With over eight thousand open-air stalls to peruse, and wares as diverse as Lao silk, Siamese kittens and designer lamps, the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market, or JJ as it’s usually abbreviated (from “Jatu Jak”), is Bangkok’s most enjoyable – and exhausting – shopping experience.
The market also contains a controversial wildlife section that has long doubled as a clearing house for protected and endangered species such as gibbons, palm cockatoos and Indian pied hornbills, many of them smuggled in from Laos and Cambodia and sold to private animal collectors and foreign zoos. The illegal trade goes on beneath the counter, despite occasional crackdowns, but you’re bound to come across fighting cocks around the back, miniature flying squirrels being fed milk through pipettes, and iridescent red-and-blue Siamese fighting fish, kept in individual jars and shielded from each other’s aggressive stares by sheets of cardboard.
Where to shop
Chatuchak is divided into 27 numbered sections, plus a dozen unnumbered ones, each of them more or less dedicated to a particular genre, for example household items, plants and secondhand books, and if you have several hours to spare, it’s fun just to browse at whim. The market’s primary customers are Bangkok residents in search of idiosyncratic fashions (try sections 5 and 6) and homewares (sections 2, 3, 4, 7 and 8), but Chatuchak also has plenty of collector- and tourist-oriented stalls; best buys include antique lacquerware, unusual sarongs, traditional cotton clothing and crafts from the north, silver jewellery, and ceramics, particularly the five-coloured bencharong. For handicrafts and traditional textiles, you should start with sections 22, 24, 25 and 26, which are all in a cluster at the southwest (Kamphaeng Phet subway) end of the market; sections A, B and C, behind the market’s head office and information centre, are also full of interesting artefacts.
Foodies will want to check out Talat Or Tor Khor (the Agricultural Market Organization), a covered market that sells a fantastic array of fruit, veg and other produce from around the country, as well as prepared dishes to take away or to eat at the food court; it’s on the south side of Thanon Kamphaeng Phet, next to Kamphaeng Phet subway station. There are a number of other places to eat and drink inside the market.