Who said size doesn’t matter? When it comes to markets, one of the world’s largest outdoor venues is based here in Bangkok. Chatuchak, or more commonly known as “JJ” (Thais phonetically translated the name to Jatujak), has achieved almost iconic status for many locals and foreigners alike.
Located on the northern edge of the city, JJ Market is next to Chatuchak Park and only a few minutes’ walk away from the Mor Chit BTS terminal station. There is also regular and easy access to and from the nearby MRT Chatuchak Park station. Get out at exit number one for both the BTS and MRT stations and just follow the crowds. A number of buses also provide frequent services which run past the market on their way to other destinations.
It has been more than 13 years since I first set eyes upon JJ and it’s always an utterly fascinating mix of stalls and shops, allied to a unique atmosphere. To call JJ a market is almost an insult. It is a city within a city, spanning around 35 acres with an eye-popping total of more than 15,000 shops and stalls offering a wide range of products, including clothing, accessories, pets, plants, handicrafts, house decorations, souvenirs, and many more. I have been to JJ on numerous occasions, but have still not explored everything fully, the scale of choice is truly breathtaking.
The market has been in its current site since 1982 , then called Phahonyothin Market, but has transformed itself from a wholesale and traders’ venue into what is now a world-acknowledged shopping landmark. The fabled clock tower was constructed to celebrate HM the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 60th birthday in 1987 and the market was finally renamed “Chatuchak”.
JJ is actually three markets in one. From Wednesdays to Thursdays it focuses on plants and gardens, Fridays are for wholesale night markets, and Saturdays and Sundays are for the weekend event where all the areas are opened. The weekend market sees more than 200,000 visitors per weekend. The opening times on Wednesdays and Thursdays are from 7am to 6pm, Fridays from 6pm until Midnight, and Saturdays and Sundays from 9am until 6pm.
For first-time shoppers it may seem total chaos as you push your way through the hordes of humanity sweating under the fierce heat or soaking from the falling rain, but there is order. One main walkway encircles the whole market and this branches off into a series of carefully numbered alleyways called Soi 1, Soi 2, etc. These alleyways are then grouped into various sections – 27 in all.
Look for other reference points as you walk around, for example, the clock tower, numbered entrance gates, banks or the BTS and MRT exits to help you locate where you are. You can also pick up a map from the information booth.
As with any crowded place, do keep a close watch on your belongings, it is all too easy to be hypnotized by the sights and sounds around you as you walk. Do also wear a hat or use an umbrella as protection from the sun and the rain. You will have to walk for several hours, so light clothing and sensible footwear are recommended.
Take some liquid refreshment with you too, as you can suffer very quickly from dehydration and the effects of the high temperatures and humidity. If you do get tired, there are many food stalls where you can rest and just people-watching.
Try to bargain if you can, a little Thai can help, but most of the stall holders do speak some English. Exercise caution when you buy items, check them thoroughly for any damage, as many vendors sell factory rejects. Especially with “antiques”, don’t trust that they are always genuine, make sure you are happy with what you purchase.
There is a myriad of products and goods to tug at your purse or wallet, but recommended must-buys also include home decorations, stunning furnitures, fascinating art objects, and some wonderfully handcrafted kitchenware.
Whether you are a novice or veteran visitor to JJ Market, it remains an intoxicating, intriguing, bewitching fusion of a market, a place where you can literally shop till you drop!