“I want to go to Bangkok to shop,” was my best friend’s declaration when we first planned our girl trip to Thailand. Phuket was the first place in our itinerary where we only planned to relax, walk around the beach, and eat, eat, eat! Shopping in Phuket was out of the question because it’s known for its overpriced merchandise.
Bangkok was not exactly my kind of city, but what the heck, I have not done some serious shopping in a long time! I did my research and planned on staying around Pratunam area, a well-known shopping district. We stayed at Lemon Tea Hotel, a new budget hotel in the area with fantastic reviews on Agoda. Yes, I am particularly obsessed with reviews. It’s a 5- minute walk to the hustle and bustle of the shopping malls in Pratunam that would leave you wishing you had more money than you have.
Pratunam is definitely a haven for the shoppers at heart. It is practically a one-stop area for some serious shopping. We found ourselves overwhelmed with the number of stalls inside each mall. For a meticulous shopper like me, there is no way that I could do my shopping in two days here.
During my research, I found out that there is a weekend market called Chatuchak (also known as Jatujak or JJ) and it is the largest known market in the world. It is categorized in 27 sections with 15,000 stalls. It opens from 10am to 7pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
The receptionist at the hotel was very kind to give me a map of Bangkok with directions to Chatuchak and how to get there. The MRT station was a 10-minute walk from our hotel which made it convenient. As we alighted from the MRT, we were overwhelmed by the bevy of shoppers who came prepared with empty luggage, trolleys, and big shopping bags! We weren’t all that prepared after all – we didn’t even bring a single plastic bag with us!
We stopped for a quick breakfast at a small stall in Chatuchak where we were shocked to discover that our usual 35-baht chicken rice was priced at 70 baht there. If you intend to come here hungry, expect food to be more expensive so I suggest getting a meal somewhere else. It was nevertheless worth it because as soon as we checked the map of Chatuchak market and the massive area that this market covers, we knew we needed all the fuel we could get to survive the sweltering heat and the huge crowd that was starting to swarm in.
It seems like everything can be found in this market; Arts and crafts, home decoration fashion apparel and accessories, pets and pet accessories, food, children’s clothing, shoes, pottery, and plants. There were also stalls selling souvenir items in packs – an affordable way to give to your family and friends. I could tell that many of the customers in this shopper’s haven were veteran shoppers, some being re-sellers from other parts of Thailand and other countries.
The first thing that I was in the lookout for were puzzle lanterns for my mother-in-law. I found it to be way cheaper here than anywhere else. The seller gave me a discount for the purchased quantity. Just like any shopping market in Asia, haggling is the name of the game!
Upon realizing that we needed more Thai Baht, we headed to the money changers within the area only to find out that the exchange rate was way lower than the exchange rates offered by money changers in Pratunam but we just didn’t have the time and energy to find other money changers outside the area. When you’re a tired shopper who wants to waste no time and get this shopping spree over with, combined with the scorching heat, spending time looking for one would be very inconvenient and exhausting. To compensate for our unpreparedness, we did not change a lot of dollars so we didn’t exactly end up losing a lot.
For someone with very poor navigation skills, walking around Chatuchak Market was challenging despite glancing at the map on my phone. The crowd and the humidity didn’t help either but the variety and the overwhelming motivation to explore the entire market for one full day overpowered all that. It was impossible to visit every stall in the market for one day or for one weekend for that matter. It’s important to start at a section where you will most likely find most of the things that you want to buy.
There are very few stalls selling the same items so finding that exact floral dress in another stall is not likely. My meticulous buying strategy did not work because I ended up missing a lot of items that I really liked. I kept telling myself that I could find a better price for an item in another stall. Upon realizing this, going back to the same stall would be similar to navigating a maze. My best friend and I agreed that if we want something, we have to haggle for it and just walk away with it – if we really, really like it!
Chatuchak market caters to different shopping audience. There are stalls that price their clothes between between TBH 100-300 , mid-range items at TBH300-500, and the boutique-y ones at TBH700 to as high as TBH3000. My best friend and I split for an hour and agreed to meet at the clock tower located in the middle of Chatuchak. We had to do this to maximize our time as we don’t share a similar taste for fashion. After an hour of speed shopping, she was already lugging some shopping bags while an hour only got me a few wallets to give out to friends and a leather belt for my husband. We spent the rest of the afternoon spending what out wallets permit.
Hungry or thirsty? No problem! Food shops and snack stalls are easily found in the outer edges of the market. You can find fresh, sliced fruits in different types of dips to different Thai specialties. Thailand prides itself with its food culture so you can never go hungry when you’re shopping!
We ended the day totally spent, hauling a bunch of shopping bags that as soon as we exited the MRT station, we had to hail a tuktuk to bring us to our hotel. It was 5pm and we had an hour to rest until another shopping spree in Pratunam.
What I think of Chatuchak for shopping: If shopping is the only purpose for your trip in Bangkok, an entire week might be more realistic to really enjoy the shopping experience. Chachutak is a great place for arts and crafts, home decors, and unique items that you would normally not find in shopping malls. Make Chatuchak a more relaxing activity by spending time there on Saturdays and Sundays instead of squeezing it in one day. It is not exactly the cheapest place for clothing and accessories. Pratunam has better deals and options for clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Shopping In Chatuchak Tips:
- Download the Chatuchak map online.
- Ask the staff in your hotel if there is an MRT station nearby. Taking the MRT will save you money than taking a taxi or a tuktuk. There is a bigger chance that you will arrive there faster with the MRT due to traffic jam.
- Bring those very light shopping bags with built-in wheels. They come in handy when you have lots of stuff to buy.
- Haggle, haggle, haggle! This is definitely the key to a rewarding shopping experience in Bangkok. Buying in bulk is also another way to get a good bargain. If the seller wouldn’t bargain at a price you’re willing to pay for, walking away is a useful tactic. If they don’t run after you, it’s likely that they will lose profit if they agree to your price.
- Before you leave for Chatuchak, get those dollars changed at a money changer that can give you a better deal. Make sure to make an estimate on how much you’re going to spend (and yes, this is easier said than done).
- Many of the items in Chatuchak are unique to each stall so if you really, really want something, but expect to find the same item in another stall, it would be wiser to spend more time haggling with the seller than look for the same item elsewhere. There isn’t a good chance that you will find the same item again. Of course you should keep yourself from going crazy by buying everything you like since you would most likely end up finding another item that’s nicer. Balance is key.
- Bring a small crossbody purse. You will be lugging more items at the end of the day so you might want to leave that 100ml bottle of perfume or make-up set in your hotel room.
- Wear something comfortable. Bangkok can be extremely hot and humid so make sure to wear light clothes and a pair of comfortable flip flops.
- Be there early and make sure to have a bottle of water to hydrate!
- Enjoy and haggle with a smile!