There’s nothing you can’t buy in Bangkok. There are markets on just about every street corner where vendors sell everything from fish ball skewers to second-hand flip flops. On our way back from China Town (more on this below) we drove through a night flower market (the day is just too hot so the market starts at dusk and is open till almost midnight) that stretched over four blocks and it was just brimming with every kind of bloom imaginable, with the scents and aromas to match. This pretty much epitomises the Bangkok markets; there are no half measures and no matter which one you end up in, you can be sure that your eyes will be darting furiously, while your brain lags exhaustedly behind, unable to comprehend the sensory overload.
Apparently, Bangkok used to be known as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to the extensive labyrinth of channels and rivulets that snake around the city. So we thought it fitting to start at the Damnoensaduak floating market, which was touted as the oldest and the biggest. It is about an hour and a half out of Bangkok, and the longtail boat ride there was definately one of our highlights. As with many of the ‘authentic’ Thai sights we have visited, Damnoensaduak was heaving with tourists, but this actually added to the atmosphere for once. After what seemed like a mandatory detour down the quiet canals of the market where the usual tourist fare was on offer, our paddle boat (Thai gondola-style longboat) turned the corner and we were greeted with pandemonium. The main canal was absolutely jam-packed with deadlocked boats. Credit must go to our oarswoman, who tried doggedly to forge us up the canal that seemed to be more boats than water, but it just wasn’t going to happen. Every time we gained a metre, a motorised longtail would come pummelling through the entropic mass and just push us straight back to the start of it all again, while the oarswoman’s slew of verbal abuse was drowned out by the engine. After many attempts we had no choice but to do the rest of our exploring on foot, which was actually a very good way to see everything. The local Thais usually come to do their market business early in the morning before the tourists arrive, but the social dynamics of the traders remain evident throughout the day. Many are weathered women who have honed some inspiring skills when it comes to navigating busy canals with boats loaded to capacity. Some even juggle this with working over piping hot burners as they make some pretty delicious bits and bites. We eventually found a good vantage point where we could just sit back and watch the the river and its intriguing occupants pass us by while we guzzled our coconut pancakes.
That night we wanted to venture into China Town and hopefully get to see a different side of Bangkok, but the side we saw was not the one we expected. Apart from being an entire suburb of Shark Fin restaurants there was nothing that really distinguished it from the rest of Bangkok, until evening fell, that is. Despite being decidedly disheartened by the awful amount of Shark Fin on display, we stuck it out to see the lights of Th Yaowarat blink to life, and all of a sudden, China Town woke up. After bargaining a no-stops around-the-block tuk-tuk ride we were carted through the hustle and bustle at rocket speeds as China Town gave us real a taste of her sights and smells.
The following day we headed off to Chatuchak, aka ‘The Weekend Market’, with absolutely no idea of what was in store. It is an enormous, warren-like series of undercover market streets that all spill out onto a number of open central thoroughfares, but knowing which one you’re in is almost impossible – most of the time we were just grateful to be out in the comparatively cooler and fresher Bangkok air. Once we realised that attempting to navigate the place was a practice in futility, we simply started wandering, crossing over from one market city to another, browsing and haggling on the way. There is no general theme to the goods on offer, though there were a surprising number of Country & Western type stalls, complete with Willy Nelson soundtracks, chaps, plaid and spurs. If you’re looking for an enormous Swastika tapestry to fill the space above the fireplace, this is really the place to get it (we really saw one). South Africa was arguably dubiously represented, as the only things we found were a Die Antwoord t-shirt and a badge of the old flag that said “Fuck you, I’m a white South African” (not surprisingly, this was also one of the Nazi regalia shops). Despite this, we found some kindred spirits in one shop and had a great chat (across the language barrier) about the status of punk and rockabilly in the Bangkok music scene. It’s that kind of place. We spent the entire day there and we did not even see half of it.
Just as things started shutting and we decided to leave, the heavens opened and we got stuck in a spectacular Bangkok monsoon downpour while we waited for our bus, so by the time we got home we were exhausted and sopping, but slightly refreshed.
That night, on the way home from dinner, the sounds of some very good music drew us into Ad Here 13th Blues Bar, where we were blown away by the bluesy prowess of the Banglumphu Band while enjoying a couple of hard-earned Changs.