BANGKOK’S CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET | Darrin Henry
Chatuchak Market Bangkok swallows us up in the heat, noise and smells, along with a hundred thousand other visitors. It’s a vibrant, exciting and orderly sprawl of everything saleable. Mind you, I could do with a Chatuchak Market map to make sense of it all.
Thai photographer, Red Gun Wisamunmuang would be my highlight of day, with provocative art nudes that will forever come to mind when I think of Bangkok photography. More of that later.
This weekend market comes highly recommended as one of the best markets in Bangkok. It’s easily accessible from the Mo Chit station, just pick up a Bangkok BTS map in any of the Sky Train terminals.
Bangkok Street Market – 8,000 Stalls, 200,000 People
This is full on Bangkok street market culture. Spread over 35 acres are 8,000 stalls, which are visited by 200,000 people per weekend. It’s the mother of all markets, the largest in Thailand.
Anything goes when it comes to stalls:
Elaborate tents with electronic cash registers is one example, with hidden AC cooling in some places, bare bladed stand fans in others.
There are one-person sales counters on wheels that take up little more than standing room on the crowded pavements. Even more basic, a single plastic lawn chair under the shade of a patio parasol.
And then there are roll up garage doors fitted on the semi-permanent central structures.
Goods laid out on rugs on the floor when there are no shelves, it all qualifies.
If you have a weekend in Bangkok, visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It’s unlike any I have experienced before.
One Weekend In Bangkok – Chatuchak First Impressions
Chatuchak market food vendors seem to be first as we shuffle though the gates.
We’re part of the crowd that has trooped from the Mo Chit Sky Train station, 100 metres away from this huge Bangkok street market.
Large, steaming, silver pots are being stirred. Little fold out tables arranged behind the food sellers’ counters to create instant restaurant seating space, complete with laminated picture menus and waiters trying to tempt us in.
Tuk tuks and scooter taxis line the side of the road, parked between shiny Nissan Navara six packs which tells me these stall holders must be doing alright. The sun is still creeping up, it’s only 10am, but the air is already thick with heat and I am sweating.
The tented stalls are tightly packed together, creating a warren of walkways that almost need a map to navigate. At first glance it looks mad. But as we venture deeper into the chaos we discover order; a precisely laid out shopping mall of a market.
After a few minutes we just have to try some of the delicious looking fruit. Sharon picks a packet of freshly cut water melon slices, I choose mango. Using the plastic fork that’s included we continue our browsing while munching on our fruit.
Red Gun Wisamunmuang, Chatuchak Market Bangkok
We stumble gratefully into the art section, and are both blown away by the creative collections on display.
You could easily imagine these artists exhibiting in a top London gallery, yet here they are plying their trade under the tented city of this heaving Bangkok street market.
I feel guilty not to stop and spend more time appreciating the artwork as they are all that good. But there is just so much of it that I have to keep moving otherwise I will never get out.
Like a huge magnet the next stall pulls me in. I have been hooked by the red gun, art nude photography of Wisamunmuang Sitthiket. The hypnotic obscenity of the naked transsexuals; luscious, upturned female breasts contrasting against a very male penis and scrotum hanging below.
The picture captions in some cases are as provocative as the images themselves, statements of political rebellion, promotion of equal rights and defiance of conventional stereotyping. The models’ identities are hidden behind gas masks, paper bags or face painting, which serves to invite open enjoyment of the images’ anonymity.
I spend ages chatting to Wisamunmuang before Sharon drags me away – but I leave definitely inspired.
The Thunderdome of Bangkok
I’ve never been a big fan of ornaments for the home. The porcelain dogs, sequin dress dolls, glass snow globes and fur animals with shiny beads for eyes – you know what I mean?
But it’s fascinating seeing the volume of ornaments available to buy in Chatuchak Market Bangkok. The usual suspects are here, as you’d expect; china animals, 3D hologram picture frames and etched mirrors with inspirational quotes.
But there are also fascinating handcrafted bamboo water towers. Fish made from mechanical nuts and bolts welded together. Motorcycles made entirely from wood that had been carved and bent into impossible shapes.
We have been drinking our bottled water but the morning is wearing on so we give in to fruit slushies. Sharon opts for water melon flavour again while I choose a delicious coconut.
A large abandoned concrete building is at the back of the market, covered in huge grey fabric that has obviously torn and rotted over the years. We’ve dubbed it the ‘Mad Max’ building – it has that desolate future world look about it.
Back inside the tented city we explore the corridors again. Rugs and carpets of all shapes and sizes; metallic jewellery, trays and trays of it; earthenware pots and vases.
We come across a wall of mail box style cubby holes containing every type of silk flower you can imagine. Chatuchak silk flower market Bangkok this could be!
More ornaments – and these vendors are being kept busy.
The presence of police and security personnel everywhere is reassuring. Even with the heaving crowd of people there’s a peaceful, friendly atmosphere. The whole market is designated non-smoking with heavy fines for offenders.
Don’t worry if you run out of cash – there’s a bank of ATM machines at the far side of the market.
There’s a litter of Labrador puppies for sale. Leather goods being sold out of a car that’s been cut in half, Hard Rock Cafe style.
Walking through one of the corridors a woman makes a welcoming gesture for me to come in for a massage. A glance at a couple of the other customers receiving foot massages makes me think my sweaty feet in my socks and trainers in this heat would not be pretty. I politely decline and she laughs back. Must have seen the panicked look on my face.
Sharon finds some dresses that have warranted her full attention. It looks a bit shapeless to me but what do I know? The stall is full, it seems, of western women in ‘the zone’ with husbands or boyfriends hovering nearby. Sharon buys a dress but seems even more chuffed it comes with a little drawstring cloth bag. I read somewhere you should always barter in Bangkok, but we’re terrible at it and 300 baht didn’t seem so bad.
Eventually we have to leave after about four hours, other plans for the afternoon. But it would have been easy to spend the whole day.
If you’re visiting the city, you must consider including the Chatuchak Market Bangkok on your itinerary. It’s up close and personal, no frills Bangkok. I loved it.