Words: Thea Easterby
It is hard to come to Bangkok and not be amazed by its abundant number of markets. Markets are scattered throughout the city and sell everything from clothes to fresh food to bike parts.
If you think the markets are for the tourists, think again. The Thai people shop extensively from the markets, particularly when it comes to food. The one exception to this is the markets in the busy Khao San Road area where many stalls are specifically targeted towards travellers and backpackers.
Since many Thais work long hours, it makes sense that they would need to be able to do their own shopping at the markets after they finish work. Some of the street markets are open quite late. It was normal for me to go for dinner and drinks and for the markets to be still open long after I was tucked into bed.
A Chinatown tour with Urban Adventures has us wondering through the Pak Khlong Flower market (not often frequented by tourists but well worth a look for all of the stunning displays of colourful flowers). This is the place to see marigolds, the striking yellow flower you see on all of the shrines and spirit houses around Bangkok, literally by the truckload. My tour guide laughs when I tell him that orchids are expensive at home. At the flower market, there are mounds and mounds of them ready to be bought and used in the many hotels across town. Another pricey item at home, roses are cheap and plentiful here.
My tour guide Nop describes the Klong Thom market as the ‘boys market’ and I can certainly see why. This mainly undercover market is where you come to buy engine parts, handyman tools and electrical products. If you are looking for textiles and fabrics, head to the Indian Market on the fringe of Chinatown.
There is even an amulet market adjacent to Wat Mahathat, though I have to admit it takes me a while to get my head around this one. Thai men with eyeglasses scan the amulets, though I have to admit to an untrained non-Buddhist eye, many look the same. The amulet market is also the place to purchase traditional Thai medicine.
I didn’t experience it myself but I heard the Chatuchak weekend market is one of the largest markets in Bangkok.
The one problem with markets can be when you are focused on getting from A to B and everyone else is focused on shopping. On several occasions when I was on my way to dinner or lunch, I got stuck in one of the many footpath markets selling clothes, handbags and the like. Pedestrian traffic can come to a standstill or move at a snail’s pace. If this happens to you - stay calm, be patient and smile.