Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chatuchak Market

As I see more and more of Thailand, I'm really coming to appreciate the advantages of living in Rayong. One of the strongest advantages is that there's just nothin' going on here. The people are generally normal work-a-day family types. As an American, I'm enough of a novelty that I get some degree of special treatment, but not so exotic as to be stared at every time I leave the house. Rayong has no tourist appeal whatsoever, so the prices are not inflated. With rent at 3,000 baht/month and food as low as 150 baht/day (although I often splurge on cha yen & trips to Starbucks, in theory...) I could easily save about $300 US a month.

Of course I'm *not* saving up that much, but that's largely because of advantage #2. Location, location, location! Rayong is, as I'm sure I've mentioned, just a 45 minute songthaew ride from the beach - add in another hour for the ferry, and you're on a tropical resort island. Not too shabby. Bangkok is just a two hour minivan ride away. With the rainy season approaching, and glorious sunny days retreating, I've been making more trips to Bangkok and fewer to the beach.

I like approaching Bangkok as a day-trip destination. I can generally do one or two things at a leisurely pace and then be home before bedtime. It's not nearly as stressful as trying to fit in a whole day of sightseeing. Although I generally end up spending an obscene amount of time in the malls, it's nice to know that I *could* come back next week and do something different.

Last Sunday I came with an agenda. I was going to go shopping at Chatuchak market. Back in the day, in my cozy little apartment in Portland, I would watch Globe Trekker and dream of going abroad. One episode had a bit about shopping in Bangkok - both at the big mall and at Chatuchak... I saw the episode a couple of times and I'm not ashamed to say that it did factor into my decision to come to Thailand. So it's very exciting for me to be able to go someplace that I saw on TV. It is quite literally like a dream come true.

I had visited Chatuchak briefly with Bunny and Bobby, but this time I was going on my own, and I was going with a plan: "Spend hours getting lost among the trinkets, acquire an indecent amount of silk at even more indecent prices, and take a ton of pictures so I have something to blog about other than the trials and tribulations of my bowels." And with that:

Chatuchak (or Jatujak as the locals call it) is HUGE. There are a couple of wide 'main streets' through the market, but mostly it's a maze of hot, dark, crowded, little alleyways. I had (and used) two different maps to keep my bearings, and still ended up getting lost & wandering around in circles. There were stalls of art - paintings, carvings and sculpture, kitchen ware, fake flowers, clothing, clothing, clothing, clothing, jewelry, garden supplies, animals, knives & other weapons, and of course silk. Unfortunately, a lot of the more interesting stalls (live bunnies in froo froo dresses, ethnic folk art eg: blue jeans & American Country Music) had signs prohibiting photography... and when I got to the silk, I got a bit distracted (oooh pretty!!!) and completely forgot to take pictures. Trust me... there's a ton and it's all gorgeous.

The number one rule is - if you see something you like, buy it. Yeah, you think you'll be able look around for a minute then come back to it, but don't count on it. There's just too much to see. Last time I saw a beautiful black lacquer box with abalone inlays and try as I might I couldn't find it anywhere this time. I did find several stalls of used books, and a bling-o-riffic stall of accessories.

bling & books

The number two rule of the market is - stay hydrated! So after shopping for a good long time I stopped and had a sandwich & an iced tea. Now I want you to fully appreciate the irony of that statement. Back in Portland I would regularly go down to the Saturday Market and order a plate of Pad Thai from the woman in the purple food-cart (good stuff btw - you should check her out, it's just a few cockroaches shy of authentic ;) ). And now I've come all this way to Thailand, and further spent two hours in a minivan to come to Bangkok the very heart of Thailand... and what did I do? I ate a ham and cheese sandwich on white bread. Ironic yes. But I am not ashamed!

It didn't take long for me to break the number one rule. I had done a quick survey of various silk stalls (there are several scattered here and there, but one section with a fairly high concentration of them) but didn't buy anything on the first round. So then I had to do some wandering to find them again. In the process I passed a quaint bar / cafe positively hidden in the labyrinth of stalls. I thought briefly about stopping for a bite to eat, but I wasn't hungry and was determined to pick up some silk while I was in the proper area... so I violated the number one rule again (it's really more of a guideline anyway).

After employing an aisle by aisle criss-cross search pattern, I found the shop I'd perused earlier and treated myself to three very nice scarves. They were cheap compared to what you would pay in the states... but I'm not making dollars anymore so it was a calculated splurge. You know, I'm almost afraid I'll wish I'd bought more when I get home!

mmmmmm.... silk!

Then once more into the fray... I sought out some souvenirs for friends back home, restocked my supply of postcards, and admired some jewelry. In one of the main roads through the market there were street musicians. This kid was one of the better ones.

Eventually I found the hidden bar/cafe again, ordered a cha yen and spent a good long time reading, writing postcards and generally soaking up the ambiance.

As much as I may complain about the cockroaches and my schedule and my crappy little apartment, I want you to know that I never for a minute take for granted that I'm living the dream. I know (or at least I hope) that one day I'll be back in Portland spending my nights sitting on the couch watching Globe Trekker again. And when I do, I'll know that I lived as fully as I could while here and took the juiciest bite I could out of the big mango!

TAG: Code Mango


Kaye said...

Good tips!!! You should publish a hybrider's guide to Thailand--since you're not quite a tourist but not quite a local either.

Rebel said...

I know... it's an odd odd place to be. A guidebook would have been helpful!

gl. said...

that -does- sound like a code mango trip. :)

Rebel said...

gl - if you fly out here I'll take you ;) I'll even treat you to a Cha Yen. =)