When it comes to having a reputation, the street markets of South East Asia have it both good and bad.
Good because you can buy almost anything at dirt cheap prices and that is before you even start haggling.
Bad because you know that cheap equates to dispensable products often made in a different country.
This trade-off makes it almost impossible to get that value-for-money buy. It’s either you break the bank on high quality shirts that you’ll proudly show-off to your friends back home or skimp on tacky tees that would end up get ripped after a few rounds of washing.
It seems all hope is lost, that is until my wife and I went to Bangkok’s famed Chatuchak Weekend Market.
We had the notion of going there early in the morning because that’s when businesses are eager to score their first sales and shoppers are packed with energy. I guess 8:30 a.m. was too early for everyone – shutters were half-open and shopkeepers were finishing their breakfast.
It’s a subtle way of telling us “we’re open, but let me slurp these last strings of noodles before we attend to you.”
The market is configured like a spread-out departmental store.
A block consists of hundreds of shops selling similar items packed into a grid of directionless alleys. These blocks are then laid out into rows separated by streets big enough for small trucks to pass through. Signboards showing the layout of the market are found at every entrance so getting woefully lost is not a problem.
We roamed around a bit while waiting for the shops to fully open and traders warm up to our bargaining. The first store we visited yielded 5 pairs of elephant harem pants at a discounted price of THB150 each, followed by a pocket tee for me at THB120 and a cute little purse for my wife at THB100.
We were getting the good end of the deal not by the “how low can you go” negotiating method but more to the excellent quality of material we received for the amount we paid.
Things were now heating up around the clock tower – the heart of the marketplace. Traders can be heard actively calling passers-by to spend time in their stalls while transactions were going fast and hard.
We wanted to get a couple more t-shirts for our family (souvenirs for family and friends are a must for Malaysians when traveling) so we zoomed in on a stall selling tees printed with none other than – elephants!
The designs are simple yet bad-ass. They’re basically images of tough-looking elephants surrounded by the words “Bangkok” and “Thailand.” Ironically, the owner was the sweetest lady we ever met.
After the customary “hellos,” we asked if those shirts were made in Thailand.
“I design and print them myself,” she said, beaming with pride.
“I love the feel of the shirt’s cotton. Is it locally sourced too?”
Without a moment’s hesitation, she confidently said “yes.”
We felt kinda bad leaving her stall with only one t-shirt but we also left with a bucket load of respect for Thailand’s enterprises.
I could see that entrepreneurs here do not compromise on quality, even if it’s for a THB100 t-shirt. The effort put in to produce quality goods both in aesthetics and texture is a far cry from their South East Asian contemporaries like the luxury rip-offs of Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Street or the bundled wears of Phnom Penh’s Russian Market.
It’s not just clothes that the artisans of Chatuchak are good in. We also found other interesting shops selling home-made handicrafts like bonsai plants, aromatic soaps and miniature wall clocks. If it weren’t for the lack of time and money, we would have definitely added a couple of these items into our shopping bags.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is one marketplace that I will come back again in the future because half-day glimpse was not enough to uncover all of its hidden treasures.
This bazaar projects itself as a microcosm of the Thai work ethic – a penchant for originality, a grounded sense of creativity and a strong desire to give the best in quality.
The result: satisfaction to both the buyer and the seller.
- Contrary to its name, Chatuchak Weekend Market is open on weekdays. The market dedicates itself to plants and flowers on Wednesdays and Thursdays, wholesale goods on Fridays and everything else on Saturdays and Sundays.
- The market is located north of the city center and accessible via all means of transportation. The easiest way to get there is by either taking the BTS Skytrain (Mo Chit station) or MRT (Chatuchak Park).
- Chatuchak has basic facilities like public toilets, ATM machines and information counters throughout the marketplace. If you feel like planning ahead, you can check out their website here.