Bangkok, Thailand’s bustling capital city, is full of outdoor markets where you can eat your heart out and shop til you drop. Tourists come from all over Asia just to stock their closets, and after visiting a few markets, I began to understand why. You can get literally ANYTHING in Bangkok for a fraction of what it would cost in your home country.
Chatuchak Market (Saturday and Sunday morning only)
Located 30 minutes north of Bangkok’s center, this weekend day-market is the biggest market in Thailand. Here you’ll find locally designed clothes, souvenirs, furniture, kitchenware, (unfortunately) exotic birds, antiques, which are well organized, there’s even a map for your convenience— and you’ll still get lost, that’s how huge it is.
Across the street the market continues informally, with a stretch of Thai antiques on simple sheets on the ground.
The market is so big, that even outside of Chatuchak park, there are hundreds of vendors selling even more stuff– I’d already spent 1/3 of my cash before we got inside the actual market.
To get there, hop on the BTS train and ride it to Chatuchak park, just follow the crowd!
“The Plane Market” @ Chang Chui Creative Park (everyday 11-11 except Weds)
A modern and artsy market west of the city proper, the plane market is a place for local artisans to showcase their handicrafts, clothing, specialty teas, and quirky art. There are many bizarre installations and antique shops, a Nintendo 64 hooked up to a projector, and a treehouse. Of course, the star of the show is the giant airplane in the middle of it all, which you can have a drink, or if you’re a high-roller, a 5-course dinner inside.
The market is surprisingly cheap, normal Thai prices, sans the plane restaurant. Cocktails are $10 or so, dinner is roughly $40-50, but there isn’t a vegetarian options available for the tasting menu.
Note: Eating dinner at the restaurant is the only way to visit the cockpit.
The Train Market @ Rot Fai (every morning)
A real local train literally runs through the market, and will kill you if you don’t step behind the red line! Visiting the train market is a strange experience– one minute the market is bustling, suddenly everyone clears, next the train whizzes by, and as if nothing happened, the market resumes.
And while it’s pretty cool, it’s sort of a place you go for 15 minutes and then carry on. Though the tour is kind of a pain, that’s the easiest way to visit Rot Fai and the main floating market in one-half day.
Bangkok has many floating markets, which you should visit in the morning to beat the heat and crowds. Local vendors in straw hats paddle or motor through the many canals with boatloads of fresh produce, it’s really something to see. You can also take a boat around the canals, and buy things from the vendors as you pass them!
There are also markets surrounding the canals, where you can try fresh juices of fruits you’ve never even heard of, such as gac and longan, floral teas, and sweets, or sit down for spicy fried noodles.
While most visit Damnoen Samnuak market, I’d highly recommend the more off-the-beaten path at Taling Chan, where locals actually shop. You’ll find much cheaper and more delicious teas and snacks, as well as fresh fruit, and all kinds of fried delights.
The Night Train Market (Friday and Saturday nights)
Yes, another train market– but this one doesn’t move.
This huge market is an hour away from Bangkok by metro or taxi but well worth it. It is mostly clothing and food but also souvenirs and antiques. There are literally thousands of vendors, lots of great thrifting here as well as locally designed t-shirts and handmade women’s clothing for cheap. I ate cool food here I didn’t see anywhere else in Thailand, such as fried chive dumplings which were delicious.
It’s open late, and has live music so after you’re done shopping grab a beer and hangout, this night market is a cool spot to people watch. Customizable gifts are also inexpensive here, you can get things branded or engraved, which makes for a more personal souvenir! And yes, there is a large decommissioned train just sitting in the middle of the market, but the real treat are the collections of classic American and European cars and motorcycles.
This was my favorite market, not only for the selection, but because it’s open late so it’s much cooler weather as well, and the stalls are more spread out and organized. It’s a vibrant market, but still relaxing, while others like Chatuchak can be a bit hectic to visit!
Neon Market (every night)
In the heart of Bangkok near Lumpini park and many shopping malls, the neon market is a colorful food and clothing market open late. It’s nothing really special, but a great place to buy cheap clothes and souvenirs, especially last minute on your way to the airport, since its smaller and centrally located. I wouldn’t recommend eating here, however, as prices for food are marked up considerably.
Pratunam Market (every day 5am-9pm)
Across the river, 1km north of Wat Arun is a large clothing market, mostly 1990s clothing with matching grunge music. Truly though, the main attraction here though is the food, there are tons of vendors crammed in as tightly as possible, selling all kinds of things you won’t find anywhere else. This is a great spot to try Thai sweets, as this is one of the few markets that sells them, and for much cheaper than a bakery (which can be hard to find) does.
Talat Patpong a.k.a the Knock-off Market (almost every night til 1am)
In the seedier downtown area, Patpong market is infamous for its knock-off brands. Here you’ll find shoes, purses, wallets, Fanny packs and t-shirts mimicking Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Supreme, Goyard, Adidas, and more. Some of these imposter pieces are spot-on, others are hilariously misspelled, either way it’s a good time— when you’re done shopping you can see a dirty show at any of the Ladyboy strip clubs which surround the market or get a cheap massage, just be prepared for some creeping hands!
It’s by far the smallest and most expensive market, but still you can snag great deals on faux-designer merch, like Calwin Kelai and Superme (yes, really). Some of it so fake, the real versions don’t exist! For example, one guy was selling Starbucks and Facebook brand flip flops, how strange and funny is that?
Chinatown (anytime, but mostly in the early evening)
Though its not an officially organized market, Chinatown, a sprawling district in southern Bangkok, is chock-full of Chinese and Thai street food vendors. While some of the food is distinctly Chinese, a lot of it is a unique fusion. Take your taste buds for quite a ride!
Last but not least..
The Infamous Khao San Road (til 1-2am)
This is the backpacker Mecca of Bangkok and it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place. I told myself I wasn’t going to, ended up there twice and had an amazing time both times and met a really nice Thai girl, we ended up traveling together for two weeks.
During the day, the bars are almost blocked by the sheer amounts of street food and t-shirt vendors. When the sun sets, the bars are in full-swing, blasting music, selling cocktails in shareable buckets. Then, the road is full of drunken teenagers from all over the world, and Akha refugee women selling inappropriate friendship bracelets.
(Yes, this is where people are selling that Anthony Bourdain-type stuff; fried spiders and all that junk no one in Thailand actually eats.)
It’s not just for tourists though, a lot of Thai people actually come here to people-watch, meet foreigners, or listen to Thai bands. Wander off a side-street and you’ll meet them. Or, stick to the main drag, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the chaos of Khao San rd. I just wouldn’t recommend a hostel anywhere close to it, because you won’t be able to sleep.
Bangkok is the place to shop, so bring your Thai Baht and get ready to some retail therapy! Make sure to bring plenty of cash, but keep it safe in a sealed pouch or pocket.
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