Five tips for navigating Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, ThailandAmong the numerous sites to see in Bangkok, Chatuchak Market stands among them as a must-visit, once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is simply nowhere like it in the world. It's been a few years since I was there, but I can imagine that if anything it's only more insane. Here are a few things that helped us maximize our time at a place where you could literally spend weeks exploring and still not see everything.
1. Take the Sky Train
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Actually, take the Sky Train everywhere you go in Bangkok, not just to Chatuchak. You'll have to walk a few blocks from the closest stop, but it beats being stuck for hours in the sloth-like traffic of Bangkok (especially in one of those oh so novel tuk-tuks blowing gas fumes directly into your brain). The Sky Train is cheap, super easy and gives you a very unique view of the city. It also can get super, super crowded. Someone may be firmly pressed against you. Just roll with it.
Get off at the Sapan Khwai station. As always in a foreign city, map out your walking route ahead of time (also I don't remember the way), but it's generally hard to miss Chatuchak. You'll start seeing stalls and street vendors that line the perimeter of the market. There are multiple entrances, and no fee to enter, but the main entrance offers the most exciting dive into the madness.
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2. Cool off in a restaurant
In case you didn't know, Thailand can get hot af. If you're there during the warmer months, you will definitely be feeling the heat as you wander through the endless shops and stalls. Luckily, since Chatuchak is so flipping insane, there are multiple restaurants and bars located throughout the market.
It's hard to go wrong food-wise in Bangkok, so look for a sign pointing to the nearest restaurant, or just walk around for a bit and you'll find someone blasting that blessed AC that can be yours for no more than a serving of noodles and shrimp. When I was there we sat a literal nameless hole in the wall and the food was fantastic. There are also some shops with AC, but they generally don't like you plopping down and chugging a Chang beer (btw, it's Ch-ahhh-ng, not Ch-ayyy-ng).
3. Eat everything as soon as you see it
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Speaking of food, there's a whole bunch of it. There is a designated food and drink area, but you can find something to munch on pretty anywhere in the market.
Particularly when it comes to sweet things made with coconut, there are large amounts of treats you must put in your mouth. Don't think you'll come back and get it later. No, you will get lost and you will never find that specific food vendor ever again. See it, buy it, eat it.
4. Everything is negotiable
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No, really. Yes, it's super awkward for Americans to get used to this notion, but everything, no matter what the seller says, is negotiable on price. They claim there are no "tourist" prices, like you might find at other markets, but that's clearly a lie. You are obviously a tourist, and you shall be treated as such.
Just remember, the worst thing that happens is that they say no. Stick to your price, make it lower than your brain rationally thinks it should be, and you're still within their profit margin. One trick is to adamantly stick to your price, leave for a bit, and walk back by just as they're about to close up shop. More likely than not the vendor will wave you down and give you that special price just for you.
5. Buy at least one size up
I bought some of the damn coolest, most hipster, bad ass t-shirts ever known to man at Chatuchak, only to come home and find they fit me like I work at the Tilted Kilt. I still hold on to them hoping somehow, someday, someone will get to wear them. No one can. They're too damn small.
It's a simple fact that a medium anywhere in Southeast Asia is much different than a medium anywhere in the United States. Possibly because, as a nation, we are very — we'll say, well fed. It's not easy to try clothing on within the market, although some vendors do have changing areas, but do your best to try it on first and start off by looking at least one size up, maybe more if you're a dude.
Chatuchak Market is by far the craziest, liveliest and most-fun-to-get-lost-in market I've ever seen. This includes navigating the souks of Marrakesh, the night market of Hong Kong and the alleys of Barcelona. It blows them all away. Carve out a full day to spend here on your trip, plan on getting lost, and as a bonus tip: Remember to bring an empty backpack, because you're going to leave with a bunch of crap whether you like it or not (and of course you can always buy one there).
James Kerley is an editor at MapQuest.