By Brian Spencer
I found it while picking through yet another artistically presented pile of worthless, wonderful junk at Bangkok’s Talad Rot Fai weekend night market: an authentic AT-AT Driver from one of the first waves of Star Wars action figures.
The corners were bent, the cardboard backing scuffed up, and the plastic was clouded with dust and time, but the package was still unopened. I probably still have that figure somewhere in a box in my mom’s basement, the bottom of its feet streaked with blue ink so it didn’t get mixed up with other kids’ toys when I went over there to play and brought my precious Star Wars stuff with me. (A little shit who lived down the street named Eddie, specifically, was the kid most likely to steal them. I don’t remember it, but he’s the kid who apparently once poured some kind of flammable material all over me and was about to light me on fire to see what happened, until my heroic dad came bounding down the street to put an end to my potential torching. True story; that little incident is what prompted my family’s move away from Garden City, MI, in fact.)
Nostalgia almost persuaded me to buy it, but ultimately I passed. I didn’t need it, just as I probably don’t need much of anything for sale at this hip market that on Saturdays and Sundays takes over a big lot owned by the State Railway of Thailand, just down the road from the infamous (and oppressively claustrophobic) weekend Chatuchak Market. No, I haven’t yet actually purchased anything at Talad Rot Fai — literally and appropriately translated to ‘Train Market’ — but it’s easily my favorite market in Bangkok and offers one of the most unique shopping experiences in the city.
Now, don’t confuse my personal lack of buys with a lack of quality goods — there are oceans of good shit packed into the rows and rows of stands/stalls/pop-up shops here, from boxes of dentures (50 baht each; a real bargain) to local-designer fashions, antique furniture, vintage toys, polished hubcaps, retro houseware, sneakers, and much more. Start browsing and digging through and marveling at all the unexpected (and, sometimes, disturbing) finds, and before you know it two or three hours have passed. Bring your camera: The meticulously, thoughtfully created arrangements of goods at many of these stalls could double as installations at an underground art gallery.
I told you there were there some disturbing finds here…
Shopping is only half the fun.
A number of happening bars and excellent street food stalls are squeezed into the market, too, with many of the bars serving cocktails and cold beers out of parked VW buses decorated with twinkle lights and surrounded by stools and folding tables. Troy’s and Rod’s, the popular (and immobile) bar near the entrance off Kampaeng Phet Road, also hosts live bands, but all of the laid-back pop-up bars here blast everything from punk, metal, and electric blues to the funky brand of vintage Thai luk thung heard on Soundway Records’ excellent The Sound of Siam and DJ Chris Menist’s ace Paradise Bangkok mix (which, by the way, you can download for free at the latter link).
Of course, if you don’t want to stop for a drink you can always just buy a cheap can or three of Chang or Leo from one of the cooler-toting vendors and sip your beers while browsing; you can also take it over to the train tracks and take a seat on or even in one of the old, out-of-commission railway cars. (I’m fairly certain they weren’t there last time I visited, but hopefully they haven’t been permanently removed.)
The Thai hipster set that frequents (and runs) the market is refreshingly friendly and unpretentious, helping make the alt-bohemian ambience here irresistably inviting and welcoming; in many ways the vibe here reminds me of those found in some of the street markets in East Berlin. I’ll be returning to Bangkok in the near future, and if that AT-AT Driver is still there, it just might be coming home with me this time.
You can get to Talad Rot Fai by public transit (short walks from the Kamphaeng Phet MRT or Mo Chit BTS Skytrain), but the easiest way to get there is by taxi. Your driver should know it by now, but if not have him/her drop you at either Chatuchak Market or Or Tor Kor Market. From there, walk west down Kampaeng Phet Road, on the same side as Chatuchak, for about a quarter mile; the market will be on your right. Our friends at GranTourismo! have more on the when, where, why and how of Talad Rot Fai.
All photos copyright Brian Spencer; please don’t use ’em without asking first.