What are the best markets for shopping in Bangkok?
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Time: Saturdays and Sundays 9am to 6pm
BTS: Mo Chit Station (Exit 1)
MRT: Kamphaeng Phet (Exit 1), Chatuchak Park (Exit 1)
Bus: 36 (from Sukhumvit) / 524 (from Si Lom)
Chatuchak is Thailand’s biggest market, and Asia’s largest weekend market. In its tiny lanes (sois) you can find a dizzying array of items like clothes, accessories, knick-knacks, household items, decorative items, antiques (real and fake), Thai handicrafts, and live animals (including endangered species).The best time to visit the market is 9am, when it opens, as the musty sois get hot, muggy, and crowded in the afternoon. The majority of shops will not accept credit cards, so keep cash handy. Bottled water, backpacks/foldable carry bags, and comfortable walking shoes are a must, as is keeping an eye out for pickpockets. There are small oases throughout the market that serve chilled soft drinks and beer, light snacks, ice-cream, and piping hot Thai food. The clock tower in the center of the market makes a good landmark and meeting place if you get separated from your friends. In 2008, a blanket smoking ban was enforced on the entire market, with a THB 2,000 fine for offenders.
Phat Pong Night Market – Silom
Time: Everyday 6pm to 1am
BTS: Sala Daeng Station (Exit 1. 2nd lane on your right called Thanon Phat Pong.)
MRT: Si Lom (Take the Si Lom exit, follow the overhead BTS tracks and cross the road. Thanon Phat Pong will be a small lane chock-full of tourists, after the Burger King.)
Bus: 4, 45, 46, 47, 109, 524
The best time to visit Phat Pong is after 9pm. It is world-famous (or infamous) as Bangkok’s red light district with its numerous “Go-Go Bars”, “Ladyboy” shows, strip clubs, and pornographic and pirated DVD-vendors. It has recently cleaned up its act to some extent, but visitors are still bombarded with skimpily clad ladyboys screaming, “Can you help me?” and touts waving pictures of naked women in your face, all the while asking you, “Sex? DVD? Massage?”. If genuinely not interested in buying a product, do not haggle with a vendor, as it might lead to a tirade of the choicest words. Phat Pong is also famous for its fake goods – from Patek Philippe watches, to Mont Blanc pens, to Louis Vuitton bags. Vendors will show you catalogs of the brand you wish to buy, and when you point to a model and agree on the price, someone will scurry into some alley and come back 5 minutes later with the replica. You can also find vendors selling local Thai handicrafts, rude t-shirts, clothes, shoes, accessories, and most notably, beautiful hand-crafted soap ornaments which the vendors make on the spot.
Time: General market open 24 hours, retail stores from 10am to 9pm
BTS: Chit Lom Station (Exit 1. Walk toward Central World, take right on Phloen Chit Road, and walk straight toward the tall Baiyoke Tower – about 10 minutes.)
Bus: 140, 183, 513
Pratunam Market is arguably Bangkok’s best and cheapest retail clothes market. The logic here is simple – the more you buy, the cheaper it gets. Situated right under Thailand’s tallest building, the Baiyoke Tower II, it is a 24-hour market, though the dynamics change throughout the day. The retail shops within the market usually operate between 10am to 9pm. Apart from clothes, you can find lots of Thai souvenirs and handicrafts too. It is very common to see foreigners buying in bulk from vendors here to sell in their own countries. Buying 3 or more units of the same item constitutes bulk buying here which entitles you to ‘wholesale’ rates, and friendly bargaining is acceptable. The only rules in this market are, no trying-on, no refunds, and no exchanges. If it gets too hot, step into the Baiyoke Tower mall for air-conditioned coolness.
Khlong Toei Market
Time: Everyday 6am to 2am
MRT: Khlong Toei Station (Take the Rama IV exit, walk for 10 minutes on Rama IV till you come to the big intersection with Narong.)
Bus: 45, 46, 72, 102, 107
Khlong Toei is Bangkok’s biggest wet market. It’s a fascinating little hidden village amidst the concrete and glass jungle of the city. This is not a touristy spot, and you will not see many Westerners here. But a walk through this market, especially after 11pm, will open your eyes to how the markets work in Bangkok. You can find everything from fresh vegetables and fruits to butchers selling all kinds of meat. Many small vendors and shops buy from Khlong Toei at wholesale rates and resell the products in business and residential districts at higher prices. Be warned though, it is not the most hygienic or picturesque place to walk through. One needs a strong stomach to see the freshly butchered meat being sorted into different cuts for different customers. The smell and sight of blood can be overwhelming. If you are really adventurous, check out the vendors selling dead rats, and all sorts of roasted or grilled critters like cockroaches, bugs, scorpions, and grasshoppers.
Amphawa Floating Market
Time: Fri-Sun 12 noon to 8pm
Getting there: A taxi or tour is the best way to visit the market.
Amphawa is the second biggest floating market in Thailand after Damnoen Saduak, but is located at half the distance (50 km) from the city. Even though the market starts early in the morning, the real action begins in the afternoon. It is not as crowded or photogenic as Damnoen Saduak, but at the same time, it is a bit more authentic. One will not find Europeans buying souvenirs here, but instead see Thai tourists enjoying the day with their families and friends, hence the ‘authentic’ tag. There are private residences within the market, many of which advertise homestays. Many of the boats have pulley systems hooked up with the riverbank and use this system to send up their wares in baskets and collect the money from customers. There are innumerable Thai food options available. About 100m from the river is a temple completely engulfed by the roots of an immense banyan tree. The scene is straight out of an Indiana Jones movie.
Bangkok Flower Market (Pak Klong Talad)
Time: Open 24 hours, but more popular at night
MRT: Hua Lamphong Station (Take taxi or tuk-tuk from here).
It is Bangkok’s largest wholesale and retail flower market, located near the Memorial Bridge. You can find innumerable varieties of flowers and flora-related goods (flower pots, garlands, decorative arrangements) usually sold in packs of 50 and 100 each at very cheap prices. You need very little time to explore the market. It attracts tourists mainly due to the exotic and colorful nature of its products, which are extremely photogenic. It is best to stand back and observe if you visit during peak times like pre-dawn (4am), as vendors doing brisk business have very little patience then. Prices of products fluctuate throughout the year, depending on the demand or particular varieties during festivals and important holidays like Valentine’s Day and Songkran.
Time: Everyday 10am to 10pm
BTS: National Stadium Station (Exit 4 goes straight into MBK)
MRT: Sam Yan Station (Take the Thanon Phaya Thai exit, and catch a tuk-tuk or taxi for a short 5-minute ride to MBK.)
Bus: 15, 47, 48, 73, 204, 508
MBK is arguably Bangkok’s favorite shopping destination. It is a cross between a mall and a market, as its 8 floors of air-conditioned retail, dining and entertainment scream “mall”, while its tiny shops and over-crowded passages and alleyways make one feel like they are in a market. In MBK, you can spend an entire day without leaving – there is even a movie theater and a bowling alley on the top floor with many well-known restaurants (on of my favorite sushi restaurants in Bangkok is here) and fast-food joints (Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen). The rest of the floors are filled with thousands of vendors selling bags, shoes, accessories, clothes, handicrafts, souvenirs, perfumes, electronics, food, and even furniture and bathroom fittings. Bargaining is allowed, unless mentioned otherwise, even though prices are already very low. The hidden gem of MBK is the 4th floor, which is entirely covered in hundreds of shops, counters and kiosks selling, buying, trading, repairing, and even manufacturing mobile phones of every make and brand. It is an adventure to walk the entire floor and see the workers in action.
There are forex counters where you can exchange currency, as well as ATMs, all over the mall.
Talad Bo Bae (Bo Bae Market)
Time: Everyday 6am to 6pm
BTS: National Stadium Station (Exit onto the road and take a tuk-tuk or taxi across the canal or “klong” – about 10 minutes away.)
Bo Bae market is one of Bangkok’s oldest – and largest – wholesale clothing markets. You know you are close to Bo Bae when you see tuk-tuks stuffed with huge sacks of clothing forcing their way through traffic, almost doing wheelies. Vendors from all over the world come here to place bulk orders for clothes. The stall owners at this market even provide all the facilities to export the goods. Buying just 3 pieces of the same clothing will get you wholesale rates. Apart from branded western and traditional Thai clothing, you can also find fresh fruits and vegetables, Muslim (halal) food, and fashion/costume jewelry at very cheap rates.
Time: Everyday 10am to 9pm
BTS: Chit Lom Station (Same directions as Pratunam Market. Take a left at the junction of Pratunam onto Soi Petchaburi and walk for 5 minutes. Pantip will be on your left.) or Ratchathewi Station (Exit 4. Turn right toward Soi Petchaburi and walk for 10 minutes toward Baiyoke Tower. Pantip will be on your right). It would be best to take a taxi or tuk-tuk from either of these stations.
Bus: 113, 512
Pantip Plaza is a non-descript white building that faintly resembles a mall. Inside this building is Thailand’s biggest electronics market which sells everything from computers, laptops, accessories, electronics, cameras, software, CDs, DVDs, movies, and more at wholesale prices. The entire 5 floors are littered with small and big shops buying, selling, trading, building and dismantling computers. There are two large retail outlets here, IT City and Hardware House. You can find deals, sales, and discounts on almost everything in Pantip. The dark side of the market is that a lot of counterfeit goods and pirated software and movies are also sold, not to mention touts pulling male foreigners into corners and trying to sell them “naughty DVDs”. This is a great place to find $10-$100 bargains, but you would need to think twice before spending $700 on a laptop or camera from a shop here.
Yaowarat and Phahurat (Sampeng Market)
Time: Everyday 10am to 9pm
MRT: Hua Lamphong (It’s a 15-minute walk to Chinatown, or a 5-minute taxi-ride from here.)
Bus: 48, 204
Yaowarat (Chinatown) and Phahurat (Little India) stand side-by-side in this part of old Bangkok, with the famous Sampeng Market right in the middle. The area is famous as the textile and gold hub of Bangkok. It is one of the most exciting and chaotic parts of the city. Bright red-colored Chinese shops selling gold by the pound dot the main road as you enter Chinatown. Phahurat, on the other hand, is composed mostly of the Indian Sikh community dealing in wholesale textile imports and exports. The grand Sikh Gurudwara (place of worship) is a must-see. Sampeng Market is famous for trinkets, souvenirs, handicrafts, clothes, accessories and costume jewelry. The area is filled with roadside foodstalls selling Thai, Chinese, and Indian food, as well as fresh fruits and desserts. One dessert you shouldn’t miss is “Thap Thim”, which is basically crushed ice in a bowl, covered in sweet condensed milk, with a huge choice of toppings like coconut, water chestnuts, fresh fruits, jelly, and bean curd. It is the best refreshment during a sweltering hot shopping spree.
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