This story is from my writing portfolio. I also shot the photographs.
I’m sitting at Nit Noy’s Coffee sipping a 35-baht mocha and watching a stream of people coming through the gate. I’m here before the 9 a.m. opening time, and the air is already a Bangkok-cool-and-sticky 90°F. I have learned to come early and take it slow, because it’s the only way to survive this market. I finish my coffee, pick up my camera, and head deeper into the Amazon of markets, where I have been told you can find everything.
Jukujak Weekend Market is a conurbation of shops and narrow aisles, all jammed full with living and static stuff. Jukujak is arguably the largest outdoor market in the world. The Guinness Book of World Records lists the San Jose flea market in California as the biggest, stating that it covers 120 acres as compared to Jatujak’s mere 28 acres. However, Jakujak has 6,500 shops to San Jose’s 6,000 shops. And when it comes to visitors, the San Jose market can only boasts 60,000 visitors a week. Jakujak has 200,000 a day, or 400,000 over its weekend! That means 30 million visitors each year. And with the completion of the BTS Skytrain and the MRT Subway systems, the market is getting easier for the tourists to find.
The market’s history dates back 50 years to when it began as the Suan Lung Flea Market. In 1982, the market was moved to its current location on Playothin Road and named Playothin Market. Then five years later it was renamed to Chatuchak Market after the city park located next door. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has since renamed it yet again to Jakujak Market to make it easier for the tourists to remember.
I am lost already, but I can find the pet section by listening to the sound of the barking dogs. It’s still early and the puppies are getting their baths and the kittens are getting their ribbons tied on. Later, this section will become a human traffic jam with shoppers browsing and petting the animals.
In the furniture section I recall what a friend tells me the other day, “You can find everything in Chatuchak.” I am still skeptical. Everything is a lot of stuff. And yet, just look at of this stuff. I am dreaming about of all this stuff. This table would look nice in the dining room. I could use that bookcase. My computer would look good on that desk. I am going to need a bigger house.
This market is always changing, and even so, it would be impossible even know where everything is. That restaurant you liked on one visit may not be there the next. If there is a specialty item you need, be prepared to spend at least a half-day looking. Don’t be afraid to ask a shopkeeper. Most are helpful.
The market is divided into sections. However, you will still find flower shops in the middle of the pet section, a pizzeria in the middle of the gardening section. In this case, I have stumbled upon a fortuneteller in the middle of the flower shops. I decide to let her read my palms. She smiles. She says I will have a big house, only one wife and one child.
I stop for lunch at one of the market’s restaurants along Kamphaenphet 1 Road. The heat has risen quite considerably since this morning, and I order a cold beer with my noodles. My waiter is friendly, and this gets me thinking: It’s the smiles that give this market its competitive edge and keep me coming back. In comparison, a night bazaar has recently opened in Bangkok. It’s open every night, but Jakujuk Market is only open on weekends. The shopkeepers and staff here are only working part-time. Perhaps, these people want to be here.
After the meal, I drop in at the market administration office and meet with Phaiboon Chamtarasisopa. He has been working at the market for 10 years.
He points to the map and then out the window and across the street. “Section 22. Everything for your bed is there.”
“Ok, where can I find a blackboard?”
He points to section 24 and says, “You can also find whiteboards.”
“Raisin bread?” I say. I am trying to stump him now, and he knows it too.
“Used leather jacket? ”
“What kind of music?”
“Here.” Phaiboon gleams, I have failed to stump him yet.
“Ok, last one. Where might I find a jumbo jet?” I say, slapping my hand on the table. I’ve got him, there’s no way they’ll have a jumbo jet here.
“Yes, There is a toy shop near the bottom of Section 9 where you can find toy jumbo jets.”
So there you have it. You really can find everything in Jakujuk Market.
This story first appeared in Prestige Magazine (Thailand Edition) in 2005
All photographs by Robert Lorimor