shopping, Bangkok-style.

My trip to Bangkok this past weekend felt less like a trip about Thai culture and more of a learning experience on the many faces of international consumerism.  Guess what… we all want stuff. Yay!

And we equally go crazy over reduced priced trinkets at an outdoor, sweaty market as we do the 5x-the-markups of similar items in an air conditioned, shiny several-storeys-high mall. The frenzy and the ferocity for shopping is the same in all places in a big city, even if the rules don’t stay the same.

I learned at the Chatuchak Weekend Market that standing in line is definitely not just ill-advised, but really not optional. I learned that if you buy in bulk and you have some mad Thai-speaking skills (thank you Krista and friends) your final sale price dramatically improves. I learned that I like coconut in all forms, especially in an iced beverage dripping through my hands as I’m walking through the masses. And I learned that if you see something you like, get it then and there, because the likelihood of finding it later is next to impossible. With an upwards of 5,000 stalls to peruse, doubling back through the windy acres of food and textiles can be tricky.  That’s why I also learned that it’s all just stuff, so if you don’t end up buying that one really important thing you regret not stopping for, that’s probably ok too.

 A breath of humid air at Chatuchak weekend market.

At the shopping malls (all four of them, Siam neighborhood) I learned that lines do very much count at the cash register but are not relevant when buying food. What you think is just a polite distance between you and the next person is actual ample room for a family of four to squeeze in front of you.every.time. I learned to go to the malls for the air conditioning but not the clothes.  Don’t buy that dress at the mall if you’re comfortable with a “free-sized” lesser quality version at a 70% markdown that you dig out of a box at the market. I also learned that similar to some stalls at the outdoor market, you’re probably not allowed to take pictures of things you find at a global clothing giant.

But sometimes you just can’t help it:

The forbidden picture.

And the consumption of material goods does not end at these locations. There are stalls and hawkers of wares in almost any conceivable location at any given time in Bangkok.  On the street, in an alley way, on a tiny inch of sidewalk… people are there to sell you fried balls of fat, ripped off DVDs and music, barbecued grasshoppers, gold threaded elephant wall hangings, and trendy sun glasses. And there are people always buying and always getting in your way. Or, more likely, I’m getting into theirs. Any way you look at it, this makes getting to the train station a very long mission when you could have just taken that bridge above your head where the hawkers do not go. Live and learn.

Protests also clog the streets near the shopping malls (making me a little homesick for France to tell you the truth):

My friends decided to keep the shock and overwhelm theme going by introducing me to nightlife in Bangkok. Saturday night we hopped in a tuk-tuk, breathing in the diesel and the night air a few inches off the ground, to the busiest party/club street I’ve seen in a looong time.

From the back of the tuk-tuk

This is where the goods, services, and shows being sold get weirder and more explicit. An international hodgepodge of tourists and locals, I witnessed the flow of goods fueled by the flow of alcohol and increased by a general sense of asininity. Because of the international mayhem and general party theme, this street could have belonged in any other capital in the world. Same rowdy drunk people, same bump, bump, bumpin’ music spilling into the streets. But at the same time it was indisputably Thai. That city smell of chilies, spices, sweat, sewage, and gasoline, little children trying to sell you neon bracelets while they attempt to clean your pockets, wiry old man trying to push his blackened scorpions off on you.

Khaosan Rd

Especially while walking down that packed party street, I was reminded how important it is to stay aware of your surroundings and hold onto your money. Staying sober at a free-for-all like that is a much more rewarding experience than observing it through the eyes of a person with alcohol-impaired vision who has had their wallet nabbed but won’t realize it until they’re finding a way home at 4 am.  The latter of which thankfully I got to experience only as an onlooker.

I took away this lesson from my introductory weekend on shopping in Bangkok:
I think that the art of haggling is very very important. Even better is the art of haggling in Thai. However, most important is the art of saying no. Just like you need to be firm with the smelly drunk farang at Burger King trying to convince you that you want to dance (seriously?), make sure those sellers know you mean it. Be persistent and be firm.

Well, thanks for the fun, overcrowded, polluted, mad-dash weekend, Bangkok! It was the perfect mix of spending time with a very important friend, experiencing some adventure on my own traveling, and not breaking the bank. And to top it all off, I was grateful for the relative peace and quiet of my clickity-clack train ride home reading GOT on my tablet (turns out reading about ice and snow is a temporary relief for this humidity).


Nighty night.

Jennifer Shannahan

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