Shopping, like whisky has been a true blue mood elevator for most people. So how do you gauge the mood of the vast populace swooping down in the weekends to a seemingly unending market with almost anything & everything on offer? We are talking about Chatuchak in Bangkok, the largest weekend market in the world and the mood out there is simply festive. A huge shopping extravaganza with 15,000 stalls spanning across 35 acres and 200,000 to 300,000 daily visitors on an average, this would certainly take your breath away!
Come Saturday morning…it is not the smartly dressed regular office goers but fancily clad tourists, who throng the Sukhumvit line of Bangkok's sparkling metro, christened as the Sky train. As the Sky train terminates at Mo Chit station just at the outskirts of Bangkok, one simply needs to follow the swelling crowd going down to Chatuchak weekend market. Chatuchak is an experience, quite a heady one though playing havoc on all your senses! It confronts you with a riot of colours, charms you with the most intricately carved ornate designs and titillates your palate with the aroma of freshly prepared Thai delicacies. Chatuchak would test your tethers, your limits on how much to explore or rather how soon to give up?
So what exactly would you like to buy in Chatuchak? Woodcarvings, bamboo, glass & ceramics, brass & pewter, textiles & garments, jewelry, leather made-ups…take your pick! Buddha statuettes are ubiquitous in the standing, reclining or all too famous posture of practicing penance and also laughing heartily, la Chinese style. Brass & bronze castings of Thai danseuses, musicians, Gods, Goddesses and other mythological characters are truly a collector's delight. Wind chimes made of bamboo, wooden masks and the toad, which croaks when a wooden pin is rolled down its back are good buys. The painstaking Thai workmanship and their obsession with the finer details have redefined the art of making artificial flowers – the shops selling such flowers promise a veritable feast to the eyes.
Thai people are really good at their handicraft, which has been honed to perfection with the infusion of modern design & technique. But two products, which truly establish the Thai finesse, are basketry and ceramics. Baskets for seemingly every purpose are on offer; be it the fashionable magazine holder to the mundane storage of vegetables. Ladies' purses & bags, mostly made from the dyed reeds with excellent weave patterns could be head turners. The prices of all the handmades with the finest of carving & painting are really affordable and if one can skillfully engage into bargaining, prices of most items drop by about 30%.
After trudging along the lanes and by-lanes of the market and on reaching at least one final end of such a grand affair, we needed a break from the scorching sun. We really earned ourselves a good lunch. We spotted ‘Toh-Plue' restaurant, right on the main thoroughfare of the market with desperate attempts to put up a character with a live English band. We opted for two mini meal combos of roasted ducks with rice noodles and fried rice with squid. It took a little time but Toh-Plue ensured that the items ordered by us were freshly prepared with the right spices and served piping hot for us to savour. The food at Chatuchak was very affordable with our lunch bill totaling less than THB 120. To appease all the foodies, Chatuchak does boast of an equally grand culinary fare. Innumerable eateries dot the market at comfortable intervals with up-market air-conditioned dining facilities to large open-air food courts.
Somewhere I read about the pet section of the market. Generally asking directions from the people for the aquarium fishes, we discovered the market dedicated to the pets. Going by the South-East Asian obsession for ornamental fishes, the huge collection of Oscars, Discus, Cichlids, Gold fishes, Koi carps, Siamese fighters…was quite understandable. The pups & kittens for the keeps were too many: Pekinese to Pugs, German shepherds to Golden retrievers and the famed Siamese cats, the choice was wild. But I was not exactly prepared for what came next – the shops specializing in exotic pets : snakes & lizards. The glass boxes had large green tree pythons, Bayaks and many such wriggly species! And the variety of lizards like chameleons, geckos and monitor lizards on display was too eerie. We also saw the ferrets, mongoose and porcupines all too eager to be picked up as pets.
No description of Chatuchak can be complete without mentioning its tourist friendly facilities. A tourist has to probably walk just about 50 meters to locate an ATM or currency converter. And to make the shopping a truly seamless experience, there are over 15 agencies, which deftly pack your large & weighty wares and forward them to your address with care by air or ocean freight, all for the right fee! So do not bother to lug around the huge brass danseuse, she would reach your home as you get back after the vacation.
Something, which can get gruelling indeed is the afternoon sun in Chatuchak. As a rule, one should try to reach the market by 10 o'clock and adopt a focused shopping approach, as it would be almost impossible to cover the entire market for the assessment of products & prices. May be with such shackles on shopping, one can head for the lunch by early afternoon and then walk down to the Sky train or even better take the underground MRT to get back to the reality!