One of the best spots to spend a Saturday night in Bangkok at the moment is Talad Rot Fai – the Train Market – also known as Talad Dek Naew, after the vintage-wearing, retro-loving Thai hipsters who hang out here.
We love this place and can happily while away a few hours here on a weekend evening, browsing the atmospheric shops selling antiques and collectibles and the ‘stalls’ selling completely worthless but utterly charming old second-hand retro stuff – from roller skates to ABBA records – spread out on a sheet on the bitumen ground.
Talad Rot Fai is quite a different experience to Chatuchak Market or JJ Market. Whereas JJ is so colossal and crowded, you need a compass, a map and contingency plan for the first few visits, the Train Market is the complete opposite. It’s like a small town fair in size in comparison and I think that’s part of its charm.
What gave the ‘train market’ its name is its location on disused railway yards and abandoned train tracks, and a number of old train carriages that the market’s founders, antique dealers Thanayut ‘Troy’ and Khun Phirot, persuaded the State Railway of Thailand to allow them to use.
Troy owns a big buzzy bar-cum-restaurant-cum antique warehouse on the site, and used the train carriages as informal drinking spots. Sadly, the carriages were gone when we last visited and I’ve not yet been able to find out why.
With or without the carriages the market is still a terrific place to hang out on a weekend night. Spend a few hours here and you’ll wonder why you ever bothered with places like Kao San Road.
Getting there: MRT/Subway to Kampaeng Phet station. Take Exit 3 (for Tor Gor Market), cross the road (take care!), and walk along Kampaeng Phet Road for around 400 meters or so. Make sure you’re walking away from Chatuchak Market. If taking a taxi, tell the driver it’s the Rot Fai Market (not the park by the same name!) or ‘Talad Dek Naew’, named after the retro-wearing hipsters who hang out here.
Getting around: by foot, not train, sorry, but this is a perfectly manageable market that’s just a tiny fraction of the size of Chatuchak.
When to go: for the whole night market and eating and drinking experience, anytime from 6pm onwards on a Saturday and Sunday; everything winds up around 1am. If you’re just going to shop, keep in mind that the antique warehouse is open daily from 10am-6pm and till much later on weekends. If you’re going to shop, head here soon after it opens. If you want to shop, eat and drink, and drink, and maybe watch a band or so, go around 8pm.
For how long: if you’re only interested in shopping, two hours will be plenty. If you want to shop, eat, drink, and catch a band, you could easily spend a whole night here.
Getting your bearings: note the two main entrances – the landmarks are Troy’s and Rod’s bars respectively – that’s all you need to know. This is a very manageable market. You could stand in any one spot and take in practically the whole place, so don’t worry, you won’t get lost.
Money: take plenty of cash as there are no ATMS as there are at Chatuchak, but that’s part of this market’s charm.
Where to eat: the market boasts plenty of food stalls serving up all sorts of cuisines – Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and Western, as you’d expect from a market like this. I did not see a cupcake stall but I won’t be surprised if I do next time we drop by.
Where to drink: one of things we love about this market is all the funky bars, fixed and mobile. Of the fixed bars, have a few drinks and listen to a live band at Troy’s and Rod’s (5pm-1am weekends). Of the mobile bars, when we last visited, there were a dozen or so groovy little bars operated from cute old VW kombi vans (!) serving up cocktails, spirits and cold beers, scattered about this market. You’ll also notice locals buying bottles of beers and strolling around the market with a cold one in hand. Allow more time for drinking than shopping!
What to buy: you can buy new clothes and souvenirs at Chatuchak, so focus on what this market does best – retro collectibles and knick knacks, vintage clothes, old vinyl records, and all sorts of oddities you won’t see elsewhere.
Getting home: head back to the BTS station or take a taxi, but if you do decide on a taxi, be patient. Drivers are picky about where they go late on a Saturday night. Unlike Chatuchak (strange as this may seem), most drivers from here won’t speak English, so make sure you have your address written down in Thai if you don’t speak the language and only use a taxi that uses the metre. If they want to negotiate, get out and wait for another.
In 2013 the market moved to a new location behind Seacon Square on Srinagarindra Road, Soi 51, Prawet, not far from Bangkok Racing Circuit. The closest BTS is On Nut, but it’s still a bit of a trek after that, so it’s easiest to take a taxi. The market is open from 5pm to midnight Friday to Sunday, although there is also the more permanent plaza with shops open from Tuesday to Sunday. As soon as we’ve checked it out we’ll post a further update.