Thai Tour: Day 11
The “World’s Largest Market”
Chatuchak market; market of markets; Bangkok bargain behemoth. No other place can claim such legendary status when it comes to Bangkok shopping as the 8000-stall labyrinth that is JJ. You can try and limit your time there. You can set yourself rules. But every time the place will pull you in and fight you if you try to leave.
I arrived around 10:00. I left at 15:30. In those intervening five-and-a-half hours I roamed dusty aisles in mid-30° heat, sweated a few litres and sweated some more, took a few photos and bought absolutely nothing to take home. It was a physical ordeal unlike any other I’d experienced while shopping.
But as one of the world’s largest markets, all this was to be expected. If they told me it was one of the busiest, I could believe that too. One of the hottest and most daunting? I wouldn’t doubt it. When you’re in there in the thick of it, it’s as if the whole of Bangkok’s whirlwind craziness has been distilled and set loose within those 27 acres of market stalls.
I had no other plan than to check out the Chatuchak phenomenon for myself, exiting the MRT at Chatuchak Park Station to join the already sizeable crowds filing ant-style towards the “world’s largest market.”
The food stalls outside were already busy with breakfasting shoppers fueling up for the onslaught ahead. Grilled chicken, pad Thai, fried rice and soup noodles – the usual Thai market food suspects – were laid out along the row of stalls stretching down the pavement beside the market proper, all in perfect earshot of the Chatuchak coconut man shouting “Coconuts, coconuts, coooooconuts!” at the top of his voice as he would still be doing more than five hours later when I left.
I ordered pork noodle soup and demolished it within three mouthfuls. It could have been one. But without wanting my hunger to get the better of me before I’d even started, an 80 baht mango and sticky rice got me some of the way closer to being ready for my attack on Chauchak.
Where to start? When to stop?
Anything you want you can buy at Chatuchak – almost. It won’t be anything you actually need, of course. Nobody needs a bag full of early-90s Premier League football shirts, rodeo outfits or hemp bags with Che Guevara’s face on them. But if you want these things, if you really want them, Chatuchak will be your of heaven.
I began in the vintage clothes section, making my way up one aisle and back down the next, past Japanese dresses, denim jackets, cowboy boots and shirts that looked so far from any concept of what could ever be fashionable, that I wondered whether they would ever find another home again.
Across the main thoroughfare, batik prints, Buddha heads and assorted home décor awaited. There was even an animal and pet section in which twenty minutes of my life disappeared whilst trying to find my way out. Another half-hour of searching through piles of old Converse and racks of vintage t-shirts later, I was just about ready to hit the nearest snack stall.
Fortunately, the people at Chatuchak have some appreciation of the creeping rage that a morning of heat, hunger and dehydration can bring. There are no shortage of opportunities to allow the disorientated shopper to refuel and let the stress of a morning of sifting and searching ebb away before the next installment.
Five sweat-dripping hours
After my pad Thai and grilled pork, I treated myself over the course of the next half-hour to coconut ice-cream, pineapple in a bag, and something on a stick that I can’t quite describe. I may have been tired, but there was no way that I’d go hungry, and with the afternoon ahead of me, I still hadn’t seen half of all that was there.
In the end, a couple of hours more was all I could take of walking endless aisles in the stifling heat. I’d arrived wanting to find out what Chatuchak was all about, and after those five sweat-dripping hours, I think I had a fair idea. It was big. It was busy. It was more workout than shopping experience, more town than market, where the unprepared would hit the wall before their bags were full.
I hadn’t quite been defeated. I’d managed to soldier on well past the hour when others would have crumbled. Yet when the time to leave arrived, I couldn’t get to the sanctuary of the MRT station air-con quickly enough. I’d return again, I was sure. But not before a long lie down in a darkened room first.