November 02, 2005

Amazing Thailand 2


When you're in Thailand, make sure you reserve one weekend for the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It's on Saturdays and Sundays only that this great shopping trip transpires.

The market itself is an overcrowded, overwrought open-air emporium similar to a Turkish bazaar where the heat and humdity eats you whole, where the people speak in a language way far stranger than Malay, where the aromas of spiced meats, curried stews, grilled satays, basil, chilies, lemon grass, ginger, and cardamom mix in with sweat, teakwood, sandalwood, dust, paper and mildew.

The multinational crowds who descend on Chatuchak are immense- foreigners haggling in pidgin English for bronze buddhas while Thai merchants calculate the price on their calculators, young Thais eating hot meat curries, Tom Yum Goong, or noodles al fresco amid the chaos, Asian tourists sampling the different Thai snacks being sold along alleyways, or families looking harrassed with all the plastic bags they're carrying.

It's a place that has something for everyone. And the pleasure is in the hunt. There are lots of hard dealing and bargaining since what you see in one stall, you will also find in the next. So haggling is a must. My sister, whose haggling acumen is excellent, managed to buy bronze Buddha heads for a B100. I bought good after-sports shoes there for B350. But most of the artifacts scattered are reproductions especially made for the tourist trade or for cheap home furnishings. The real antiques in Chatuchak have also "antique" prices. Thais know the real McCoy. It's the tourists who are in a bind which is real or not.

Apart from antiques, home furnishings cram many aisles in Chatuchak. From oriental umbrellas, to teakwood stools and trays, to incense paraphernalia, to silk pillowcases with elephantine designs, to cheap trinkets, and to lamps, the place is the ultimate homeowner's paradise. One can get lost among the goods and one's wallet can ultimately become thin before the day is over. Even though the heat is stifling, the urge is there to scour the entire complex for bargains galore. It's surprising that no one gets heat stroke there.

Also, there are souvenir shirts, leather sandals, stylish dresses, and knock-off pants. They have brands that are uniquely Chatuchak. It's like a factory outlet crossed with Ukay-ukay. Besides the garments, there are toys, used books, Thai magazines, and other what-nots. Chatuchak is their version of Divisoria. The nice thing though, Chatuchak is very well organized, the people polite, the smells exotic and there's just so much to discover- unlike the monochromatic and Somalia-like stalls we have in Divisoria. While they have ample room to brisk through their wares, we have to struggle with shoulders and vendors that eat up the alleys. Oh well.

And if you're a Filipino shopping in Chatuchak, the salesladies usually speak to you in Thai thinking you're a native. Flattering but not an advantage for us because we surely can't understand what they're ululating about. But it's only when you tell them to speak in English that they shake their heads and apologize quickly. They then turn to that touristy pidgin English hoping to lure your for another buy. Of course, the only language they undestand is the language of my fingers tapping the calculator and shoving it in their faces. But thankfully, almost all understand a smattering of English, so we were able to bargain well.

Chatuchak.... shopper's paradise. When in Bangkok, don't miss it.

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