in the market. It is much cheaper for many items then the big shopping malls such as MBK. Many make good relations with shop owners and go several times a year to stock up on goods that they sell on for a tidy profit. As is often the case in Thailand establishing friendly relations and bulk buying makes the chances of getting a big discount far more likely.
The smells of the market are interesting. There is incense and the smell of deep fried food in the air. You can smell plenty of cologne, perfume and body smells. There are the smells of animals and the occasional unpleasant whiff of vomit. Like a bazaar, masses of people are perched in small boxes with their wares facing the narrow walk way. Many of the shop workers are chatting or playing with their smart phones.
Americanification has set in at Chatuchak Market as with most of Bangkok. There are no smoking signs everywhere. Even outside the market huddle there’s no lighting up. The park outside upholds the same dictate. Naturally, it is not hard to find a few Thais surreptitiously defying these edicts. As in many of the late night spots there are ashtrays at every table.
Other than the smoking issue, Chatuchak Market remains one of the most interesting places to visit in Bangkok. It is like Camden Market in that the market has character and provides a barrage of sights, sounds and smells; moreover, you might find some great bargains.