Among the largest open-air markets in the world, Chatuchak (also referred to as 'Jatujak' or simply 'JJ Market') seems to unite everything buyable, from used vintage sneakers to baby squirrels. Plan to spend a full day here, as there’s plenty to see, do and buy. But come early, ideally around 10am, to beat the crowds and the heat. There is an information centre and bank with ATMs and foreign-exchange booths at the Chatuchak Park Office, near the northern end of the market’s Soi 1, Soi 2 and Soi 3.
Schematic maps and toilets are located throughout the market.
Friday nights from around 8pm to midnight, several vendors, largely those selling clothing, accessories and food, open up shop in Chatuchak. There are a few vendors on weekday mornings, and a daily vegetable, plant and flower market opposite the market’s southern side. One section of the latter, known as the Or Tor Kor Market, sells fantastically gargantuan fruit and seafood, and has a decent food court as well.
Once you’re deep in the bowels of Chatuchak, it will seem like there is no order and no escape, but the market is arranged into relatively coherent sections. Use the clock tower as a handy landmark.
Antiques, Handicrafts & Souvenirs
Section 1 is the place to go for bronze religious statues, old LPs and other random antiques with religious motifs. Arts and crafts, such as musical instruments and hill-tribe items, can be found in Sections 25 and 26. Baan Sin Thai sells a mixture of kŏhn masks and old-school Thai toys, all of which make fun souvenirs, and Kitcharoen Dountri specialises in Thai musical instruments, including flutes, whistles, drums and CDs of classical Thai music. Other quirky gifts include the lifelike plastic Thai fruit and vegetables at Marché, or their scaled-down miniature counterparts nearby at Papachu.
For less utilitarian goods, Section 7 is a virtual open-air gallery – we particularly liked Pariwat A-nantachina for Bangkok-themed murals. Several shops in Section 10, including Tuptim Shop, sell new and antique Burmese lacquerware. Meng features a dusty mishmash of quirky antiques from both Thailand and Myanmar.
Clothing & Accessories
Clothing dominates most of Chatuchak, starting in Section 8 and continuing through the even-numbered sections to 24. Sections 5 and 6 deal in used clothing for every Thai youth subculture, from punks to cowboys, while Soi 7, where it transects Sections 12 and 14, is heavy on the more underground hip-hop and skate fashions. Somewhat more sophisticated independent labels can be found in Sections 2 and 3, while tourist-sized clothes and textiles are in Sections 8 and 10.
For accessories, several shops in Sections 24 and 26, such as Orange Karen Silver, specialise in chunky silver jewellery and semiprecious uncut stones.
Eating & Drinking
Lots of Thai-style eating and snacking will stave off Chatuchak rage (cranky behaviour brought on by dehydration or hunger), and numerous food stalls set up shop between Sections 6 and 8. Long-standing standouts include Foontalop, an incredibly popular Isan restaurant; Café Ice, a Western-Thai fusion joint that does good, if overpriced, pàt tai and tasty fruit shakes; Toh-Plue, which does all the Thai standards; and Saman Islam, a Thai-Muslim restaurant that serves a tasty chicken biryani. Viva 8 features a DJ and a chef making huge platters of paella. And as evening draws near, down a beer at Viva’s, a cafe-bar that features live music.
Housewares & Decor
The western edge of the market, particularly Sections 8 to 26, specialises in all manner of housewares, from cheap plastic buckets to expensive brass woks. This area is a particularly good place to stock up on inexpensive Thai ceramics, ranging from celadon to the traditional rooster-themed bowls from Lampang.
Those looking to spice up the house should stop by Spice Boom, were you can find dried herbs and spices for both consumption and decoration. Other notable olfactory indulgences include the handmade soaps, lotions, salts and scrubs at D-narn, and the fragrant perfumes and essential oils at AnyaDharu Scent Library.
Possibly the most fun you’ll ever have window-shopping will be petting puppies and cuddling kittens in Sections 13 and 15. Soi 9 of the former features several shops that deal solely in clothing for pets. It’s also worth noting that this section has, in the past, been associated with the sale of illegal wildlife, although much of this trade has been driven underground.
Plants & Gardening
The interior perimeter of Sections 2 to 4 features a huge variety of potted plants, flowers, herbs, fruits, and the accessories needed to maintain them. Many of these shops are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays.