Monthly Archives: March 2016

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Newbies Guide to Chatuchak Market

Category : Thailand

Chatuchak Market is one of the best places to shop in Bangkok. Its variety is some of the best around, but its immense size can be daunting for first time visitors. Here is your guide to Chatuchak Market and getting the best out of it!

Getting to Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak is easy to get to! Catching public transport like the BTS (skytrain) or the MRT (subway) is cheap and convenient. If you catch the BTS, Mo Chit station is a short walk from the market. If you’re traveling on the MRT, get off at Khampaengphet station – its closer than Chatuchak Park station. The BTS website has great, easy to read maps and even shows the MRT line. If you hop on the BTS Sukhumvit line, just ride to Mo Chit station and hop off there. If you’re the BTS Silom line, change for the Sukhumvit line at Siam station. Should you be staying near the Chao Phraya river, catch a boat to Sathorn pier and you can catch the BTS at Saphan Taksin which is only a minute away – just follow the signs overhead.

Almost every taxi and tuk tuk driver in the city will know how to get to Chatuchak market, so hopping a taxi will not be a problem. You can expect to pay upwards of 100 baht, so it is an expensive option. Keep the Bangkok traffic in mind too, but I haven’t found it to be a real problem. After hours of shopping and more purchases than you can carry, sometimes a taxi home is a good option.

Bangkok BTS Skytrain

Early morning sun in Bangkok, waiting for the BTS (skytrain).

How to navigate Chatuchak

To be honest, I have no secrets of my own to navigating Chatuchak Market; I’m more than happy to wander back and forth through the rows of aisles. However, I am definitely a browser. My husband also has a fantastic sense of direction, and manages to find his way through the market by, I suspect, the scent of food or beer in the air. Maps are available from the information centre, near Gate 1 on the western side of the market. They’re colour coded and detail what is available in each section. Blayne from Leaves From The Vine recommends using OffMaps, to navigate. OffMaps doesn’t require internet or wi-fi connection and you can drop pins to remind yourself where certain shops are. You can find Blayne’s post about her Chatuchak journey here. In my opinion, the number one rule of Chatuchak navigation? If you see something you like, buy it then and there. The chances of making it back find it later are slim – you’ll get distracted by everything else on offer here!

One of the sois in Chatuchak Market.

One of the sois in Chatuchak Market.

What to buy at Chatuchak

This is one of the best places to shop in Bangkok, and stock so much more than the usual tourist souvenirs. The market is particularly good for vintage and retro items, as well as local designers. Think less ‘Same Same’ t-shirts and more quirky and funky designs from local up and coming labels. Jeans, skirts and dresses appear in every imagination at Chatuchak. Sizes do run small for women (as with most of Thailand) so don’t get disheartened. Children’s clothing is a great for the little ones in your family – super cute and super bright patterns, baby harem pants and elephant print everything. Jewellery is also popular, and not the gold of questionable authenticity kind. Hand made, braided, beaded and woven pieces are popular, cheap and quite well made. There are also quite a few shop selling stands of beads in every form imaginable, including jade. I always buy some to take home to my mum, for her jewellery label. Chatuchak is also a great place to buy souvenirs or gifts, with plenty of cute embroidered purses, colourful scarves, elephant key rings, stationery and magnets. If you’re looking to design your own clothes, you can buy beautiful material by the metre as well. Looking to adorn more than yourself? you can find an amazing array of homewares at the market, including statues, rugs, furniture and artwork. Fancy decking out your kitchen? There are all the woks, pans and utensils you can think of available for purchase too. And if you’ve bought too much or too big to fit in your suitcase, you can swing by the UPS or TNT office at the market to box your purchases up and mail them home.

One of the many sois of Chatuchak market.

One of the many sois of Chatuchak market.

JJ Mall – air conditioned paradise right next door!

If the heat becomes unbearable, take refuge at JJ Mall, just to the north of Chatuchak market. JJ Mall sells a lot of fare similar to what you’ll find at the markets, but there are also stalls catering to locals including some very expensive and impressive looking paintings and sculptures. You will find wedding supply stores and shops selling incense in every scent and form imaginable. Need a foot massage after traipsing through the markets? JJ Mall has that too. You’ll also find a large, clean food court inside JJ Mall. I can recommend egg noodles with barbeque pork, combination fried rice and wonton soup. Vendors in the food court do not accept cash, instead you put baht on a reusable card at the service desk near the food court. Use this to buy your food and drinks at the food court and any unused baht on the card will be given back to you.

Dried chillies and spices on sale at Chatuchak market.

Dried chillies and spices on sale at Chatuchak market.

What I love most about Chatuchak Market

The people watching at Chatuchak Market is excellent. Thai locals come to shop and socialise at the market, and if you’re visiting around holidays there is often dancing, music and local groups showcasing their talents. Pull up a seat at one of the small bars or coffee shops around the market, take a breather and watch the market bustle around you. Teens shop for the latest fashions, grandmothers haul bags of spices and plastic trays though the skinny aisles, men continually rearrange their shop fonts. Its a riot of colour and sounds and scents, which will overwhelm and delight you.


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Lessons on life in Yangon

Tags :

Category : Myanmar

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” – Henry Miller

They say travel will change your life. They’re not lying. Travel will also change you. It will challenge all of your preconceived ideas, teach you about yourself, break your heart and mend it again. Some experiences you won’t forget, and others you’ll never stop thinking about.

We’d been kicking back in the shaded courtyard of Zawgyi House in Yangon, when a small girl’s face popped up over the wall.

“Hello, miss! Postcard for you? Where are you from?”
This tiny thing, with shining eyes and brilliant smile, was clutching a plastic wallet full of painted cards in one hand and the hand of a small boy in the other.
“Hello, miss! Would you like a postcard? Thank you for coming to my country! What do you think of Myanmar?” she chirped, like rapid fire.
“Mingalaba!” I called back, “I love your country – you are all so friendly and happy.”
She flashed me a dazzling grin as I bought one of her postcards and she skipped off down the footpath, the small boy in tow. I didn’t think much of it until a few days later when Patrick and I got separated from our mate John inside the maze of Bogyoke Market.

Maudreyou and her little brother, Ngenge.

Maudreyou and her little brother, Ngenge.

While we were trying to work out which direction we should head to search, the small girl appeared at Patrick’s side, tugging on his hand.
“Mister, I know your friend! I will help you!”
We waited by the main entrance and watched in awe as she took off back into the market and returned a minute later with John in tow. She introduced herself as Maudreyou – well, that’s my best guess at the English spelling – and her brothers Ngenge, the small boy from a few days before, and Keto, slightly older and cautious. After a whirlwind shopping trip through Bogyoke Market, where the children chatted non-stop and bargained fiercely for us, we offered to buy them dinner as a thank you, and they shyly accepted.

John shopping with Maudreyou and Keto.

John shopping with Maudreyou and Keto.

While we waited for the food, Keto and Maudreyou told us about their family and what life was like for them. It wasn’t a happy story. The family lived at the nearby Yangon train station, bribing the staff and police to let them stay. Their father was an army officer, who had been injured in conflict and promptly booted out by the junta. He couldn’t stand for long or walk long distances, and relied on the children’s mother to take care of him.  By day, the kids sold postcards and bamboo fans (and cigarettes in Keto’s case) to make the money they needed.

We all sat silent in a state of shock and sadness, as these three beautiful children devoured the noodles and rice they had chosen. John asked what we were all thinking – do mum and dad to have enough money to feed you? Keto looked embarassed and continued slurping down noodles. Maudreyou answered carefully – “we have food, but not as nice as this”. She beamed. I simply could not believe the happiness that radiated from this tiny being. After life had thrown at her, she was still so cheery and lovely. She wanted to go to school, to be a nurse, “or maybe a tourist person!” (tour guide, I think). She explained she liked talking to tourists, it helped her with her English. I was filled with hope and hopelessness; I wanted to help.

This sweet girl was so full of happiness, it was infectious.

This sweet girl was so full of happiness, it was infectious.

We ordered ice cream for them to share, and they stared at it in complete confusion. They had absolutely no idea what to do with ice cream… but I had never seen children eat ice cream as fast as they did once Patrick showed them. I realised at that moment, that I had unknowingly taken every single thing in my life for granted until that point. At the risk of sounding cliched, I had a bed and a nice inner city apartment, a good education, plenty of food and I was so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to travel. I wasn’t naive enough to think that people did not live in poverty, however it was the first time I had been confronted with it in such a raw and physical form. What Maudreyou and her siblings did have though, was a loving family. Half way through our dinner, Mum and Dad arrived in a panic because the children hadn’t made their way home. They were incredibly grateful to find them sitting up at the table with us, chowing down on noodles and chicken.

Mum, Dad and their kids.

Mum, Dad and their kids. Keto had borrowed our camera and took lots of photos.

Truth be told, I was ready to adopt those children then and there. I wanted to take them home with me, give them a proper bed and send them to school. I wanted to sell everything I owned and move to Yangon, to do something – start a school, start a program to help Maudreyou, Keto and Ngenge. The situation these children were in, the exhaustion and despair written into the faces of their parents broke my heart. I was also angry that in a world where I could book flights on a mobile phone, there were kids like these three selling postcards to make a measly living. It’s hard for me to accurately put into words; I knew this occurred all over the world, but this was the first time the issue had been given a face, and a giggle, and a smile… and hopes and dreams. Since leaving Yangon, I have thought often of Maudreyou, Keto and Ngenge. I wonder what has happened to them, if they still live at the train station, or if they have gone to school. I am forever thankful to fate/karma/your preferred deity that I met them. Our encounter changed my life and my outlook on it, and I feel guilty that I didn’t do more for them.  When we return to Yangon later this year, I have all the hope in the world their situation has improved and the kids are happy and healthy.

Maudreyou, Ngenge and Keto.

Maudreyou, Ngenge and Keto.

The experience served as a reminder to me of what can happen if you are open while you travel. Talk to the locals, share in their culture, listen to their stories, maybe even share a meal with them. I can guarantee you’ll walk away with a different sense of the world, and at the very least, some amazing memories.