Markets are something that I have always loved – they bring an inexplicable feeling of joy, a rush, almost like when you’ve found a secret unlimited stash of your favourite candy. I’ve always believed that if you want to see a city beyond the facade of skyscrapers, its sea of vehicles, swanky shopping malls and maddening crowds, you should visit the markets.
Markets are the heart and soul of a city – they lend it its vibrancy and colour, the living, breathing parts that give you a peek into its history and culture; how the locals live, eat and go about living their everyday mundane lives. You can feel the palpable energy as you course through the narrow lanes; hawkers with their pushcarts, stalls with vendors calling out their wares in the native tongue, families haggling for that extra ten bucks; men huddling over cups of coffee in a corner as women take over the shops, random people who smile when they see a forienger, shiny lights, the aromas, colours and sights exuberate nothing but sheer joy. Visit any market around the world and you’ll understand what I mean ! 🙂
Bangkok is a shopaholic’s dream; bustling street markets to air conditioned malls to local floating markets, train markets, night markets, weekend market, plane markets – there is something for every kind of shopper. If you have the time and moolah – you could spend a month shopping and still not cover even half of it !
TTH Tip : Bangkok has absolutely no dearth of markets, but some of the biggest ones open only on weekends. So if shopping is your main agenda, plan your trip over a weekend.
Unfortunately, we were in Bangkok during the weekdays, so weren’t able to catch any of the weekend markets (main one being Chatuchak market), but hey, we still managed to visit some really fun local ones. Skipping the malls, here’s a list of some really cool and unique local markets we visited and our tips and recommendations:
1. Maeklong train market
This is hands down one of the coolest markets we have ever visited. It is very much like your usual local market, except it’s bang in the middle of a railway track. Fruits, vegetables, spices, meat and seafood, creepy crawlies, food joints, clothes, footwear, bags, stationery – name it and you have it. First thing about the market you’ll notice is the variety of stuff and the strong whiffs you get as you walk along the rickety wooden sleepers of the railway tracks. Second thing that stands out is, how unorganized the market is, in the sense you will find a meat stall next to a stationery and garment stall.:)
We walked through a regular vegetable and fruit market bursting with a riot of colours under the covered canopies on the railway tracks, selling leafy greens, root and cruciferous veggies, fruits of all possible kinds – juicy mangoes, mangosteens, durian, star fruit, lychees and rambutans. You will also notice the odd garment store selling caps, socks and scarves interspersed between the vegetable vendors who keep calling out to the locals and tourists on their wares and bargains to occassionally to sample their freeze dried fruits… It is just a typical day at a busy bustling market 🙂
As you walk down further, you cannot miss the overpowering smell of meat and fish wafting through the tracks. You can see a variety of meat and seafood; in all possible forms – minced, fried, pickled, powdered, dried, cooked and also few that are very much alive and thriving.
We arrived at the market a good 40 minutes prior to the arrival of the train, so we took our time exploring the entire length of the market and its wares, sampling fruits and refreshing ourselves with some chilled sweet coconut water.
And now comes the best part. A loud announcement in Thai and English signaling the train’s arrival and instructing people to stand behind the red line. As you hear the sing-a-song announcement blaring through the speakers multiple times, you can see the vendors slowly starting to stack baskets from the tracks, wheeling back their trolley tables into the shops and pulling down the awnings.
All the tourists start walking around to find a safe spot to stand, which is marked out with red lines on the sides of the tracks, out with their phones and cameras to capture this unusual everyday activity that they may not come across back home.
…And there you see the red and yellow train slowly chugging its way through. As a tourist, you are completely fascinated by the flurry of activity but the locals seem quite unperturbed, nonchalantly continuing their conversations and sales, waiting until the last couple of seconds to pull the awnings down.
The train passes by and you’re standing barely inches away, passengers waving at you as you see the train making its way to the Maeklong station just across the road. Once the train crosses, within a blink of an eye, everything is back to business! It is just another day at work! 😊
How to reach?
Maeklong is around 80 kms from Bangkok and is best accessed by road. We hired a car which is the fastest way to get there. This market is just 20 mins away from the famous floating market ‘Damnoen saduak’, so you may club this in the same day trip. It cost THB 1500 (round trip) from Bangkok to Damnoen Saduak.
When to go and what to shop?
The train runs per schedule 8 times a day as given below. Since this is a local bazaar, there may not be a lot to shop, so plan to reach 45 mins to an hour before to simply explore the place. The market is a great place to catch a glimpse of the locals and their daily lives; so walk around, sip some chilled coconut water, sample some durian or mango crisps as you wait for the train to arrive.
Train timings :
DEPARTURE TIME ARRIVAL TIME
- 6:20 am 8:30 am
- 9:00 am 11:10 am
- 11:30 am 2:30 pm
- 3:30 am 5:40 pm
2. Damnoen Saduak floating market
Bangkok has several floating markets and Damnon Saduak is among the largest and most popular ones (like everybody will tell you !). Having read so many blogs and recommendations, we were all excited to see it. Sadly though, once we got there we realized the market though busy, has become a tourist trap.
Since there are not many options once you reach the pier, you are forced to take one of the guided tours that multiple agents offer at the entrance. The boat charges are exhorbitant (3000 THB for a boat for 4 people) and though there is some room for bargaining, it still seems like a rip off ! On a 2 hour guided tour through the market, you will pass through Khlongs (canals) which are lined with shops on stilts selling handicrafts, souvenirs, clothes and paintings. The tour also includes stop overs at two temples and a handicraft market. There are multiple additional activities you can do there; snake farms, elephant ride, photo ops with long ring necked women (yes, the ones we’ve seen on Discovery! ) but they all come at an additional price. The last section before the end of the tour is the food market which is where all the boats congregate before they drop you off at the pier.
As you cruise alond the canals, you can ask the boat guy to pullover to a particular shop, if something interests you. Most of the shops sell over-priced stuff, so make sure you really bargain well. (I personally wouldn’t recommend shopping here!)
The floating markets are actually a great experience to see how life on canals function – lively, colourful ; exactly how they look like on those picture postcards and fridge magnets. It is a good experience provided you aren’t left with a bad aftertaste of being sucked into a tourist trap. All things said and done, the pleasant images I took home from this experience was of adorable old grandmas dressed in traditional attires with straw hats, rowing their boats selling tender coconuts and ice-cream. The other saving grace was trying some freshly made Thai cuisine which made up for the whole thing; well partially at least ! (when it comes to food, who’s complaining ?!)
TTH Tip : This market as we found out can be a big tourist trap. We recommend exploring other local floating markets which will give you a more authentic experience.
3. Pak khlong Talat or Flower market
Situated down the road from Wat Pho, do visit this beautiful huge market, an absolute treat for your senses.
The smells are tantalising and the sights are soothing to your eyes. You are bound to gape at the kaleidoscope of colours; flowers of every possible variety; names of some you know – orchids, chrysanthemums, jasmines, marigolds, lavender blossoms and carnations and many more that you don’t.. But nonetheless stroll through this market for its sheer size and beautiful colours. I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking 🙂
Opening Hours – 24/7, gets really lively at night.
Location and how to get there?
This market is located at Chakkraphet Road, the Memorial Bridge or Saphan Phut Chao Phraya pier. which is at a walking distance (less than 1 km) from Wat Pho. If you’re tired legs are already killing you from all the walking during the day, hire a tuk -tuk to get here. You can also take the public ferry and get down at the Pak Khlong pier.
4. Indira market
Indira market is known as the hub of shopping for Indians in Bangkok. Located inside an air conditioned building, this mall has just about everything – clothes, footwear, bags, souvenirs, jewelry. You will find shops manned by Indians and the occasional Thai nationals who will flaunt their Hindi skills when they see Indians. This is a wholesale market and you will mostly find unbranded but good quality stuff. You will get good discounts when buying in bulk, so make use of your best bargaining skills. There are also scores of Indian restaurants in the locality in case you are craving for an Indian meal fix while travelling. Indira and Pratunam market is right behind each other; so we couldn’t really figure out where one begins and the other ends, but the entire area is exclusive to shopping.
5. Pratunam market
Right next to Indira market is Pratunam market, supposedly Thailand’s largest clothing market. With the Baiyoke Hotel towering over the streets, walk through the numerous lanes in the area, with indoor and outdoor stalls that sell just about everything – second copy tees and bags of famous brands, clothes ( buy the elephant printed Thailand tees, if you fancy , you’ll see them everywhere ! ) footwear, jewellery and watches. You will also find several street food vendors setting up stalls as the sun goes down, so grab some nibbles (read satays 🙂 ) to re-energise and continue shopping!
6. Chatuchak weekend market
Every blog you read on Bangkok and every person you ask in the city for the best place to shop will give you a single, unanimous reply – Chatuchak market. Known as the mother of all markets, this one boasts of about 15,000 stalls that pop up during the weekend. From what we heard, you are bound to get lost in the maze of shops and many a good friends have burnt a hole in their pockets shopping here. Since we weren’t in Bangkok for the weekend, we missed this one (there’s always a next time, isn’t it?) but this market is a highly recommended one, so do not miss it 🙂
There are so many markets in Bangkok, you are actually spoilt for choice. We had only so much time in our itinerary to squeeze in for shopping and we did the best we could, but feel free to explore some of the other popular markets mentioned below.
Locally known as “Yaowarat”, Chinatown is a revelation in itself. Download a map and get lost in the narrow winding lanes of the market or book yourself a guided tour for some amazing food and shopping experience !
Night markets – Patpong market and Rot fai market
Khaosan Road – backpackers paradise, also famous for its adventurous street food, pubs and nightlife.
Hope you enjoyed the post and Happy Shopping ! 🙂
Comment to let us know about your unique Bangkok shopping experiences !