April 1 2017
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the largest market in the world. There are more than 15,000 vendor stalls crammed into 27 acres on land previously owned by the Thai Railway system. That is a lot of vendor stalls. I named them all. My favourite is “Spot”. (That was for my children).
The brochure/map they hand out says this about the market:
“Many Chinese tourists visit Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok to purchase fruits, handicrafts and milk tablets, etc.”
I am intrigued. What is a milk tablet? And, if that’s what they are buying, I really want to know what the etc. they are also buying consists of.
Oh, wait, the brochure is more helpful as a couple of paragraphs later on, it mentions that balms & salts are part of the etc. These, says the brochure, are “rubbed on the forehead to ease dizziness or simply to produce a refreshing smell”.
Or, you could go to Israel and visit Tzfat and bring home a nice new pair of tefillin so that you can wrap one arm in a long leather strip while putting a leather loop with two leather strips hanging down from it around your head. You tell me what’s weirder. This is why I love the world.
The market is helpfully divided into 30 sections, each of which specialize in selling something different. I can tell you, from having named each of the stalls, that there is crossover. That said, there are WAY too many sections devoted to teen clothing and women’s clothing. I only say this because I am neither and so those endless rows were, in my estimation, wasted time & space.
I enjoyed the fake flower section (found in Sections 9-11 and also in Section 26). Flowers (and sometime fruits & vegetables) were crafted out of any number of different materials. Like wax. Or silk. Some were quite aromatic. Others, not so much. So lifelike, though!
Section 13 is devoted solely to “Postcards & Pets”. I would have naturally grouped those two items together as well, so this made total sense. Similarly, section 8 - “Carvings & Spas”. Yup, you often see those paired.
The Arts & Painting stalls in Section 7 were far and away our favourite. Real interesting art by Thai artists. The kind you would never in a million years put on your own wall at home but, wow, it looks so cool so maybe somebody else will put it on theirs.
But as distinctly Asian as this market is, there is always something that will remind you of home. Like when the P.A. system crackled to life and, in Thai accented English, we heard this announcement: “Barbara Epstein please go to Guest Services by the Clock Tower. Your husband Allan is waiting for you there”. I can only imagine the trouble Barbara is going to be in if she ever finds her way to Guest Services.
Getting to Chatuchak was fun, as we took the Skytrain. The rest of Bangkok was going to the market as well so, again, we got to meet lots more of the local residents while jammed up against them for about 45 minutes. The train is truly very modern and efficient and (and this is very important here) quite comfortably air-conditioned.
As in Hong Kong, you can buy a Rabbit Card (in Hong Kong, you may recall, they called it an Octopus Card) but, unlike Hong Kong, it’s no good on the boats so we just took the cheaper option and bought return tickets from the Saphan Taksin Skytrain Station, which is two blocks from our hotel.
Taking the Skytrain allowed us a chance to see further flung parts of the city that, if we’d taken a taxi, would have taken 6 or 7 weeks to get to. For example, Lumphini Park and the statue of King Rama VI at the entrance to the park. This is an urban oasis in a city that, overall, has very little green space. As we went past it Debbie said it reminded her of Central Park. It’s not nearly as big, but from the viewpoint we had, a few stories above traffic, it did have that sort of ‘goes on forever’ look to it. It’s our niece Becky’s birthday today. I think that she would enjoy taking Henry & Andy for a stroll in this Park. I saw a big playground that would do just perfectly. (Happy Birthday, Becky!)
The train passes alongside the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, a horse racing track which is so massive that it houses a 9-hole golf course in the middle infield.
A couple of stops later, we reached the transfer station – Siam Center. Here is the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district with 4 major multi-level shopping & entertainment centres crammed next to one another and then, 2 blocks away, the MBK Center, which is home to 2,000 shops on 8 levels, including a 4 storey Japanese department store outlet. It was the largest indoor shopping mall in Asia when it opened in 1985.
Today, MBK Center is where you go to buy knock-off’s. Clothes, toys, digital devices and recordings of all kinds. Somebody else makes the real ones but here is where the cheap fake version is sold. When we were in Bangkok in 1984, I remember hoping to ‘score’ a complete collection of knock-off Beatles albums. Turned out I could have bought them – on 37 separate fake cassette tapes. I opted not to buy them. Too bulky. Today, I think I could get the complete collection on a thumb drive at MBK Center for $10. I don’t know, maybe I will.
The final interesting sight along the way was the Victory Monument plaza/traffic circle. As we circled it from 4 stories above, I racked my brain to figure out exactly what Thai military victory was being memorialized here. Not to worry, I looked it up. It commemorates the not that well-known Franco-Thai war of 1940-41, which ended French ambitions in Thailand. I’ll spare you the rest of the details.
The Victory Monument itself looks like something you’d find in any European city, as opposed to what we have come to think of and see here as the typical Thai ‘amazing grace combined with way too glitzy’ style. That Euro look, it turns out, is because the architect was an Italian guy named Cerrado Feroci who used a Thai pseudonym (Silpa Burasi) in order to get the commission. In the end, an Egyptian style obelisk was plunked on top of what he crafted. He didn’t like the look at all and took to referring to the sculpture as the “Victory of Embarrassment Monument”.
We never looked for Mrs. Anh the Laundry Lady in Thailand. Not in Chiang Mai, not in Koh Samui, and (since we only have 4 days here and enough clothes to get us through) not here in Bangkok, either. Well, almost enough clothes. As my daughter let me know 2 months ago, “What kind of idiot are you, only bringing two shirts to wear in SE Asia?”. And so, I had 3 more short-sleeve shirts made for me in Hoi An, Vietnam and now I have 5. That, it turns out, is a more reasonable number. Damn, I hate when she is right.
In this heat, you kind of go through a shirt a day. Well, I do anyway. But, over time, I’ve come to accept this and even push the limits and go two days with the same shirt. It’s often smelly, but we’ve been married almost 36 years now so my wife has seen and likely smelled worse.
(I just re-read that last sentence – it didn’t come out right. I was not inferring that my wife has likely smelled worse THAN me. I meant that she has likely smelled worse FROM me. That clarification may have been unnecessary in your opinion but I still think it is worthwhile making).
Anyway, even with my superpower ability of wearing the same stinky shirt for two whole days in a row, it turns out that I only had 2 clean ones in hand as we arrived in Bangkok and, even if I applied the “2 days of schvitzing, what the hell” rule to them, I don’t think that would set up a very nice situation for the gazillion hours on the planes that we’ll be spending when we leave here on Tuesday afternoon.
And so, instead of doing what I usually do – walking outside the door of the hotel, turning left (or right) and spotting Mrs. Ahn’s laundry ‘establishment’ - I was a big shot and handed over 2 shirts to the Shangri-La last night for laundering. They came back today, all starched and pressed and smelling nice and wrapped in fancy paper with cardboard bow ties fitted into their collars. This is what you get for $12 apiece. I am such an idiot.
Also, (did I mention this?) there is NO FREAKING WAY we are eating here. I don’t even want to see the prices on the menu.
Except for the breakfast buffet, ‘cause that’s included. And it is awesome! They call it the “International Breakfast Buffet”. That’s because it features all of the food from all of the world. All of it. Name something…… anything….. Yup, they got it.
Here is how good this breakfast buffet is: They have a homemade gelato bar. For breakfast. That is what my wife ate. I think I’m having the caviar left over from the spa treatment for breakfast tomorrow.