Bag a Bargain in Bangkok

Thailand is well known as a country to bag a bargain. The markets of Bangkok are a fascinating and exciting experience, where you can wander through the maze of stalls and take in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. If you are planning to fly to Bangkok, then schedule in plenty of time for shopping.

Bangkok Thailand Bag a Bargain in Bangkok

Chatuchak Weekend Market is a must visit, while others such as those in Patpong and Khlong Thom offer exciting night-time shopping experiences. For gifts you won’t find anywhere else, try one of the unique floating markets.

 

Chatuchak

Chatuchak Weekend Market is enormous and will challenge even the most seasoned shoppers. It is home to more than 8000 market stalls and you can expect it to be exciting and bustling as more than 20,000 visitors descend on the market to buy just about everything. To help you navigate your way through the maze there is a number system. Alleyways are labelled and the market is grouped into 27 sections. This can be a huge help when you want to remember a stall when shopping around and comparing prices.
Chatuchak sells pretty much anything you could ever want…ceramic pots, spices, shoes, lamps, jeans, paintings to name but a few, so you are bound to return with a stack of goods.

 

Pratunam
Pratunam clothes market is the best clothes and textile market in Thailand. Standing opposite the giant Baiyoke Tower, you will find a labyrinth of alleyways with clothes hanging all around the narrow lanes. You can pick up bargains that are being sold for much more in the department stores, but sizing is Thai rather different than western so it might not be easy to get the right fit.

Floating market

Bangkok had many floating markets because of the easy access of water transport, but due to development many of the waterways have disappeared. Two of the main floating markets still worth visiting are Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa market. Both are within two hours of the city and can easily be accessed on an organised trip or independently. It is a memorable experience to buy goods from a boat while you walk along the banks of a river.

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Asiatique

Asiatique combines a night bazaar with a shopping mall. This busy complex has been created around a restored pier in what was once a bustling international trade port. It has now been developed to hold over 1500 boutiques and 40 restaurants as well as offering entertainment. It’s easier and much faster to arrive by boat as traffic can be hectic in the district. Most of the shopping is in large open buildings that have been designed to replicate enormous warehouses. It may be a little over the top, but as you will find a mixture of locals and tourists there it doesn’t feel too much like a tourist attraction.

 

Mini-guide to shopping in Thailand

If you are looking to explore Thailand’s markets, here are some top tips:

  • Smile and be friendly when haggling; it’s likely to get you further.
  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be on your feet shopping for a long time.
  • Travel to Bangkok with a half empty case so that you have room for your purchases.
  • Check your goods thoroughly before purchasing to make sure there is no damage, especially with furniture and antiques.
  • Don’t assume that anything in the market is genuine.
  • Make a list of things you’re looking for before you hit the shops. Just be prepared to be lured into buying more than you bargained for!
  • Take a bottle of water as it can get hot while you’re shopping.
  • Protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses.
  • Bring your own backpack with you to carry your purchases, although it is recommended that you either wear this on your front or you lock it so that it is kept secure.
  • Don’t assume everything for sale in the market is being sold at a good price. You still need to do your research.
  • Bring cash as many vendors don’t accept cards, although don’t store a large quantity of cash in one place on your person.
  • Don’t take valuables with you like laptops or expensive cameras while out shopping.
  • Go early and get your shopping out of the way before the crowds descend, or go late when it is cooler.
  • Pick up a free map if one is available so you can mark where you see stalls you’d like to go back to when you’ve figured out what price is best.
  • If you want to buy a number of items from one seller then you can usually get a special price.

 

Thailand has so many markets to explore. Whether you are looking for high end shopping malls or traditional bazaars, Bangkok is a fantastic shopping destination.

 

Editors Note: Today’s article was written and brought to you by Karen Bleakley. Karen enjoys travel in South East Asia and especially Bangkok’s many markets and shopping malls.

Photo Credit: Floating Market courtesy of flickr user jscoke via a creative commons license.

Jungle Treks and Elephants

There are jungle treks and then there are jungle treks. In many a place the world over you will find companies that will offer to take you ‘into the wild’ and show you what life is really like. Most of these companies are lying. You will get a chaperoned tour through some trees that you have driven to in a big van; you won’t see any wildlife and you will feel rather cheated.

But not in Thailand, oh no. Thailand is something special.

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This is a place where you can climb onto the back of your elephant from a platform, and start an elephant jungle trek that will last all day. The elephant will lumber down the river valley, wading through the water, and sometimes down steep slopes and from your elevated view, you can gaze out over the lush jungle.

And this is just one day of many. In much the same way that Australia has become synonymous with bushtucker trails and walkabouts, Thailand is carving out a significant chunk of the tourist market with its tailored jungle trekking.

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It has done so by cashing in on the budget traveler market. Places like Australia attract people from all over the world specifically for that one thing, and people pay thousands of pounds for it. Thailand has approached the matter from a different angle, trying to use the vast number of young – yet cash-strapped – backpackers already within its borders.

It is no secret that Thailand is huge with 18-25 scene. You only need to check a multi-airline website like DialAFlight to see that cheap flights to Thailand are now comparable in price to short hops to Europe. The Thai Tourist board has decided that cheap and cheerful is the way to go, and tries to entice the backpackers away from the touristy areas of Bangkok and into the jungles.

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Treks can vary from a single day trip to ones that last weeks, but the common denominator for all of them is that they are cheap. Much cheaper in fact than other places in the world that offer jungle treks – the Amazon rainforest for example – and in doing so, they have all but ensured its success.

 

Ironically enough, by trying to attract overseas tourists specifically for jungle treks and focusing instead on those who happen to be there anyway, Thailand now has exactly that reputation. In a country that can be overly touristy or tacky, upon returning home the one thing all backpackers are going to rave about is the jungle treks. Especially if there are elephants involved.

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Loi Krathong Festival

5218873242 b6c8269ab2 Loi Krathong FestivalBefore we left on this journey I got the crazy idea that maybe we should festival hop our way across the world. You know, experience a country through its holidays? Ever practical, Danny shot the idea down for logistical reasons, it would involve too much land jumping. Fortunately we’ve caught a few festivals here and there on our travels, mostly out of sheer luck, and they’ve always been interesting experiences. We were bummed to have missed the autumn traditional boat races in Laos, but excited when we saw a poster in Bangkok for the Loi Krathong Festival. 5219955324 a1924129f8 Loi Krathong Festival

Loi Krathong originally probably celebrated the spirit of the water, and traditionally people release small banana leaf boats, decorated with flowers and candles into the river on the night of the full moon. Coinciding with Yi Peng, or the lantern festival celebrated in Northern Thailand, the entire festival is called a festival of lights and basically its just a good excuse to have fun. After catching a floating parade and fireworks in Bangkok we headed to Chang Mai, in northern Thailand to see the festival in its full glory.

Three days of fireworks, parades, parties, music, street markets, food and of course lanterns.5216890239 448c8f87eb Loi Krathong FestivalPeople released their own small boats into the rivers and causeways, but the real festival in Chang Mai was in the air. Each night hundreds of thousands of white paper lanterns were lit and released into the air. Couples, families and friends gathered around each lantern and launched it into the air. Like small sparkling stars, the lanterns floated around in the sky following the wind. It was magical, although more than a few did crash and burn!

Chang Mai has two special markets, the Sunday Market and the Night Market. Combining these two with the festival left us wanting nothing, from food to crafts to crazy nick nacks. 5218970284 e19032799d Loi Krathong Festival The streets were crowded as huge colorful parade floats, with beauty queens and religious depictions rolled by. Although we didn’t actually see it, there is supposedly a float just for the infamous lady boys. According to the lady at our hotel, they’re they best looking women in the parade. Decked out in flowers, lights, glitter, lady boys and fabric, the parade was a feast for the eyes.

At the end of the festival, we set off our own lantern for good luck in the upcoming year.

Foodie Friday: Thai Cooking Class

5248567619 24a01a4b08 Foodie Friday: Thai Cooking ClassA guy we met in Turkey asked me what my international food personality was.  Without a single missed beat I responded Asian, specifically Thai.  I absolutely adore Thai food, in fact it was a Thai restaurant that Danny took me to on our first date.  So it’s been a long history between Thai food and I and no surprise that I wanted to take a cooking class in Thailand.  So we signed up for a full day cooking course, six courses including dessert.   A full day of deliciousness thanks to the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre.

The class started with a trip to the local market, which although we’ve been in hundreds of markets, was interesting to have a little discussion on the varieties of chilis and things and what they could be used for.  Most interesting perhaps was the presence of Chinese snakehead fish, a significant threat to out waterways in the Mid-Atlantic area of the US.  After a trip down market lane, we returned to the cooking center and started on our first dish.  Fortunately mine was an easy Pad See Eew with chicken and a few minutes later I sauteed up rice noodles, chicken, garlic and some veggies.  Although the texture of raw rice noodle is a little weird, a few minutes in the wok and everything was delicious.

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Here’s the menu I made:

  • Pad See Eew with chicken
  • Green Curry (including my own paste from scratch!)
  • Chicken with basil
  • Spicy Papaya Salad
  • Chicken in coconut milk soup
  • Black sticky rice with coconut cream

Actually Thai food was really easy to make, surprisingly easy in fact that it was sort of a disappointment to have taken a whole class.  Almost every dish involved some sort of stir fry technique, and the most challenging was trying to figure out the specific types of ginger and other spices in English.  Nearly every type of special herb or vegetable the instructor told us wasn’t easily available in the West.  Doubtful, there are enough ethnic grocery stores in America.  Then again it is hard to even find quinoa in a regular store…hmm.
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Of course the best part of the day was the eating.  After each dish we were able to sit down and enjoy it, delicious!  Becka and Danny made their own menus (we had three options in each category to choose from).  The overall favorite of course was the banana’s and ice cream at the end, closely followed by the noodles, curries,  oh well practically everything!

Bangkok

5217282032 682c8535e0 BangkokThere’s a joke about Bangkok, but Danny’s heard it enough over the last few weeks that I fear for my safety if I repeat it again. Bangkok itself is a huge, sprawling, modern city. For two weary travelers like ourselves it was a place to catch up on a few housekeeping issues- like going to the doctor, the dentist and indulging in western delicacies like krispy kreme donuts, and brownie sundaes. For my sister it was business as usual and she spent a day telecommuting back to DC.

More than a year ago we were advised to do any medical treatments we needed in Thailand before we returned to the US. With nothing really wrong with us, (although opinions among our friends and family vary), we decided to go in for a full check up, just to you know, see what fun things we’ve been playing host to these last few months.5216528957 b7b57ff614 Bangkok A friend from GW, who serves in Thailand as a Peace Corps Volunteer recommended a hospital for us in Bangkok, five star service, complete with an Au Bon Pain. Arriving in the international “welcome center,” which resembled the lobby of a five star hotel not a hospital, we knew we were in the right place. An enormous LCD monitor advertised complete surgery packages for less money than probably a pre-operation procedure in the United States and as the screen flashed things like “knee replacement,” “breast augmentation,” “open heart surgery,” classical music softly played over head and the Starbucks on the floor brewed a vanilla latte. Not exactly my local hospital in Pennsylvania.

Needless to say we were poked, prodded and the diagnosis was confirmed- there is nothing wrong with us, at least not physically. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to be able to tell our readers that we’ve been living with {insert rare and strange disease here} for the last several months or at the very least playing unknown host to a parasite. Sadly, all was “normal” and we were sent on our way after a delicious breakfast.

5217232746 49f9cdca5a BangkokWith housekeeping out of the way, we decided to see the sights of Bangkok. From the Golden Palace to Wat Pho and numerous air conditioned shopping malls, we covered Bangkok from top to bottom. Fortunately our timing coincided with the beginning of the Loi Krathong festival and we were able to catch the opening ceremonies along the river in Bangkok. Enormous, brightly lit barges floated down the river like a river parade. Fireworks punctuated the end of the procession, and although we weren’t allowed into the King’s party (the dog ate my invitation), we enjoyed the hub-bub from outside.

Interestingly enough, the new Harry Potter was released in Bangkok Nov.18th not Nov.19th like the rest of the world. 5216589817 5381c438a1 Bangkok
Which means, with the international date line, we saw it a full day before anyone in the US. At least I think it was an official release. Then again, the titles were in Russian.

IF YOU GO: You can get everything you ever wanted in Bangkok. Seriously. Watch out for scam-artists, we were confronted by more scams in Bangkok than anywhere else on our entire trip and their ploys were creative. Some were even wearing fake tourist police uniforms (easily identifiable, the polo shirts are very different than the formal uniform of the actual tourist police). It’s worth it to stop at one of the tourist information booths and pick up a free map. The bus system was cheap and efficient. The street food of course is delicious, so don’t hesitate to indulge if something looks good. Avoid the BTS system during rush hour.