Chatuchak market can be both a magical and extremely stressful place. Some days I wander happily through the mazes of small shops finding new treasures and fantastic deals, while other days I’m left tired and exasperated from getting lost…
But most of the time I just love being at Chatuchak. If you know how to navigate the maze, where to stop for a cold Singha, and where to get the best deals, you will be coming back weekend after weekend. So let me give you some of my dearest shopping tips to tackle the Chatuchak Weekend Market like a pro.
Entering the Maze
I always feel bad when I see tourists getting off at the wrong stop of the MRT – the one foolishly labeled ‘Chatuchak’. You see, Chatuchak is also the name of the park located right next to the market, so if you get off at the Chatuchak stop you end up in the middle of the park. Instead, stay on the MRT for one more stop and get off at ‘Kamphaeng Phet’. This MRT stop will literally drop you in the middle of the market, near my favorite section of goods.
If you are taking the BTS, you’ll get off at the Mo Chit station. You will notice as you are leaving the station that hundreds of other people are going the same direction as you and you will probably get backed up with them going down the stairs. At the bottom of those stairs, most people keep walking straight and continue to get backed up, while a few crafty people cut off to the right towards the park. Follow those people! This is my secret route.
So you’ll take an immediate right at the the bottom of the stairs, and go through the gate that leads to the park. Once you’re in the park, follow the path to the left so you’re walking parallel to the street. At the end of this path, you’ll come up to the end of the park and exit through a small gate with a lot of other Thais. You will cross the street here outside the park, and then follow the sidewalk full of vendors to the left.
When you get to the man dressed in Vietnam War regalia screaming ‘Mat Pao!’ (coconuts) and cracking open fresh coconuts with a machete, you’ve reached the secret entrance. Follow everyone as they enter on the right and you will arrive in the second hand clothing and leather goods sections. If you keep following the crowd you will come out in the only main street in the market. I would recommend taking a left here and heading for the tourist goods, or, if it’s already been that rough of a time for you, take a right until you come to the outdoor bar on your left and stop for an Asahi draft or ice cold Singha.
Map your progress
The best tool in my toolkit is OffMaps – an app that I downloaded 2 years ago and have used nearly every day since. I love this app because every time you download a map of the city, you get a transportation map (perfect for the BTS and MRT). Also, you don’t need wifi or internet to use it. But the best part about it is that some brave soul mapped all of the sections in Chatuchak! It doesn’t tell you what is sold in each section, but it does accurately number them which means you can drop pins to remind yourself where certain stores are.
I personally have close to 30 pins dropped in the Chatuchak section in my Bangkok OffMaps to remember where my favorites vendors are. As you’ll quickly learn, certain vendors are willing to give you a good price while others won’t. So returning to your favorites, especially with family and friends in tow, will get you the best prices possible. They’re also a lot of fun to chat with. I’ve got my scarf vendor, wooden bowl vendor, purse vendor, kitchen knick knack vendor, jewelry vendor, candle and incense vendor, favorite clothes vendors, recycled shoe vendor, hand-forged knives vendor (Reid’s favorite), my coffee vendor, artwork vendor, etc. You get the idea.
The one thing I hear from every person that visits Chatuchak is that they always regret not buying something when they first saw it, because it’s nearly impossible to find that store again. Unless of course, you map it. You just need some sort of map capable of dropping pins that can track your GPS without wifi, and you will be good to go.
Make a List
This might seem like a silly tip, but it has saved me a lot of time aimlessly wandering through the endless shops of Chatuchak. When I know I’ll be heading to the market over the weekend, I start making a list. I don’t go every weekend (for my sanity and wallet’s sake), so when I do go, I like to make it count. Everything I need, I write down in my little notebook (which I bought at Chatuchak). That way, when I do hit the market I can go straight to my favorite sections using my handy dropped pins and save a lot of time. Some days I can get to the market before 9 and leave before noon, when it starts cooking.
Yeah, I know – I sound like your mom. But seriously, stay hydrated. I always bring a water bottle to Chatuchak because the worst feeling in the world is being in the middle of some obscure section and feeling like you’re going to pass out. Did I mention there’s hardly any air-conditioned stalls in Chatuchak? Yeah, that cold water just became a life-saver. You will sweat buckets, and it’s important to replace them.
Secondly, whenever you’re out on that larger main road, buy yourself something to drink. Whether it’s a 10 baht water bottle or my personal favorite, the 30 baht lime-soda-aid, get yourself a cold drink while you have the chance. You will regret it if you don’t.
Thirdly, when you need a break from the heat and bustle, find a little bar or cafe where you can sit and have an iced coffee, beer, water, whatever. People watching is a lot of fun and recharging your batteries could mean another hour of power shopping before you’re too exhausted to go on. My personal favorite is the Oasis Bar located in section 26, where sassy lady boys serve up delicious fruit shakes and cold beers. The prices are higher than normal but still under 2$ a drink, and since it’s in my favorite tourist souvenirs section, it’s one of my go-to places to chill out when I need a breather.
Never Split Up
You would think this is a no-brainer, but I still hear all sorts of names called over the intercom of lost party members in the market. Let me just forcefully say that no matter where you agree to meet, you are never going to find your group unless you all have working telephones. It is so easy to get lost in Chatuchak, even with a map, because all of the isles and vendors look extremely similar. Also, the ‘grid’ of the market doesn’t really make sense – the numbers don’t always go in exact order. So please, save yourself the frustration and stress and always stay together in groups. That way, even if you and your partner get lost from the rest of your group, you can at least travel home together.
Also, always have a back up plan. If you and your friend get caught up shopping and you know you were supposed to meet up 10 minutes ago, what are you going to do now? Back before I had a Thai cell phone, I liked to tell people to meet up at x time, and that if we weren’t there after 15 minutes, to go home without us because we’re shopping until we drop. That way no one has to wait, tired and cranky and ready to leave.
The Night Market
One thing a lot of people don’t know about Chatuchak is that it stays open pretty late. You can go shopping when it’s a bit cooler and much less crowded if you’re willing to go later on in the day (around 5 or 6). Not all shops are open but you get a unique shopping experience. A lot of Thais visit the market at this time not just to shop, but to socialize. There are a lot of great little bars in the art section where young Thais hang out, so you can enjoy a beer and peruse the nearby stalls at your leisure. It’s a totally different experience.
Do you have any tips or experiences from shopping Chatuchak Weekend market? Please let me know in the comments below!