Love shopping AND authentic experiences? These can be hard to come by when you’re a tourist. Being obviously from somewhere else can be a serious handicap when it comes to bargain hunting, not to mention that tourist inherently don’t get sent to the places the locals go.
But then again, that’s part of travelling. The good news? There are a whole bunch of interesting markets out there where you can get a great experience even if it’s not 100% authentic. And let’s be honest, if you want an authentic experience in another country, move there.
Still don’t believe me? Rude. Also, I do have proof. Today we’re going to be focusing on Thailand—because the Thais know how to market—and 6 of the most interesting shopping experiences you can have up and down a tourist destination very popular with Australians.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Maeklong Railway Market
So this is exactly like every other market in Thailand, except it has a train running through it. Yep, a train, right throught the middle. A warning bell sounds across the PA system a few minutes before the train rumbles through, and all the vendors quickly pull back their specially designed stalls and displays to make room for it.
The coolest thing about this market is that it adjusts itself perfectly to the train as it rolls through. The awnings are pulled back only as far as necessary, the baskets of fruits and vegetables are shifted just enough as to not be sliced by the metal wheels, and all the sellers and customers stand close enough to touch the train as it whooshes past.
You’ll find all your favourite Thai market staples—fresh seafood, meats, veggies, dried fish and fruit, sweet snacks and plenty of street food sellers.
You’ll find the market about 80km south west of Bangkok. You can take a tour out there or get a driver for the day if you prefer. Otherwise, feel free to run the gauntlet of Thai public transport!
Damnoen Suduak Floating Market
Set atop Thailand’s longest and straightest canal, the Damnoen Suduak Floating Market is actually comprised of 3 three smaller markets: Ton Khem, Hia Kui, and Khun Phitak.
Ton Khem is the largest market and is on Khlong Damnoen Saduak. Hia Kui is parallel to Khlong Damnoen Saduak and has souvenir shops on the canals banks to sell goods to larger tour groups. Khun Phitak is about 2km south of Hia Kui and is the smallest and least crowded of the three.
You’ll find female traders mostly wearing traditional mo hom—blue farmers’ shirts—and straw hats piloting dozens of sampans—small wooden boats—back and forth as they hawk their wares, often produce direct from the farm.
The market is busiest in the morning—from about 7am to 9am—and runs to around noon.
There are plenty of tours and tour groups in Bangkok who are more than happy to take you there via bus or boat, but you can also take a 30 minute boat cruise at the markets for around $4.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Allegedly the world’s largest weekend market, the Chatuchack market is truly something to behold. It has over 8,000 stalls broken into 27 different sections.
And it’s certainly an assault on the senses. Food stalls will bombard you with wafting aromas of seafood and sweets, techno music blasts from clothing stalls and herds of people shove their way through the market, one stall at a time.
You can buy anything and everything your heart desires at Chatuchak Weekend Market, but the best strategy is to go in without a plan, as getting lost is mandatory. If you can find your way out at the end of the day, you’ve done well.
Ratchada Train Market
It’s rare to describe a market in Asia as “cool”, but that’s exactly what the Ratchada Train Market is. With its vintage theme and being surrounded by cool bars and restaurants, it’s something for the hipster in all of us to embrace.
The main market is only open Thursday to Sunday, from 5pm until after midnight. Thanks to its amazing array of food stalls, visiting the market at dinner time becomes a treat rather than a chore.
Its bars are quirky, to say the least; with many made from shipping containers and old Volkswagen parts, they’re in keeping with the cool, vintage vibe of the market, and are great places to take a break from the shopping and the crowds inside.
There’s an abundance of clothes and accessories from local labels for sale at incredibly cheap prices that are bound to help you stand out from the crowd back home. You’ll also find heaps of vintage clothing and even antiques here too, where real bargains can be found. It’s a welcome change from the sanitised shopping experience at Central.
Pratunam Market, Bangkok
Maybe not the most spectacular market on this list, but it does have one point of difference the others do not—an almost complete lack of foreigners! Authentic experience alert!
The lack of foreigners does not mean that the market is empty. On the contrary, this is one of the busiest markets in Bangkok, so be prepared. Amble along the narrow walkways to browse enough clothing to dress an entire army, including plenty of traditional Thai clothing.
There are even stalls selling hair, in case you need to work on your weave.
There will also be cats everywhere, so be prepared. They’re such a part of the market the vendors even leave out cat food for them.
As the market is open 24 hours—though please note that all the stalls most definitely are not—you can see the clothes on the racks being made before your very eyes. The clack-clack-clack of ancient sewing machines can be kind of hypnotic after a while, but adds another layer of authenticity to the experience.
Mae Sai Market
Right on the border of Thailand and Myanmar, and just a stone’s throw from Chiang Rai, Mae Sai market is a melting pot of cross-cultural bargains.
It might be the only market in the world with its own special visa. Just show your passport to the authorities and you get a temporary shopping visa, meaning you can cross into Myanmar and back into Thailand with impunity.
Just be careful though. Some of the goods for sale in Myanmar may—read: are most definitely—prohibited in Thailand, so be careful while poking around for bargains.
You’ll be able to find all the usual goods here, but the food will have a delicious Northern Thai twist. And you can even try some delicious Myanmar dishes!