The Lonely Planet Guide to Bangkok describes it as “the behemoth of all Thaimarkets where everything imaginable is for sale.”
Also known as “Jatujak or JJ market”, this 35 acre market with over 15,000 stalls sells everything from T-shirts, Buddha statues to orchids and exotic pets. Some 400,000 visitors pass through here every weekend: local Thais, tourists and foreign expatriates.
One of the biggest shopping attractions for visitors to Thailand is its counterfeit culture. Replica watches,sunglasses, purses and designer bags can be bought easily if you know where to look.
Finding your Way Around
Making the most of Chatuchak Market requires careful planning as it is impossible to see all of it in one day. Its maze of small, narrow lanes and alleyways are reminiscent of an Arabic souq. Stalls are cleverly laid-out on a grid system in color-coded zones, based on groups of similar items.
One of the best investments any new visitor can make is a copy of “Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok.” Its unique style proves both informative and entertaining, full of humorous comments and colorful illustrations. This Bangkok map includes a detailed plan of Chatuchak Market, and bills itself as “the market map andmuch more.”
This map isn’t strictly necessary, as street plans are available at the tourist information counters. However, these cannot be compared to the comprehensiveness of the Nancy Chandler map. Regular updates on all areas of Bangkok are available on the Nancy Chandler website.
Over recent years Chatuchak market has expanded, so pre-2007 maps and guides may be a little out-of-date. Adjacent to the old market are the newer, more modern sections, collectively known as JJ Park. The JJ Mall opened in 2007, a fully air conditioned indoor shopping mall, covering three floors. This is an ideal place to get away from the crowds as it is less claustrophobic.
Eating is the Thai national pastime, so shoppers are never far from a coffee kiosk, food stall or Thai restaurant. The long established and popular Toh Plue Restaurant, in the old section, has both an outdoor and air conditioned indoor area, offering a welcome respite from the heat and humidity.
What to Buy
Goods on sale here are usually cheaper than in the shopping malls and typical tourist outlets, although due to the continual influx of foreign visitors, prices are no longer as competitive as they once were. The biggest bargains for western shoppers are the Thai silks and handicrafts, soft furnishings, wooden carvings and furniture, jewelry and gems, given that similar items cost a fortune back home.
For lovers of flea markets there is a wide selection of bric-a-brac, including Buddha amulets, antique books, coins, stamps, collector’s toys, china ornaments and 1950s telephones.
Two of the most popular sections are Pet and Plants. Whilst it may not be practical for tourists to purchase anything from here, the range of exotic flowers, orchids, lucky bamboos etc are a great photo opportunity. The majority of plant vendors can be found directly next to Gate 3.
The pet section (areas 9, 11, 13, and 15) draws a big crowd, selling everything from birds, dogs and cats, to more exotic creatures. There is a separate aquarium section at the Mo Chit end of the market.
More than one third of Chatuchak is dedicated to clothing stalls of some description or another. T-shirts, jeans, sarongs, Thai cotton or Chinese and Thai Silks. Most of these shops are situated close to the main entrances of Gates 2-4 and therefore get very busy. Sections 4-6 stock a wide range of second-hand clothing, mainly jeans.
The Nancy Chandler map advises visitors to, “focus on sections 25 and 26”, if they are unable to visit Chiang Mai. Here vendors sell the best of everything from Northern Thailand, including traditional furnishings, handicrafts and Lanna-style clothing and bags.
Chatuchak Market is situated next to Chatuchak Park at the northern end of the city, and Mo Chit, the last BTS Skytrain stop on the Sukkhumvit line going north. From Mo Chit, the rabbit warren of market stalls is clearly visible as the Skytrain pulls into the station, and the market is only a short 5 minute walk away. The MRT subway station, Kampangphet, has an entrance right in the heart of the market.
Try to get there early, around 9.30am-10am. As it is only open on Saturday and Sunday’s, by midday this market is buzzing and in the afternoon a great deal of time can be wasted jostling with the crowd. During busy periods, keep an eye on purses and wallets, as pickpockets are always on the look-out for easy prey.
Arm yourself for battle by taking a bottle of water and wearing loose clothing and comfortable shoes. Helpful advice from the local expats can make a big difference to the success of your shopping expedition.
Try to make Chatuchak one of the first stops on your agenda. Otherwise you may be heartbroken to find the gifts you so lovingly chose earlier on in your stay, are on sale here for half the price!