How to explore Bangkok’s biggest weekend market
Chatuchak Weekend Market (also called ‘Jatujak’ by locals) is the most famous market in Bangkok, but it’s only open on weekends! So you need to plan your Bangkok holiday itinerary so you have a Saturday or Sunday (preferably both) free to explore the Chatuchak weekend market. It’s that big! And it’s also the best place to find the shopping bargains you’re looking for in Thailand.
Chatuchak is a whirlwind experience not to be missed. It’s probably the only place in the world where you can get your hair cut and colored, buy a puppy, eat a bowl of spicy noodles, grab a Gucci handbag and send home some new furniture and only have walked 10 meters! It’s crazy and heaps of fun!
Chatuchak is not for everyone. It’s huge, complicated, crowded, hot, and a long way from most accommodation areas (although there are some nice hotels near Chatuchak Market). But if you’re looking for a ‘bargain central’ in Bangkok, Chatuchak is the place you need to go.
But get real, this is not a one-hour excursion or even a morning out … you need to set aside a whole day and maybe even the whole weekend to see it all. Chatuchak weekend market covers an area of around 30-35 acres (that’s the size of a modest farm) and boasts something like 10-15,000 stalls, shops, and eateries catering to some half a million visitors every weekend.
Assuming you arrive from Mo Chit station on the Bangkok Skytrain (see below for instructions), you will walk into the used clothing market (like the biggest damn “op shop” you’ve ever seen). Keep walking because most of what’s here either won’t fit you or you won’t want it.
Take a left turn and you’ll quickly find your way into the new clothing market which you’ll enjoy much more – fake Diesel, Polo, and Ralph Lauren t-shirts, fake Billabong board shorts, fake Gucci loafers, traditional Thai sarongs, and fisherman’s pants. But what’s fake? It’s very hard to tell the difference between the fakes and the real thing, and they seem to wear just as well.
After the clothing market, curving around to the right you’ll find the craft markets. Even if you never get to visit a hill tribe village in Northern Thailand or cross the border into Burma or Laos, you’ll be able to take home enough regional souvenirs from here to impress even the biggest skeptic. There are also lots of antiques in this part of the market, though it’s debatable how old they really are.
Moving on in a roughly clockwise direction, and assuming you haven’t gotten completely lost by now wandering down the small laneways between the stalls, you should come to the hardware market. If you want to add something to your toolbox, this is the place to do it. Otherwise, just keep walking and you’ll come to the animal market. Here you’ll find all manner of living creatures from birds and pets to spiders and snakes, fighting roosters and fighting fish, and everything you could possibly need to maintain and pamper them.
By now you’ll be wanting to grab some lunch or maybe even a taxi back to your hotel. But if not there is still more to explore and you could spend the whole weekend doing it!
How to get to Chatuchak Weekend Market
The market opens from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm every Saturday and Sunday, although it is open on some other days as a specialist wholesale market.
The easiest way to get to Chatuchak is to take the Bangkok Skytrain to Mo Chit Station – the last station on the north-bound BTS line. When you get there, don’t worry about directions … just follow the signs and all the people walking in the same direction. If the train is not your bag, grab a taxi (probably not a tuk tuk to go this distance) and ask to go to “Suan Jatujak” – the fare will cost you around 90-120 Bt ($3-4) and takes about 15 minutes from Khao San Road or Sukhumvit. You should certainly consider a taxi to take you back to your hotel afterward, as you’ll be loaded up with shopping!!
When you finish at the market (exhausted and shopped out), just retrace your steps back to Mo Chit station and take the southbound train back to the city. Trains from Mo Chit only run south, so just jump on the first train that arrives there, you can’t go wrong.
You can also get to Chatuchak on Bangkok’s other railway system, the MRT (underground). The MRT only has northbound and southbound lines, so it’s pretty easy to figure out which train to take. Get on the northbound train and stay on until either Chatuchak Park station (exits right outside Chatuchak Park). Walk across the park to the opposite side, cross the street and you’ll find the entrance to the market down a small alley. If you stay on the MRT until Kamphaeng Phet station, it’s even easier – just go up the escalator and you’ll virtually walk into the market.
How to find your way around Chatuchak Weekend Market
The scope of what’s on sale here can’t be easily described, but it includes clothing, shoes, handbags, fashion accessories, books, music, movies, household goods, art and crafts, jewelry, antiques, flowers, plants, birds, animals, and more. It’s a truly amazing place and I’m going to struggle to do it justice on a page like this.
Chatuchak is a well-organized market and each section offers different types of goods – so all the antiques, for example, will be in one area. Antiques and handicrafts are a big focus at Chatuchak, but you have to be aware that some “antiques” are manufactured specifically to sell here … so make sure you know your stuff if buying big-ticket antiques here.
The stall holders at Chatuchak will expect you to bargain (haggle) for the best price. If you don’t haggle, you will pay well over the going price for most things. If you do haggle, you’ll usually get much better prices here than in Khao San Road, on Sukhumvit, or in the MBK Centre.
Chatuchak weekend market is a little like a suburb in its own right, with named laneways (Sois) and ordered sections. The map on this page should be helpful for navigating the sections, but generally speaking, the following is a good guide to the organization of the market:
- Clothes and fashion accessories are in Sections 2-6 and 10-26.
- Handicrafts and souvenirs are in Sections 8-11.
- Ceramics and pottery are in Sections 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, and 25.
- Food stalls and drink vendors are in Sections 2-4, 23-24, and 26-27.
- Antiques and other collector’s items are in Sections 1 and 26.
- Books, music, and movies are in Sections 1 and 27.
- Art is in Section 7.
- If you’re interested, there is also used clothing in Sections 2-6 and 25-26.
If you don’t know what you’re looking for, the Chatuchak weekend market can be pretty challenging. It’s likely that the sheer size and scale of the place will overwhelm you and you may find yourself coming out with a lot more than you expected. The main thing is to plan how you’re going to approach the place (via the map) and get some landmarks fixed as soon as you get there so you can easily navigate back to the ramp that leads to the street and the station when it’s time to leave. There are free maps available at most entrances.
- If you have young children in tow, or you are in a group, it’s also good to pre-determined a meeting point if you somehow get separated.
- It’s worth thinking through what you wear and what you carry when you go to Chatuchak as these can both shape your overall experience. As mentioned, it’s a hot and crowded place especially on a hot or humid day (as most days are in Bangkok), so wear light clothing and comfortable shoes or sandals.
- Most of the market is outdoors, so protect yourself from the sun and elements with a hat and some sunscreen. There are plenty of drinks to buy as you go around, but it’s worth packing a bottle of water too.
- A backpack is better than a handbag as there are a few opportunistic thieves operating around Chatuchak on the weekend. Just make sure your valuables are not where they can be easily stolen. Some people recommend wearing your backpack back to front to completely frustrate the pickpockets.
- Make sure you have plenty of cash with you as the vendors at Chatuchak mostly don’t take credit cards and there are very few ATMs around to get cash from. To be honest, I would not use an ATM in this area anyway as they are a great target for card skimmers, who will scan your card and then take your money from your account.
- Arrive early as it gets hot and sticky in the middle of the day. The crowds are also a bit thinner early in the day.
- Haggle to get the best price. Haggling is a normal part of Thai shopping culture so vendors will expect you to bargain and set their prices accordingly, so if you don’t bargain you’ll pay too much. Start at one-third of the asking price and expect to pay around half. If stallholders don’t bargain, they’ll have a sign saying so.
- Don’t forget to eat and drink at Chatuchak! You’ll be there for many hours and you’ll need to recharge occasionally. There are lots of small food stalls, cafes, and even restaurants scattered around Chatuchak Weekend Market. A great refreshing snack is coconut ice cream which is ice cream mixed with coconut flesh and sold in half a coconut shell.
- You’ll need to find a toilet at some point. Toilets are located near the entrances and close to the roads around the edge of the market. They’re busy and a little smelly and you have to pay 2 Bt to use them and 5 Bt for toilet paper.
- Smoking is completely banned within the entire market precinct and there is a fine of 2000 Bt if you’re caught lighting up here.