Saturday, January 21, 2017

Shopping at Chatuchak and JJ Market, Bangkok

I love open air markets.  Flea markets, street markets, antique markets.  I've been to some great ones - Rue Cler in Paris, San Telmo in Buenos Aires to name two.  Chatuchak is one of my favorites.  It is over 27 acres, some covered, some not.

Be prepared for heat, crowds, smells (some good, some not), bargains, high-priced items, food and languages from around the world.  It is intense and crazy.  I love it.  Some say Chatuchak Market and JJ Market are the same thing but they're not.  They are adjacent but JJ Market is more of a mall with small, individual vendors.  It is also air-conditioned and has the kind of food court that you'll find in every mall in Bangkok.

My preference is to hit Chatuchak in the morning, wander, shop, get disgustingly sweaty and then walk across the street to the air conditioned comfort of JJ.  Lunch there with a bit more shopping before heading home to relax.

Here are some photos:

Most of Chatuchak is filled with bargain items:  cheap t-shirts, bags, children's clothes, bath salts, lighting, etc.  Much the same as you see in every market in Asia.  One section, though, specializes in higher end items - some new, some antique.  Most related to home decor.  These are antique door handles and knockers.

I loved the huge, antique carved doors.

But I would have to buy a much larger, grander house for them to work.

Tons of lighting - much of it with a Moroccan feel.  Some is clearly also from China.

Perfect for lounging by my pool with a cold beverage.

A chaise lounge made from a solid piece of wood.

Yes, yes, yes!  Perfect place for reading or canoodling.

Prices in this section of the market aren't cheap.  This light fixture was about $1,500.

More lighting.  And on the right is a sink/vanity for a very special bathroom.

Hmmmmm.  This statue is about 2 feet tall.

Lighting and bowls to be used as sinks.

Wall gardens like this are popular in Asia.  I've seen them in Malaysia made with repurposed 2 liter soda bottles.  I want one!

I also want this intricately carved door.  It will be perfect in my new, huge home since it won't fit in my current house.

Picture out...by the pool, friends stroll up to this bar for snacks and drinks.

In addition to the antique items are tons of new home decor items, many with religious themes.  I also saw a number of beautifully done, huge portraits of the recently deceased king.

We were shopping mostly for baby clothes.  There were adorable little girl clothes everywhere!

Lots of sundresses and hats.

These cute, well made dresses were 200 Baht.  That's about $5.60 USD.

C'mon - all that cuteness for less than $3?

Little girls wear a lot of dresses like this out on the street.

And more...

Hard to see in this photo but this is the back of a pair of toddler shorts - that's an elephant butt, with a 3D tail hanging off.

This stall sold stuffed animals and bags (some for the kids, some for the moms).  I liked this one that had a detachable stuffed toy.

Lunch was in the air conditioned food court in JJ Market.  I got my favorite, the #2 - oysters tossed on a red hot metal plate and topped with a sweet/savory/spicy sauce and fresh sprouts.  $1.70 for about a dozen small oysters.

The picture above was the menu photo.  This is the deliciousness I received.  Soooooo gooooooood.

Here's the deal with Thai food courts.  You go to the centralized cashiers where you trade cash for a card like this.  Then you go from stall to stall, ordering what you'd like.  They swipe the card and give you a receipt with your new balance.  You can keep the card to use for your next visit or cash it in after you dine.  Brilliant idea.

The food court was crowded by the time we left.  It looks like a food court in American mall, but instead of American chains, it's locals, selling one or more dishes they've honed for sometimes generations.  Singapore calls them "hawker stands" and is famous for them.  I like that you can get several small dishes - in this case, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese.

I fell in love with this necklace but only came away with the photo since it was an antique and the price was about $1,400.

These trinkets were cheap, cheap, cheap.  So much to see!  27 acres of tables like this.

Interested in more modern items for your home?  These ceramic dishes were on sale.

Beauty products are sold everywhere.  Skin whitening is really popular.  In Myanmar I struggled to convince some sales ladies that I didn't really need deodorant that also whitened.

Because they've already started the Chinese New Year celebrations, they had new Hondas on sale.  As I looked at them, not a single sales person approached me.

Open my kitchen cabinets and you will see piles of white dishes.  Killed me to walk away from some of these uniquely shaped ceramic items.

Baby onesies and leggings.  About $1.50 each.

Live music and sales.  Let the celebration begin!

The reasons I'm in Bangkok - my friend Lori and her "due to be born in 3 weeks" daughter.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

This and That in Bangkok

Last night was "market night" at Avenue Major Ratchayothin .  In previous Wednesday evening market nights we'd enjoyed upscale street food and food trucks.  Imagine my disappointment as we approached last night and saw for sale....clothes.  No dumplings.  No schwarma, No tom yum.  Clothes!

Luckily, they'd set aside space for about 8 food trucks.  They sold a variety of foods from Vietnamese pho to pizza to burgers.  My very pregnant friend Lori choose the "extra cheesy burger" and fries from the "Sorry I'm Hungry" truck.
The Extra Cheesy Burger from "Sorry I'm Hungry Cafe" food truck.  Only $6 for miles of cheese strings.
I wasn't that hungry so moved off to order a couple of small chicken kebobs.  I felt decidedly sad as I watched Lori pulling her cheesy goodness from its container.  I discovered via the internet later that they not only have a food truck but also a cafe and hostel.  I think they may have the best cheeseburger in Bangkok.

Tonight, we stopped at a fruit stand on our way back from dinner.  I'd stopped there yesterday, where I purchased a bag of freshly cut pineapple ($.50) and a bag of cut green mango ($.50).  The owners baby was asleep on the cart next to the fruit so I asked if she was for sale as well (for $.50).  The dad said yes, the mom said no. 

Tonight I got more green mango and also some ripe mango.  Total price was 45 Baht (about $1.10) but when I offered 60 Baht, they just took 40.  A discount for a returning customer.  I'm going to really miss the fresh fruit at such a bargain.  Along with the friendly vendors.

As we continued our walk to the hotel, dodging cars and motorbikes, we paused to let a dog run past.  He was heading to the fence to challenge a dog in the yard.  What made the encounter unusual was that the street dog was wearing a flowered dress.

Yup, just another evening in Bangkok.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Just Chillin' in Bangkok

Unlike the typical tourist, racing through Bangkok at breakneck speed to see every temple, mall and market, I'm just hanging out, waiting for baby Eileen to be born.  To my friend, not me.

Since it's hot out and I'm feeling even lazier than usual, I'm just going to enjoy the air conditioned comfort of my hotel room and share some photos of recent days.

View from my hotel room.  It's known as the Elephant Building.
Evening at Major Ratchayothin Cinema complex.  Shops, restaurants, movies and a bowling alley.

Spicy basil pork, sweet corn and fried eggplant.  About $2.

Watching them work on replacing the lines is both fascinating and scary.

I found my happy place at Chatuchak park.

Awesome grilled chicken, spicy green papaya salad and the best dipping sauce in the world.

Well of course it's instant - who wants to wait for their durian beverage.  Yuck!

Bathrooms at Chatuchak Park are clean, convenient and have these cool outdoor sinks.

Pannapat Place. All the comforts of home for $17 a night.

More Reasons to Like Bangkok

As with every large city I've visited around the world, Bangkok has some drawbacks.  Traffic and the challenge of getting around is usually my main c!omplaint, along with pollution.  Bangkok is no exception.

There are some good things about Bangkok, though.  Here are some:

Massages - you can get a massage for less than $6 an hour at a clean, quiet locals place or you can pay $60 at an upscale place in a high end mall.  The facilities may look a bit different but the experience is about the same.  I've been enjoying almost daily massages on this trip.  For about $8 I get a one hour foot/leg massage and 30 minutes of head/neck/shoulder massage. 

Health care - This is my third visit to Bangkok that focused on time at a hospital.  The first was when I got sick in Myanmar and ended up in Intensive Care at Camillian Hospital in Bangkok.  I got excellent treatment for a very low price.  The second time, I hung out at Bumrungrad Hospital with a friend who was hit by a truck in Myanmar.  He needed surgery so we came to Bangkok.  He received excellent care with the most modern treatment available in the world. 

This trip, I'm hanging out again at Bumrungrad but for a very positive reason.  Friends from Myanmar have opted to have their first baby in Bangkok because of the superior medical care.  The hospital has all the amenities you could want or need, at a reasonable price.  There's a reason Bangkok has become a medical tourist destination.

A private room at Bumrungrad is $90 a night.
People - I've found people to be overall very friendly and helpful.  The service from the receptionists at Pannapat Residence is more like what you'd get at a 5 Star Resort rather than a $17 a night room.  When you are away from the main tourist areas most people don't speak English but they generally make an effort to communicate.

Parks - Bangkok is a large, crowded city. To break that up, there are numerous parks with small lakes and walking paths.  This week I visited Chatuchak park.  The highlight, for me, was the butterfly garden.  My expectations were low but it was large, very well maintained and free.  I even got to see a small Komodo dragon wandering around.
The Butterfly Garden in Chatuchak Park.

A shady place to relax in Chatuchak Park, which happens to be next to one of the largest open air weekend markets in Asia.


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bangkok Pros and Cons

Sunrise in Bangkok, from my $17 a night hotel.

The other day, while waiting for a taxi (which never came), my friends and I were discussing the pros and cons of Bangkok.  They hate it.  I like it.  Here are some of our perspectives:

Cons:

  • Weather.  I admit, I hate the hot, humid season in Bangkok.  And it is hot and humid most of the year.  January, though, is lovely.  Highs in the 80's-low 90's.  Beats the heck out of snow.

  • Transportation.  Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Bangkok, so how can that be a "con"?  It is very common for taxis to stop but then refuse to take you.  Too far, don't want to take a certain road, don't want to make a u-turn, not in the mood.  Whatever.  Especially on weekend nights or when it is raining, getting a cab in Bangkok can be impossible.  And if you think calling a taxi to come to you will solve the problem?  No, it won't because they will frequently say they are minutes away, but never arrive.  Yes, BTS and MRT are great but limited in their coverage of the city.  One last knock on taxi drivers.  Most don't speak English, which isn't a problem if you have your destination address written in Thai but most also don't have a clue where anything is.  I used to stay near one of the major intersections in Bangkok (Asoke and Sukhumvit).  I've been there often enough that I could easily drive myself there from the airport.  But I had innumerable taxi drivers who didn't have a clue where it was.  Or how to get to the international airport, for that matter.  A small hotel on a residential alley?  Forget it.
  • Sidewalks.  I don't mind walking.  It's good exercise and there's always something to see in Bangkok.  But the "sidewalks" on all but main roads are about 15 inches wide (not joking) and frequently blocked by garbage or motorbikes.  When you get on a "real" sidewalk on a main road and are strolling happily you have to beware of motorbikes flying up behind you.  On the sidewalk.  It is disconcerting and dangerous.  Oh, and did I mention that at night the sidewalks are generally blocked by food carts?  Beware - pedestrians do NOT have the right of way.
  • People.  My friends argued that people in Bangkok (as with many large cities) are rude and unfriendly.  That hasn't been my experience for the most part but I do have issues with the vast number of 20 somethings who are so focused on their phones that they bump into everyone in front of them.
  • Air quality.  My friends didn't mention this but I think it's an issue.  Better than large cities in China for sure, but still not great air quality, especially certain times of year.
  • Prices.  My friends complained about the prices in Bangkok.  That's only because they've lived in Mandalay for several years.  Some time back in the high priced U.S.A. will remind them how good the prices in Bangkok are.  30 minute taxi ride for less than $10?  Try that in San Francisco.
And now...

Pros
You can buy the kinds of groceries you find in the USA but you will pay dearly for them.  Sometimes, it's worth it.
You can find delicious street food everywhere, from morning until late evening.  The largest variety is in the evenings.  It is easy to get a meal for less than $2.
  •  Prices.  Are there cheaper cities in the world?  Yes.  Can you get bargains in Bangkok?  Yes.  If you stay in the heart of the tourist area (Sukhumvit), you'll be paying top dollar for hotels.  If you stay on Khao San Road you can find cheap but that doesn't necessarily translate to good value.  Plus you'll be surrounding by backpackers, many of whom seem to have been raised by wolves.  If you stay in areas like Chatuchak, you can get a clean, modern, quiet hotel with all the amenities for less than $20 a night. 

    Bangkok is a cosmopolitan city and you can get pretty much any kind of food you would like.  And you can find it on the street or in a high-end restaurant.  I don't believe that price equates to quality when it comes to food.  I've eaten some of the best meals of my life from street vendors for less than $2.  I've never gotten sick from street food in Bangkok.  If you want food from an American chain, be prepared to pay prices similar to what you'd pay at home.  And while I get the craving for something familiar from home, if you come to Bangkok and only eat KFC and McDonalds, you are missing out.  By the way, coffee has become very popular here. Starbucks is everywhere, charging Starbucks prices.  Or you can stop in at a local's place and get something as good (or better, in my opinion) for less than a dollar.  When it comes to groceries, you can get most of the items you'd find at a Kroger's or Publix at stores like Villa Market.  But you will pay dearly.  On the other hand, visit a small local grocery store and buy local products and you'll save a LOT.

    Things like massages, manicures, and hair cuts vary widely in price.  If you opt for salons in the fancy malls you'll pay U.S. prices.  If you opt for clean, friendly establishments where the locals go, you can easily find a massage for $6 an hour.  Haircut with includes a 30 minute head massage for $7.  The staff may not speak fluent English but it's really not necessary.
    My $7 hair cut. 
Check out the next post for more reasons I like Bangkok.