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Forget the tourist traps selling trinkets and make a beeline for these unusual local favourites for one-of-a-kind souvenirs and superb people-watching.
Thailand has always been famous for its open-air markets selling everything from clothing to jewellery to street snacks. Sadly, a number of night markets have devolved into rather shabby affairs displaying T-shirts with crass slogans and knock-off designer bags to travellers. For a much more local shopping experience and the kind of items you’ll actually want to load into your suitcase, check out these alternatives.
ROT FAI MARKET
Talat Rot Fai, literally translated as the “Train Market,” gets its moniker from its location right by the old tracks and sells a vast array of quirky finds. Join the throngs of teens and twentysomethings who come to peruse the vintage clothing and assorted oddities often displayed in repurposed VW bugs. The outdoor bazaar has become so popular over the years that it’s produced a couple of spin-offs, including the smaller but easily accessible Rot Fai Market 2.
ROT BORAN MARKET
Often referred to as the Classic Car Market, this kitschy-cool spot on the outskirts of town features dozens of vintage vehicles converted into makeshift shops for all kinds of unusual bric-a-brac. On weekend nights, it’s a great place to hang out with Thai hipsters and art students from Kasetsart University, who come here to shop for curios and vinyls. Unfortunately, it’s something of a journey to get out here and not every taxi driver knows the route. Still, the retro vibes, the lakeside setting, and the chance to get off the tourist circuit and visit a market almost exclusively for locals make this more than worth the trek.
PAK KHLONG MARKET
Once a major tourist attraction, these days Bangkok’s famous wholesale flower market has some of its lustre. In recent years, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has cleared away vendors and confined those who remain to a smaller area. Nevertheless, this is something of an icon in the city and still worth a visit if you’re near the old part of town. Several florists still carry on selling from buildings near where the main market once stood. Go early in the morning to see them tending to their colourful stock.
Any list of Bangkok’s markets would be remiss without at least a mention of what is still by far the city’s largest and most famous. Situated on the northern part of town at the final stop of both the BTS Skytrain and MRT lines, Chatuchak Market, or “JJ” as it’s sometimes affectionately known, encompasses more than 8,000 stalls split into 27 sections. For first-time visitors, the experience can prove overwhelming. If you know where to look, however, there are some real finds here. Thailand has a booming fashion scene and many up-and-coming young designers first showcase their creations here. While there’s an abundance of Thai street food, in recent years, vendors have started selling everything from authentic paella to currywurst. In the evenings, Viva 8, a low-key bar, spins house and turns the surrounding area into something of a block party.