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Buying in Bangkok

December 11, 2011

There are two main reasons for people to come to Bangkok – medical tourism and shopping (I am ignoring the small number of people who come for sex tourism). In the past four days, I have learned more about the shopping reason.

This city is a consumer’s heaven. Everywhere I go, there is either a shopping mall, small carts lining the streets, a bazaar, or people just trying to sell you something. Even at the hospital this weekend, there has been a “craft fair” which claims to be selling “specialties from villages” but looks a lot like the items I would find in Cost Plus in the U.S.

On the weekends here in Bangkok, there is something called the Chatuchak Weekend Market. As described, “this vast tract of land is filled with head-spinning numbers of stalls selling everything: souvenirs, art, antiques, fresh and dried seafood (yuck – my add), vegetables and condiments, pottery, pets of every sort, orchids and other exotic plants, clothing, and a host of strange exotic foods. A visit here is a great way to introduce yourself to the exotic (apparently they like this word) sights, flavors, and colors of Thai life…”

This is not an inaccurate description. After spending no money yesterday except on food (I was too exhausted to do anything except eat after my hospital day and I think jet lag was catching up) and little on anything other than food, transportation, and entrance fees (I was doing really well) I decided to visit this market, as today is the last day of the weekend and who knows where I will be next weekend. Also, after 11-1/2 hours of sleep last night, I felt ready to go out and explore a bit.

After my breakfast of papaya, pineapple, and watermelon, topped off with a big glass of carrot passion fruit smoothie, I was nearly at the market. Luckily for me, I got there around 9:00 a.m., when the market opened. Although many of the stalls were not yet open, enough were for me to get started on my browsing. To be honest, most of the things there are of no interest to me – a lot of the same same same. As I am not particularly interested in tie-dye, no matter what country it is in (what’s up with that, anyway?), and the same with ugly “Thai –inspired” prints (which I have seen NO Thai person wearing – only tourists), and there are some items that are not interesting to me, I thought I was making good progress through the market. I tried to pay attention to the things that were more unique and interesting – I even saw a woman carving flowers out of fruit – how talented she is and how lovely were her creations!

Progress? Hah! I did end up purchasing quite a bit – more than I expected, but given how much I spent, I was not displeased. The list of what I purchased is as follows:

  • Seven silk scarves
  • Two paintings
  • Ten coin purses
  • Three compact mirros
  • Three magnets
  • Three foot soaps and two regular soaps
  • A small wall hanging
  • Three pairs of rayon pants
  • Two tunics (one half, the other 3/4 –sleeve)
  • Three t-shirts

What did this stash of loot run me? I did some calculating and it came to about $130. I am sure some people will say “I could have done better than that” but all things considered, I was satisfied with what I paid and what I got.

Now you can see why people come here to shop.  I had been told to bring a larger bag, or that I will be buying an extra bag. “Pshaw,” thought I, “I won’t be buying THAT much stuff.” Hah again. I still have more than a week, and another city (plus, I hope, some villages) to visit, so it looks like another bag may indeed be in my future.

Anyway, it was interesting to go through the market. I saw a few things I would have bought, had the price been lower (though in reality, it is a fraction of what it would have cost in the U.S. or even in Ukraine. How quickly I adapt to my surroundings).  I had a nice chat with the transvestite who sold me the hand-made soaps – she was charming and in hindsight, I wish I had had my photo taken with her. The young lady who sold me the two paintings told me to make sure to watch out for my money, and the young girl selling me the scarves gave me a “deal” on three coin purses because I bought so many scarves (and gave me a “deal” on those too).

Talented fruit carver at the Chatuchak Market

After about two and a half hours, I started to get hungry and sought out food. Eschewing the places where I saw white people sitting, I followed the Thai people and ended up out by one of the “back” exits, eating my deep fried pork with spicy mama noodles. Yes, it is nearly impossible to avoid both fish AND pork in this country. Someone from Peace Corps gave me something written in Thai that says not to use fish or fish sauce that I can show to people. Because really – I just can’t. But at lunch today I gave up and ate pork. Most of it – a few pieces were nearly all fat. I also tried Coca-Cola – here it is served in glass bottles with a glass of ice. It was not the Coca-Cola I am accustomed to. It was not bad, but I am not going to go out of my way to drink it. I cannot even find Diet Coke or Coke Light here, though after lunch I heard two men talking and saw one of them carrying a can of it, so it must exist. Somewhere.

Somehow during my travels in the midst of the mouse maze market, I ended up in the pet section. I tried to beat a hasty exit out of there but was sad to see dogs better suited to colder climates here. I also tried to bypass the home goods section of the market, because after all, I have no home.

After just over four hours I figured it was time to go – it was getting too crowded for my taste, my arms had plenty of purchases, and I thought I probably would not see anything new and exciting, having seen as much as I did.

As it turns out, while I was walking to the BTS (Skyline) station, I saw that I had barely tapped the market – there is so much more than what I saw. I do not regret not seeing it all – after all, I do not know that it is possible. But seriously? If it was laid out in some kind of organized fashion, I would have an easier time of it. As it is, though most of the pet and home items are somewhat together, everything else – souvenirs, clothing, purses and bags, shoes, jewelry, etc. is scattered at random. Fine if you have all weekend to look!  (Yes, I know this is how bazaars and markets are always laid out. I’m just saying.)

So I came back to my hotel and took a break, recounted all of the loot and wrote down what I got so as to accurately describe it here in my blog, and then decided to seek out a massage.

Massages are not hard to come by in this city – you cannot throw a stone without hitting a massage parlor of some sort.  Most of them are reputable and straight, though in some areas you can find the ones that offer men “extras” in back rooms. Luckily the one I found was not one of those. After wavering for a moment or two, I decided to go for a one-hour Thai massage (for a whole $8.50).

Dang. Thai massage is not as relaxing as one would think. While I hope the ultimate result will be good, the process was somewhat painful, in the way she kneaded and manipulated my muscles and joints. So maybe next time I will go for the foot massage or oil massage instead!

After that it was not yet 4:00 here so I decided to take a walk and see this “Terminal 21” mall that I keep seeing advertised, and maybe find an ice cream store. Apparently some VIP was leaving the mall area because even on the skyway level we were prevented from crossing above the cars until they had left. Of course some tourists kept trying to press up to the glass to see what was going on, or to cross anyway. The poor security guys could hardly control them. Upon entering the mall, I started to go into sensory overload. Maybe it is just that I am now used to bazaars, but this was too much for me – seven stories. Not very “wide” or “long” but SEVEN stories. I went up, up, up to the food level to find ice cream and found Tony Roma’s ribs, Swensen’s, and other American offerings, but not what I wanted. It was only when I went to the bottom level I found Baskin Robbins. Yippee!

Baskin Robbins was just what I had been dreaming of, so I got an old favorite – mint chocolate chip, and even took a photo of my hand holding the

Mmmmm...a taste of home

cone with the sign in the background.

As a by the way, to anyone paying attention, come to Thailand. My goodness, even with an airline ticket of $1500, it is crazy cheap here – hotels, food, shopping (as long as you avoid the malls, which have standard European or American pricing). For example – how much have I spent in the four full days I have been here (Thurs-Sun)?  About $220. I’ve done the math three times because I hardly believe it myself. That is for food, entrance fees, transportation, and shopping (in other words, without the shopping I have spent less than $100 on food, transport, and entrance fees). If only I had done this sooner…

I do have to say…it is interesting to have studied up a bit on Thai culture before I came and to see people blatantly ignoring signs, and doing things that are very insulting. For example, yesterday while I was waiting for an appointment, a woman sat on one of the couches and took off her sandal, and sat with the bottom of her foot showing. Now, doing this in public in ANY culture is wrong, but in Thailand, it is insulting to show the bottom of your foot. Today in the skytrain, tourists (from X country) were drinking, despite the “no food or drink” signs. And so on – using flash photography when there are signs EVERYWHERE that say “no flash photos” and then saying “oh, I didn’t know” when someone mentions it to you. Are people always this rude, or is it the politeness of the Thai people, who will not say anything, that makes it more noticeable?

On another note, last night I finally found the “Middle Eastern” neighborhood by the hospital. It is where there are a lot of signs in Arabic, among other features. I was wondering why everything seems to be concentrated there and then saw the Embassy for Pakistan. Ah, now I understand…

But because of this neighborhood I now have added to my menu – a shawarma sandwich (beef) and tonight, falafel. Not quite as good as the stuff I had in Egypt. Maybe I’ll stick to the Thai food.

Anyway, just a few things I noticed here. Time to relax.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ruslan Ternovy permalink
    December 11, 2011 5:38 am

    The blog is so interesting. I had to read it once again to feel again to feel the atmosphere. Enjoy yourself there!

  2. December 12, 2011 1:59 pm

    I love this post. I have not been to Asia (unless you count my brief Turkish forays) and have been wanting to go to Bangkok (although that song from “Chess” keeps floating around in my head whenever I hear the name). I just might need a Xanax (or something) to deal with the crowds. They make me impatient and edgy, even when I am doing my very best to be a “good traveler.”

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