Weekend markets are a big deal in Thailand, so despite the fact that I had already sent a box of excess clothing home from Chiang Mai; that my suitcase was hopelessly too overweight to take as a carry-on; that my overnight train had been delayed by four hours and I was exhausted - I still had it in me to venture out to Chatuchak Market. Colloquially known as jj market (according to Wikipedia the largest market in the nation), it's a sprawling maze of thousands of stalls vaguely organized into blocks by the type of items sold, interspersed with every type of street food imaginable. Since I arrived two hours before closing I decided to limit myself to the clothing area, yet still didn't make it all the way around the block.
Unlike other markets I've been to where all the vendors seem to be stocked by the same small group of wholesalers, there were many independent and vintage retailers with lots of quirky, unique items. Let me put it this way: even I, arguably a champion shopper, was overwhelmed. Prices are posted but there's still some room for bargaining. I left with some great finds, and managed to still be able to close my suitcase when it came time to leave. Win - win.
The other big draw on the weekends is the floating markets, where vendors hawk their wares from traditional narrow boats. Tour companies have capitalized upon the fact that the biggest ones are far from the city center with overpriced excursions, but you can also find some local ones if you know where to look. So, the following day, I went to Taling Chan with a girl I met at the hostel who is also from Seattle (seriously, I've encountered more Americans in the last three days than I have in the last two months).
Taling Chan is more of a riverside market, as the only floating bits are the eateries where all the cooking is done on said boats, but it was still very quaint and authentic. The timing worked out for us to take a boat ride around the network of canals to an orchid farm and another market, and while we couldn't understand a word from the guide above the sound of the boat's engine, it was quite an atmospheric journey. We kept marveling at how it didn't feel at all like the bustling Bangkok surrounding our hostel as we passed gorgeous modern houses, overgrown disheveled shacks, iguanas climbing out of the water and even a large decapitated boa constrictor floating near an intersection.
Of course, a visit to Bangkok wouldn't be complete without seeing the exquisite Grand Palace. I found it difficult to capture all the elaborate details of the buildings while trying to avoid getting hordes of tourists in the frame of my camera, but I think I managed to get at least a few good shots. The sheer opulence - all the gold, jewels and paintings - are simply amazing. There's quite a lot to see within the complex, but eventually the heat got to us so after trudging around and admiring the most important structures we left and had lunch by the nearby pier.
That afternoon I couldn't bring myself to brave the heat again, so instead of temple-hopping I opted for a different cultural experience: movie-watching. Movie theaters in Thailand are notoriously luxurious (think plush, reclining seats that you get to pick when you buy your ticket; I've paid way more in the states to see films in much crappier conditions), not to mention that before each screening they play the national anthem and everyone rises to salute the king. (But really after not seeing a movie in over two months when my usual rate of consumption is at least one a week the withdrawal symptoms were getting to be too much).
I may not have seen everything on the visitor's bucket list, but between the daytime and nighttime activities I think I hit a good balance. So, Bangkok, it's goodbye for now, but I can't wait to come back when the weather is more tolerable.
Some photos below, see the rest on Flickr.