I’ve always enjoyed going to markets. Whether that’s a local farmers market or a sprawling flea market, they are always interesting experiences. It’s one of the main reasons that I enjoy travel so much. Markets put all of the differences in culture into one concentrated exhibit. So when I learned that Bangkok is home to the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Weekend Market, I immediately moved it to the top of my list of places to visit. According to their website, the Chatuchak Market has “over 15,000 stalls which are spread across 35 acres and 26 sections which range from Food, Art, Antiques, Fashion and much more.” And I don’t want to sound hyperbolic, but it’s the best market I’ve ever been to.
Normally I would expect a vast mega-market like this to contain a lot of junk, but that was not the case at all. There were no stalls selling used car parts or VHS tapes. It seemed like nearly every vendor there was selling something worth buying. It was less like a flea market and more like a large collection of small retailers specializing in one or two things. It easily tops anything we found in Hong Kong or Vietnam during out last official vacation.
This is not simply a tourist market either. Locals flock to it from all over the city to do their shopping for household items, especially clothing. The clothing options are many including bulk fabric, vintage t-shirts, fancy dresses, accessories, and every kind of footwear imaginable. For the most part, you can be assured that if you want something, the Chatuchak Market has it for sale.
The main challenge can be finding what you’re looking for among the maze of vendors. Luckily they tend to have similar vendor types clustered together. As long as you can find the general area, you’ll be inundated with choices. If you’d prefer not to blindly wander, there are maps posted near the main entrances that give you a good idea of how to get to the specific areas. Personally, I wasn’t shopping for anything in particular, so I just used the market as a way to stroll aimlessly for hours while in constant awe of the giant selection of everything.
The Chatuchak Market has a wide walkway that circles the outside and is lined with large vendor stands. On the inside of the walkway, there are countless smaller vendors that are accessible through small winding lanes. This inner part is under a patchwork roof made from a combination of corrugated metal and tarps, which is nice if you need to get out of the sun or rain. Among the inside vendors are scattered restaurants, coffee shops, and the ubiquitous Thai massage parlors. There’s even a bar or two in case you need a large beer on a hot day.
About the only thing missing that I was expecting to see were produce vendors. That’s not to say that there aren’t people selling fresh fruit for you to consume on site, but this isn’t the place to stock up on fruits and veggies for the next week. However that also means it’s missing the meat and seafood vendors, so at no point will you get smacked in the face with the fish smell when walking around. And of course there are dozens of other markets around Bangkok that can provide you with cheap abundant produce.
If you want something more substantial than fresh fruit to eat, there are dozens of food vendors selling an array of edible items. Some were more edible than others in my view. I can vouch for the coconut pancakes, which were absolutely delicious and incredibly cheap at 8 small pancakes for 30 baht (just under $1). I also sampled the grilled squid, but was less impressed with that. Those people with an adventurous palate will love the variety available. If you’re a little more reserved like me, there are still plenty of delicious and cheap options.
All in all, the Chatuchak Market is an awesome and entertaining place. I’d highly recommend a visit even if you’re not looking to buy anything. The best way to get there is to take the MRT underground subway to the Chatuchak Park stop. It’s only a short walk from there to the best market in Bangkok and my new favorite market in the whole world.