Spotlight on: Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand

There’s shopping, and then there is shopping in Thailand. Specifically, Chatuchak Weekend Market.

Frequently called JJ, this shopping mecca is the world’s largest weekend market and is an experience not to be missed if you are a bargain hunter. It covers more than 27 acres and contains upwards of 15,000 stalls. Yes, you did read that right – 15,000!

World famous, it has become a landmark ‘attraction’ for tourists and as such even has its own detailed section in Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok. It is estimated that the market receives 200,000 visitors each day, of which around 30 per cent are foreign tourists. It owes its orgins to former Prime Minister of Thailand, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram, who wanted to see a flea market in every Thai town.

Skinny aisle after skinny aisle takes you down smiling Thai faces, and everything and anything you might ever have wanted to buy. From Buddha statues and famous brand t-shirts, to wooden furniture and baby rabbits dressed in tutus – if you can’t find it in Chatuchak, I would be willing to bet that you can’t find it anywhere. Bargaining is expected, but do it with a smile (this is appreciated) and don’t undercut too much, and it can be a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience

The market itself is supposed to be easy to navigate with 27 sections; one main walkway encircles the entire market, and branches off into numbered alley-ways called Soi 1, Soi 2, Soi 3 etc. However, in practice be warned that this is somewhat trickier than it sounds! Before I arrived, I read and was told by repeatedly that if you see something you like, buy it then as you are almost guaranteed to never find that stall again. I laughed at the time, but when I was in-situ, when it felt like a sauna, and every aisle looked the same, I seriously regretted not buying the bag I had spotted there and then. I never found it again.

When arranging a visit, remember that the market is only fully open at the weekends, so make sure to plan it into your schedule. Luckily, getting there is simple on the fast, efficient and air-conditioned MRT and BTS transport systems. Chatuchak Market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station (MRT), and is roughly a five minute walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain (BTS) Station.

Even if shopping is not your thing, a visit to Chatuchak is something not to be missed. The sights, smells, sounds, the buzz of the friendly Thai stallholders, the sense of ‘real Thailand’ outside of Bangkok’s vast air-conditioned shopping malls – it’s a real experience.

Top tips for getting the most out of Chatuchak:

  • Get there early to beat the heat and the crowds. The market opens at 7am, and closes at 6pm.
  • Be prepared; the market gets very hot, so bring a hat, and a large bottle of water.
  • A bulky bag or backpack could hold you up in narrow, busy spaces, so bring a small shoulder or cross-body bag to make getting around easier
  • Cash machines are available, but are few and far in between, so have enough cash on you when you arrive to get by if you can
  • Free maps are available at the information kiosks
  • Plan a meeting point for if/when you get lost from your friends! Good points of reference include the clock tower, or the tourist office/bank building.
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