Juxtaposed with the high-end (and air-conditioned) malls that lay claim to most of the city, the culture and entrepreneurship of the markets is what Bangkok shopping is really all about. Visitors who can muscle up to the chaos and the crowds will be rewarded with unique souvenirs, bric-a-bracs, beautiful fabrics, and—often times—an experience shopping right alongside locals. Unless a firm price is noted, bargaining is expected at almost every stall, and you’ll negotiate transactions by passing a large calculator back and forth. Many Thai vendors believe that the first sale of the day brings good luck, so look to strike a bargain right as the market opens. Once that initial transaction is made, watch as the salesmen fan the bills over their products to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the day. Whether you’re on the hunt for unique gifts to bring home for friends or a bouquet of flowers to brighten up your hotel room, read on for the best markets in Bangkok.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Known as the JJ to locals, this massive market is an anthropologist’s dream and home to everything from bespoke furniture and clothing, to exotic pets and aromatherapy oils. Snap a photo of the market’s map at the entrances before venturing deep into its alleyways, and plan to stay for a lunch.
Flower Market (Pak Khlong Market)
On my first trip here I spent less than $5 and walked away with more blooms than my three vases at home could handle. Now outfitted with multiple containers, I make a weekly trip for roses, orchids, and lilies. Most vendors will arrange bouquets for your room, so be sure to schedule a trip early in your itinerary.
Sampeng Lane Market
Squeezing past the pushcarts and dancing around the motorbikes that whiz down the backstreets of this market can be an exhausting affair on the weekends, but a mid-week trip is always rewarded with calmer shops and alleyways. The Chinatown portion can be skipped, but the selection of fabric, monks’ bowls, and jewelry in Sampeng Lane’s other half is worth the visit.
I find that employing the buddy system is the best approach to tackling this wholesale clothing bazaar. The only way to strike a bargain with the vendors selling their shirts, shoes, and accessories is to buy two or more pieces, since most stalls offer retail prices for single-item sales.
Built alongside abandoned train tracks and coaches, this weekend market is a must-see for antique lovers in search of vintage clothing, furniture, or even motorcycles. If you’re looking for more carry-on friendly finds, head to the back of the market where knick-knack finds are sold near the host of delicious street food and Volkswagen vans-turned cocktail bars.