I love a good market, and so much the better if it is of hippy, alternative persuasion. Even better still if, despite being in the middle of Bangkok, it is practically tourist free and very much the real deal, an authentic slice of Thai shoppers’ paradise.
So to say I was happy to come across Bangkok 101’s tip-off about Talat Rot Fai would be an understatement if there ever was one. This market’s name translates as ‘railway market’ (not to be confused with the railway track market in the Mae Klong area of Samut Songkhram, which I have also visited and written about recently after coming back from my boondocking), and is located close to the Chatuchak weekend market in the Mochit area of the capital.
Like Chatuchak, it also takes place at the weekend, but of an evening so that it complements rather than takes away from the experience of a day spent at the world’s most mahoosive outdoor market. While the start time is advertised as 2pm, things don’t really get going until sunset – but once they do get going, they get going good and proper.
Along with a few items of crappy tat, you can look forward to a real treasure trove of eccentric, edgy fashions, old retro items and hot Vespa motorbikes. On the retro side, think old, dusty, glass Pepsi bottles with designs long out of circulation, reupholstered floral furniture and probably antique wooden stools and other bits lovingly brought back to life.
But, of course, this wouldn’t be a real Thai market if it didn’t also come equipped with a healthy selection of food stalls – and there are plenty to choose from here. Fresh seafood skewers, noodles, deep fried insects and everything-else-you-can-imagine, fresh sushi, and then some. Plus camper van after camper van parked up selling cocktails, beers and more at dirt-cheap prices to customers perched at tiny wooden tables and stools – 35 baht for two bottles of Leo, anyone? Price aside, there is something special about having your beer plucked from a freezing bucket, leftover ice being knocked from the sides of the glass with a hammer, and then coming across chunks of still-frozen beer as you sip. The ice also has a tendency to make the beer fizz over the top a lot (no matter how fast you slurp!), which is fun!
Perhaps the best feature at Talat Rot Fai, though, is the atmosphere: a genuinely chilled buzz, trendy and on-trend but with a distinct lack of pretention. These are just locals with their fingers on the pulse and out to a snap up something alternative for their wardrobe or home, at a bargain price. Stallholders are individuals with a real interest in what they are selling – much of it they have likely found themselves elsewhere – and not just businesspeople motivated only by money who have picked up at wholesale shops and markets what they guess will clear from their ground mats fastest. The smiles are genuine, the products unique picks you won’t find elsewhere, and the western tourists – and you’ll know by now how much this pleases me – distinctly absent.
To get to Talat Rot Fai either take the Skytrain towards Mochit and alight at Saphan Kwai, then take a tuk-tuk to Talat Rot Fai. Expect to pay 50 baht, and opt for a tuk-tuk rather than a taxi, as tuk-tuk drivers appear to know the location well and will have no problem getting you there; taxi drivers less so. Alternatively, take the MRT to Kampaeng Phet, turn right out of the station and walk for 500m; you’ll find Talat Rot Fai on your right, past several florists and garden centre-like shops. Don’t forget that, on the way back, the last Skytrain towards Bearing (previously On Nut, before the extension to the Sukhumvit line) leaves at around midnight, and the MRT stops running around the same time. Leave yourself plenty of time to dig out the treasures at Talat Rot Fai!