My surprising visit to the Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok

March 5, 2014 by | Filed Under: Authentic Experiences, Culinary, Travel

I don’t really remember my first market in Asia.  I know we walked through Chinatown during our first visit to Bangkok.  We found an alley way that was loaded with Chinese goods, crap from wall to wall, people everywhere, Eric towering over them all.  I could never lose him in the crowd.  I remember the excitement of walking the night market in Luang Prabang, Laos, enjoying the shopping but recognizing it was entirely touristy.  I remember my first tour of the wet market in Luang Prabang, with a chef who explained the various kinds of rice, strange meats, and different kinds of vegetables I was unfamiliar with.

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Typical travel writing always dictates that the way to understand the local culture is to walk through the local market.  And, to some extent that is true.  But, I have seen so many markets, and many of them are so similar, particularly in Southeast Asia.  In most tourist spots, the market has turned into something entirely inauthentic – the same collection of Chinese made goods, both clothing and toys for locals as well as the souvenirs that are ubiquitous across the region – each pretending to be a locally made artifact that explains something about the local culture.

I have wandered through numerous wet markets, the markets that sell the foods, fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish.  I have smelled them, I have walked carefully in my flip flops through the oozing goo on the floors. Until I live some place long enough where a trip to the market is necessary in order to buy my groceries, I don’t generally rush right out to the local market in every town I visit.

This is why I ignored the conventional advice that dictated I tour Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok.

But for some reason, during this visit, I wanted to go.  So, we boarded the BTS and rode it out to Mo Chit with the rest of the market-goers, to explore Chatuchak.

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I was entirely surprised.  Yes, I saw the same souvenirs I have seen for sale in Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, and Siem Reap (all made in China) …I saw the requisite I Love BKK t-shirts and the Singha Beer t-shirts.  Eric and I each bought a pair of sunglasses, for a $1.  I saw buddha statues in every size, shape, and form.  Some might be authentic, but more likely than not, they are made in China.

I saw more than that, though.  In the dozens of alley ways loaded with stalls, I saw:

A cheesy Spanish guy hawking tapas:

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Kitschy lawn ornaments: 

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Rows and rows of fashionable items, artistic t-shirts, trendy, Thai hipster garb, and more, which obviously attracted the locals for a weekend jaunt to the market, more than the tourists (sizes were often not big enough for tourists).

Fashion: 

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Handmade, brightly colored earrings (I bought 3 pairs for $1):

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There were fruits, teas, desserts, and more, typical of a local market, but often brilliantly arranged.

Stacks of bright red rambutan: 

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We ate steaming noodle soup:

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We saw freshly grilled prawns and other seafood: 

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We drank bubble tea: 

We even got a massage in the middle of the market: 

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I was entirely surprised by the experience.  Although tourists swarm to the market like mosquitos to a lamp post, there seemed to be locals there too, particularly trendy youngsters looking for unique clothing items.  I saw things in the Chatuchak Market that I have just not seen elsewhere.  That was refreshing.

Although the size of the Chatuchak Market can be intimidating (yes we got lost trying to escape it), it was a lovely way to spend a few hours on a Sunday.  And, it was one of the few markets I have seen where I would actually return to get lost again.