A bargain-hunter's paradise

Updated: 2015-01-31 06:52

By Lin Qi(China Daily)

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Thailand's capital excites travelers eager to shop.

Shopping is one of the main reasons why tourists come to Bangkok. Many of the city's malls are connected to BTS skytrain stations, which allow people to escape the heat and humidity.

However, Bangkok also boasts countless, dazzling markets and bazaars where Thai people shop for almost everything. Among them, Chatuchak Weekend Market and Train Market are two must-see places. Otherwise, visitors shouldn't be able to say they've been to Bangkok.

A bargain-hunter's paradise

The Chatuchak Weekend Market hosts 27 sections selling merchandise ranging from clothes, souvenirs and secondhand books to fine art. Photos by Lin Qi / China Daily

A bargain-hunter's paradise

At the Rot Fai Train Market, converted vintage cars serve as bar counters, and shops carry vintage collectibles and the chic brands of local designers.

A bargain-hunter's paradise

The Amphawa Floating Market, located 50 kilometers outside of Bangkok, is a major draw for foodies. Restaurants, food stalls and moored boats gather to sell Thai snacks such as grilled prawns and salted fish.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

It's said to be one of the biggest weekend markets in the world, with thousands of booths. Some people fly to Bangkok just to shop at Chatuchak, or Jatujak, as it is pronounced in Thai.

The market sells plants and flowers from Wednesday to Thursday; Friday is the wholesale day. It is on Saturday and Sunday that a wide variety of miscellaneous commodities attract a large number of visitors and traders.

The market is divided into 27 sections selling merchandise such as clothes, decorative items, Thai souvenirs, secondhand books and pet articles. Eateries provide authentic Thai food and drinks, such as pad thai and mango with sticky rice.

One of my Thai friends, Tananart Sakolvittayanon, a college student who lives near the market, says Chatuchak is far more fun and lively than going to malls. "Usually stuff that is sold at Chatuchak is always cheaper than other places in Bangkok, but the quality is the same."

Visitors can get a free map of the market at the entrance gates. If you get lost, don't be afraid to ask the vendors for directions; most of them can speak English. Many of the young vendors enjoy chatting with foreign visitors. An employee at a Thai dried food and seafood shop said it took him five to six weeks to become familiar with Chatuchak.

Remember the section and the soi (lane in Thai) numbers of the stores you want to return to; keep their business cards or take a photo of their address plate.

A lot of shops sell similar souvenirs, so don't buy anything without looking around first. Tananart says the shops near the entrance and facing the streets typically charge higher prices than the ones located farther inside the market.

If you bargain, you can get a vendor to slash the price by 20 to 30 percent, in most cases. If you are lucky to have a local companion and seasoned shopper like Tananart, you may get an even greater discount.

There is more to Chatuchak than just shopping and dining. If you enter from Gate 2 and go to Section 7, there is a "secret garden" of fine art. The lanes have dozens of art stalls containing paintings, sculptures and installations.

The artists act as their own gallery managers, decorators and dealers. They show considerable patience explaining their artwork, bargaining and helping package the purchases.

Last but not least, try the coconut ice cream before you leave Chatuchak. The little stand at the main road outside Section 25 sells the best; two scoops are placed in a coconut shell and covered with your favorite toppings. It costs 30 baht (91 cents) for one serving and an additional 20 baht for a bottle of coconut water.

Rot Fai Train Market

Night markets are essential to Bangkok's nighlife. Rot Fai, meaning train in Thai, stands out with an array of stores selling antiques and vintage collectibles.

The night market was originally located next to the train tracks behind Chatuchak, which is how it got its name. Rot Fai was relocated to the city's suburb district Bangna in 2013 to make room for the BTS skytrain expansion project.

Rot Fai is open from 5 pm to 1 am Thursday through Sunday. Most stores and open-air stands don't really get busy until 7 pm.

Besides the food and everyday goods bazaars, Rot Fai features a large section of factory-style brick buildings that house dozens of vintage stores. Visitors may also want to snap some photos of the vintage cars parked along the roads.

You can also find local designers' brands at Rot Fai, which captures the chic and funky spirit of Bangkok's youth culture. Some vendors have converted vintage cars into bar counters and set up open-air drinking areas around them.

Every secondhand store has a number of vintage items, such as bicycles, toys, radios and more unusual things like British police helmets. Fashion-istas will find the market a treasure trove with a wide array of vintage clothes, shoes, bags and jewelries. The spacious area is not overcrowded, so if you're seeking a more tranquil night experience, come to Rot Fai.

Outside Bangkok

The Amphawa Floating Market is located about 50 kilometers outside Bangkok, and has become a place where Bangkok residents love to spend their weekends.

Foodies especially find Amphawa irresistible: Restaurants and food stalls are massed on the riverbanks of the Amphawa canal selling Thai snacks, grilled prawns and salted fish. As someone who was raised in a coastal city in southern China, I felt my mouth watering at the sight of marinated crabs, mussels and shellfish.

There are plenty of restaurants for those who prefer dinning in a comfortable environment. But since it's a floating market, make sure you try the appetizing seafood served from the moored boats.

The many bridges across the canal offer a grand view of the lively market that stretches as far as where Amphawa meets the Mae Khlong River. One day is enough to cover the whole market, while two days will enable visitors to enjoy a boat trip to see fireflies at night.

There are hostels available for those traveling on a budget. If you stay for a weekend, you should also check out the Maeklong Train Market, or the Umbrella Pulldown Market, as locals call it.

At first, it just looks like an ordinary market where locals purchase ingredients for their daily meals. But when a train approaches, the storeowners pull back the awnings and shop fronts. Once the train passes, they're put back into their original place.

Visitors stand by the tracks, snapping pictures and cheering while the train narrowly passes by them.

If you go

Chatuchak Weekend Market

9 am-6 pm, Saturdays and Sundays.

Take the BTS sky train and get off at Mo Chit Station, take Exit 1 and just follow the crowd; or take the MRT subway and get off at Chatuchak Park Station.

Rot Fai Train Market

5 pm till midnight, Thursdays to Sundays.

Take the BTS sky train and get off at Udom Suk Station; then take a taxi and tell the driver to drive to Seacon Square.

Amphawa Floating Market

Open on Saturdays and Sundays.

Take the BTS sky train and get off at the Victory Monument Station, ask the staff and you will find minivans just outside the station selling tickets to both Amphawa and Mae Khlong.