Chatuchak Market – Bangkok

When you travel through Asia you realise one thing: Asia is a big place. And full of people. What happens when a place is crowded, even for Asian standards? You have Bangkok  (with its 16 million people) and its weekend-only Chatuchak Market.

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The clock tower is the most distinguished landmark, very useful to get your bearings when you are completely lost and realise you just ended up in the wrong place.

Also called JJ Market (a translitteration from Chatu-Chak), it is the biggest marketplace in Thailand – and someone says, in Asia – but I wouldn’t know. In a country where every district has to have a marketplace by law, that’s some record. And it’s not hard to believe, with its boasted over 32 square kilometers of official surface (and probably, just as many un-officially dedicated to the same purpose). It’s half the size of the Republic of San Marino!

The area was once property of the Thai State Railways, which abandoned it and donated it to the city to host the humongous market. It is divided in 27 sections more or less organised by the cathegories of goods. “More or less” means that Pets, for example, belong to sector 13 but can also be find in 15, 8 and 9. Go figure.

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This guy is selling pet replicas. No, not replicants like you would find in “Blade Runner”. I mean, they are not real, just figures.

Asking for direction can help, but only if you are lucky. Also, don’t expect to be treated like a guest of honour. The market is huge and it’s open since 1946, and attracts a huge number of visitors  – 200,000 on an average day – from all over the world. Only a minority of which are farangs (“westerners” in Thai).

You can make some very good deals – or not. Depends on your luck and your ability to bargain hard. Remember that your biggest weapons in negotiations will be: a big, warm smile and the ability to be friendly, but firm. Don’t ever ever take the first price as definitive. Answer by proposing half of it, then evaluate the reaction. The game is on… but don’t forget to smile!

Now, the thing that strikes about Chatuchak is that you can find anything. It was seriously astounding: stalls full with every possible thing line next to each other, in covered sections and in the open air. Visitors make their way browsing through home decor to handcraft and antiquities, from pets & accessories to second hand clothes, from food to musical instruments…

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Ukuleles! Someone will be happy.

As I said, the whole thing was honestly an unexpected, shocking experience for me. And exhilarating!

Imagine, music and all sorts of noises filling the sois (alleys) between the different sections, and people from every corner of the world trying to buy, sell, bargain or just looking around. I could hear bits of conversations held in every language I am familiar with, including Hungarian and Slovak, plus many others that I couldn’t honestly identify. Really interesting!

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And the food courts of course! Every variey of thai cousine can be tasted in the market streets, and more. Some cooked,

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King prawns and fresh fish on display here. Although the ladies seem more concerned about their candy crush, probably.

Some raw,

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Oh, crabs!

And some… more exotic than others.

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“I would like some of those chips please. What do you mean, THEY ARE NOT CHIPS?”
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Yes, insects! Grasshoppers, beetles, even larvae (the most difficult to take). They say it’s the food of the future. Still, no vegan option here.

I am especially happy I tried the fresh coconut-and-durian ice cream, anyway. What is durian? I didn’t know before visiting Thailand. It’s a tropical fruit with a hard, spiky shell and a soft pulp.

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The fruit has a soft and bread-like pulp. But with the hard spikes that surround it, if it falls on your head, it can kill you!

It is considered by many Thais as a delicacy,  although there is a funny fact about it: when mature, the outer peel smells so bad, that many hotels forbid to bring the fruit inside.

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We have seen such a sign in one of the guest houses we visited!

Some fruit looked so fresh that could have been fake.

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It WAS fake indeed. A shop of fake ornamental fruit and vegetables!

Of course, some parts are very controversial. Like the “pets” section (of which I didn’t take photos), which is said to sell also rare or endangered species, under the counter.

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Now I am not even sure what’s going on, here.

But it was a relief to see that awareness is mounting, and there is in Thailand a strong campaign to disencourage people from buying ivory in any product or form. Elephants are really loved here.

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The “fish” section of the market is not the right place to go if you are planning to invite some friends over for a gourmet dinner. Instead, it’s for aquarium lovers

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and proposes a wide variety of fishes, all carefully bagged and priced for sale, from the more common

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to many exotic and tropical varieties.

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The proverbial “fish in a barrel”. Except it’s a polystyrene box this time.

Chatuchak is not only a marketplace. It’s of course also a huge meeting place, perfect for all sorts of social events. It’s the place for fund raising campaigns

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The guys were fund raising for their school. Nice!

or to promote your next big product

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“Jenny Sweet” was a plankton-based skin beauty product that was on promotion here. I was lucky enough to get a free sample.
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And what better way than a marching band to attract attention?

or ideal for street artists and their performances. Some better than others of course.

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This guy was singing so bad, I honestly wanted to pay him to stop. But then I didn’t.

and some, just unlucky.

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Mmmh, the young improvised percussionist got in trouble with security.

The market also hosts an extensive art section, with an impressive number of artists and galleries, each promoting their creations.

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Contemporary art is also well represented

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And so – Star Wars reference even here!

Plus: second hand books, from all over the world! It was really curious to find a Leonardo Da Vinci’s artbook in Thai language, Van Gogh in Chinese, and just next to it a university textbook on mechanical engineering and the latest edition of “Grey’s Anatomy”, in English.

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And more and more and more… flowers, real and fake

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Home decor

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And uh… stuff

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FISH SKIN – good for your soup, I guess. Or for a cat.

All meet in the streets of the JJ Market.

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Yes: Thai boxe shorts, American basketball shirts, European football jerseys, all together in one shop. And probably all fake anyway. I think this picture represent well the unique mix that is the JJ Market in Bangkok.

It can be a very demanding experience. We were lucky it wasn’t a very hot day – it actually rained a bit, so the weather was really ideal. Otherwise I imagine it can be the perfect setting for a “shop until you drop” experience. Literally.

Of course, as eeeeeverywhere in Thailand, you can have a break and enjoy a massage treatment, maybe to recover after so much hardcore bargaining.

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And for those who can’t resist, there is always the option of taking a nap.

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Some merchandise, I have to say, was more bizarre than other. Like this… uh… phallus-shaped pets? Really?

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Seriously – this was the top WTF moment of the day.

But other sections made up for the beauty in display.

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Some eastern beauty indeed!

In conclusion, I found myself wondering over and over: “How can you explain a place like this, without seeing it?”. I don’t think words can describe it. The abundancy, the variety, the diversity of the place

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and its sheer vastness (remember: 88 football fields lined up! Imagine walking through them!)

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And the sounds, the smells, the tastes – the spice and food section is particularly attractive in this sense

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So many different spices – many of which absolutely new to me. The feel of the place must have been the same as in the ancient time spice markets.

Or the soaps, spa and incense (which you can find in section 27, but also… everywhere else)

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All this make Chatuchak market a really unforgettable experience, one that hits all the senses. A huge place of social, cultural and historical interest. Not to mention, if you like shopping!

And in JJ you can find anything for anybody. Seriously recommended if you happen to be in Bangkok on a weekend (friday afternoon to sunday evening) day!

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Ok, 7XL – that’s “Big Size” in Asia. At least, if I grow bigger, I know where to go to shop.
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