Chatnuchak market is only open on weekends. It opens early on Saturday and closes long after dark on Sunday. I’d heard that it was THE place to shop for all thing Thai and touristy, as well as oceans of other things from kitchenware, to pets, to plants. I had one day left in Bangkok and Robert was willing to come with me, so the market was the first stop on our agenda on Saturday morning. I also heard it gets extremely crowded, and if you read my earlier post on crowds in Bangkok, you’ll understand my feelings on the matter. In this instance going early to the market was clearly going to help. The question was how early? The opening time was sort of loose, depending on who you listened to or the article you read. I think we decided to leave for the market at 8am and see what it was like at that time of day. We ended up taking a taxi, although the BRT is very simple and takes you right to the door. When we arrived at 8.30am, the market was definitely open, not all stalls were up and running, but most of them were. It wasn’t crowded though, and it was still fun to look around. It totally recommend getting there early.
Chatnuchak is HUGE! I think I read that it’s 30 acres somewhere, with claims of being the largest market in Asia. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it very believable. Its partially inside, under long covered aisles, and partially outside. Thousands of small stalls line the rows, and its very overwhelming. The experience is helped a little with the aid of a market map which is supplied from the information booths, and a numbering system which helps you navigate the different areas. Stalls are grouped together by what they sell: household goods, clothing, shoes, pets etc. But it so easy to fall prey to “shiny object syndrome” and go off on a tangent and forget your original purpose. But who cares, right?! We wandered and shopped and wandered around some more. There was just so much to see.
I had a bee in my bonnet about buying some cushion covers and I wanted something with the ubiquitous elephant motif on it. Touristy I know. But the Thai’s do it very well. Lots of elephant-inspired everything to choose from and I got a very pretty sequined elephant design cushion cover for about $8.00 and a few other bits and pieces. Robert was still looking for fabric. We never found any there, but we hardly looked very hard. There was too much stuff and too little resolve to keep going forever. We took a break for a cold drink and Robert’s feet were killing him. Opposite was a foot massage place. Perfect. He had a foot massage, and that bought me another half an hour of strolling and exploring. I could have kept going but didn’t want to push my luck, and the place was starting to get more full, so we jumped in cab and headed back to the hotel area for lunch.
As we drove in a taxi on one of the major roads in the middle of the city, we noticed a stripe of orange in our peripheral vision. Turn out to be a few monks….no, a long line of monks….no, a really, really long line of monks. It took a while for the eyes and brain to register the enormity of it. There were over a thousand of them (I later learnt). Carrying only their sleeping mats, they walked barefooted on a path of flower petals, with devotees praying on the ground where they passed. It was the most extraordinary sight. When we got home I jumped on google and learnt that it was a devotional walk across Thailand from North to South. We just happened to be in Bangkok at the same time they passed through. Amazing!
Our taxi was taking us down to the Chinatown and Indian areas of the city as my research for fabric suggested there was a lot to be found there. We got out a a department store that was known for its fabric shops and looked around a little. It was mostly everyday synthetics and cottons, nothing special, or uniquely Thai. This memory we had from twenty years ago, just seemed to be be out of date. We did stumble into the Old Siam Center, a shopping mall, for a look around. We entered at the ground floor amid the food court, which looked pretty clean and fresh, and sold some interesting looking stuff. The architecture and individual food stalls did have an old world feel to them. I don’t think the center was as old as it wanted to appear, but it also seemed to be built much earlier than many other shopping malls I’d see, and was, perhaps, a bit outdated.
We wandered around for a bit. Looking down from the higher floors, the stall reminded me a little of Greenhills market, although more upmarket. This place also had a fabric area. Lots of beautiful silks and cottons. If I had been having a fancy dress made, it might have been the perfect place to buy the fabric, but I was really just shopping for fun, and nothing really jumped out at me. Also, at least 70% of the silks were sold by the yard in specific lengths with specific designs, lending themselves to making a traditional Thai skirt or dress. As pretty as all this was, this was still not we were looking for. The fabric hunt ended there. It wasn’t until I was at the airport and I saw some of the Jim Thompson designs did I realise that these were the fabrics that I wanted. But the $300 price tag for a scarf was not. Its nice to have something to look for as a way of exploring where you are, but the lesson is that things don’t always stay the same. If there is a next time for me and Bangkok, I might just make a point of going to the Jim Thompson Outlet, which this time around I’d decided was too far out of town.
There was probably a great place to have some Indian food around there, but with no local to show us around or even a guide book, we decided to head back to the business area near our hotel and get some lunch. It was a great decision because the business area was quiet on a Saturday and the lunch period was coming to a close. We had a quiet Chinese lunch and headed back to the hotel.
I enjoyed Bangkok and wish I’d had more time to explore the river or take a trip out of town. But it was fun to stay for a few days and experience a nice hotel. There may be other opportunities to come back as Thailand may prove to be a good R&R spot once we’ve moved to Nepal. Especially as its a landlocked country, we may be missing the sea a little! It was hard not to see Bangkok constantly through the filter of my experience of Manila, although I was aware that this approach wasn’t necessarily fair to either place. Thailand is definitely ahead on making itself welcoming to tourists, and I wonder if in ten years time, Manila would have developed to this point. I guess time will tell.