“Don’t believe all the articles you read online,” said Nick, head of the travel desk at Samsen Street Hotel, where I stayed on the last leg of my Thailand backpacking trip. Ironically I was working on a listicle for this blog.
“If you really want to know where the cheapest shopping areas are, just ask the locals, like me,” he cheerfully said. I mentioned the spots I already visited, like MBK and Platinum Fashion Mall, to which he shook his head. “They’re not the cheapest, but they’re famous for tourists,” he said. “I will tell you where the locals really go for the cheapest.” I jotted down his recommendations and was surprised that only one from my draft matched his.
I spent my last few days in Bangkok exploring his list, and I wasn’t disappointed. Check out the four cheapest markets in Bangkok—recommended by the locals, and tried-and-tested by yours truly.
1. Sampheng Market
Address: Soi Wanit 1, Yaowarat, Samphanthawong, Bangkok
If you’ve been to Binondo, Manila, then Sampheng will remind you of Divisoria and 168 Shopping Mall, where everything is cheaper by the dozen. But don’t expect to find the popular touristy souvenirs you’re used to seeing in the mainstream Bangkok markets, like elephant pants and cheeky shirts. Here you’ll find a mix of gadget accessories, homeware, decors, toys, fashion accessories, sewing supplies, wallets, stationery, bags, and some souvenirs. There are oodles of designer knock-offs and dupes.
Tip: Come here only if you want to buy in bulk—3s, 6s, and 12s. It can be pricey if you want to buy only one item. To give you an idea of how cheap it is, I got three elephant bracelets from Chatuchak for ฿150. In Sampheng, the same elephant bracelets cost ฿100 a dozen.
Sampheng Market is in Chinatown, so while you’re there, you may as well explore the rest of the hood. Chinatown is best explored for hours instead of just a stopover. There’s an overwhelming selection of street food, including strange but appetizing concoctions for your sweet and savory needs. As for retail therapy, you’ll find that the items here are way cheaper than the ones in the malls and other Bangkok street markets.
Tip: There’s a dizzying array of stores that sell similar items, so if you like something, it’s best to buy it immediately because you might not find your way back there.
The most famous and largest weekend market, Chatuchak is open only on Saturdays to Sundays from 9am-6pm, so plan your trip accordingly. As I learned during my second visit, it doesn’t close at 6pm on the dot. Some stalls will pack up by 6pm, but the rest are open until late at night. With over 15,000 stalls spread across 35 acres and 26 sections, there’s just never enough time to explore everything in one visit. You can spend your entire day here, as there are thousands of food and drink stalls, bars, and buskers/performers to entertain you in between shops.
Tip: It gets cheaper as you go deeper into the market. You can walk around and compare prices before you make your final purchase, but don’t walk too far as it’s easy to get lost in this massive place. The same items you found by the entrance can go cheaper if you check the inner stalls. If you’re planning to buy extra luggage for your flight home, Chatuchak is the best place to get it. Buy the luggage first, and then place all your other purchased items inside like a shopping trolley. It’s better than carrying sacks of merch for hours! I had back and shoulder pain by the end of my day there.
Although not as visually appealing as the other street markets, Pratunam has cheaper prices. You’ll find the usual touristy souvenirs, clothes, and accessories sold per piece or wholesale. Many shops are open 24 hours, while others operate from 11am-8pm daily. In case you get tired of the congested market, you can always walk to the nearby air-conditioned malls, such as The Market Bangkok, Central World, and Platinum Fashion Mall.
Tip: Some stalls in Pratunam won’t let you haggle because the prices are already knocked down to the lowest possible rate. I also found unique fashion items here that I couldn’t find in other markets. If like a true Filipino who loves buying pasalubong for every member of your clan, you want to buy dozens of keychains, purses, and everything elephant-themed, then you’ll get great deals here. Some items are even cheaper than Chatuchak.