Thursday, August 12, 2010

Jatujak Market, Part 1: An Overview

A family out shopping early one Saturday morning

The Jatujak Weekend Market can be an overwhelming experience, even if you've already been there a few times. Also known as Chatuchak Market (or just "JJ" among many locals) it's a test of endurance on a few levels - feet, stamina, vacation budgets, heat tolerance, claustrophobia and personal hydration, for example - but it's an experience I strongly advise all visitors to try at least once. Then when you've had enough, leave. For those with no sense of adventure whatsoever there's still the Suan Lum Night market adjoining Lumpini Park, although they continue to threaten to bulldoze it away. We'll cover that another day. [Summer 2012: the Suan Lum is now gone, by the way - Bao-Bao]

My first visit was back in 2003, guided by a long lost Thai friend who was then going by the name of Voy. Actually "lost" isn't accurate, but let's be kind and say I've made the acquaintance of other Thai friends since wishing Voy a good life and let it go at that. Voy had arrived on his own personal “Thai time” schedule (a bit after 1pm – instead of 8:00) and took my farang friend and I via BTS to the Mo Chit station at the northern end of the Sukhumwit line. From the elevated station platform we could see - stretching off into the distance - roofs of a small portion of the most unbelievable open-air market you can imagine.

Looking down about a third of one of the long, covered buildings

Depending on which estimate you choose to believe there are between 10,000 to 15,000 vendor stalls on the official grounds, most crowded together side by side under a series of long, high corrugated metal roofed buildings, covering the better part of 35 acres (or 70 Thai “rai”) like a regular weekend flea market on steroids. Some stalls - primarily produce, I'm told - are open on Friday, but the main market itself runs from 9am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. On any given weekend day between 250,000 to 300,000 people wander their way through the heat and humidity to shop for the best bargains in Bangkok. Not especially well organized but loosely grouped by item types, it’s a labyrinth of mythological proportions.

A photo of a map/sign - one of many to help guide you around

From the "official" map sign pictured above you can see there are hundreds of the buildings I mentioned above. In addition to this mapped area there's an additional area of homewares, fish and aquariums and an enclosed air conditioned mall not surprisingly known as JJ Mall. The mall is open every day and has many of the things a shopper would want - except many of the surprises and experience of the monstrous market itself, which is worth the effort.

A stall of religious statuary, one of dozens

Almost everything you can imagine, a lot you can’t and some things you probably shouldn’t are all available for purchase here: packaged and freshly cooked food of all varieties, all types of traditional and modern clothing, herbal remedies, leather goods of all kinds, electronics, music, animals, thousands of tropical fish, jewelry, orchids, medicines, appliances, software, plants, furniture, china, pottery, everything but humans themselves - and I’d imagine they were available for rent in some part of the market as well, if you catch my drift.

Creatures you (thankfully) don't often see outside of a zoo are available as pets

Enclosed “aircon” eateries rub elbows with a stall of musical instruments next to ATM machines, sandwiched between stalls of religious statues and artifacts that adjoin a small cock fighting ring – it seemed that every turn we took (and we wandered for hours) brought a surprise. My index finger cramped from taking so many pictures.

One of many places to eat - some smaller than this, some seating hundreds

By leaving the hotel at 1:00 that first visit we began with the deck stacked against us, and I've never gone there in the afternoon again. By 12:00 noon the covered buildings become large convection ovens. If you knew what you were going there for and precisely where to find it you could probably get in and out without roasting, but unless you thrive in the heat it just takes too much of the fun out of it for me. I like the wandering, the people watching, the sights and sounds - and that's so much nicer with the temperature less than 100F+ and without everything you're wearing stuck firmly to your body with perspiration.

There's no way to do "JJ" justice in a single post, so I'll break it up into some sort of sections. Today is your introduction - in Part 2 I'll share some guidelines based on my experiences that you may find helpful, and past that we'll cover some specific areas and stories.

From the air. Detail on this image to come


Christian said...

Chatuchak Market is a "must see", I go there every time I'm in Bangkok. I have some pieces of clothing and some books from there.

A friend showed me a market for domestic animals, I'm not sure if it belongs to Chatuchak market, it's directly to the north of it, somewhere opposite the Children's Museum. Maybe you find there the one or other species that was believed to be extinct.

And there is a spot where you can buy insects (and unhateched chicken and dried frogs) for eating, something you have to look for in Bangkok.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for an interesting Thai angel.. that statuary shop could have easily separated me from some of my money.

Dimi said...

Wow ! So much going on here while I'm on holiday (and off to Montreal soon).
Glad to see the much anticipated post on JJ Market and other ones still coming up on a regular pace, I'll be sure to catch up with the blog soon :)

Karin said...

I'm ready for you to take me on a tour.