Barely jet-lagged with a clear mission in mind, I set off to explore Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market today. Since I didn’t have time to check it out during my first visit, I decided to spend one day in the capital just to be able to delve into it. So I’m off to Pai only tomorrow.
As one of the largest weekend markets in the world, Chatuchak covers 27 acres divided into 27 sections and has more than 15,000 booths selling absolutely everything! I’ll start with the things I liked about the market, such as…
- the mixture of typical Asian ‘improvised’/run-down stalls, and fancy, hipster-like boutiques. This clearly differentiates it from other Southeast Asian markets. In some clothing sections, I even felt as if I were in Camden or Brickfields (London), Schanzenviertel (Hamburg) or Copenhagen. Loved it!
- the immense variety of stuff to buy, ranging from clothes, shoes, accessories, hiking equipment (loads of Germans there, of course), postcards, souvenirs, (note-)books – to leather & silk, arts & paintings, antiques (e.g. a giant wooden horse), ceramics, handicrafts, artificial flowers and other home decor (colourful lanterns, yay!)… Not to forget dried fruit, which has a complete (!) section devoted to it. My favorite sections to explore were antiques, arts, home decor and – surprise, surprise – clothes. If I had a flat in Bangkok (or enough money), I’d now have a perfectly furnished and decorated home along with a new wardrobe!
- the food! Spicy clear noodle soup for breakfast (contrary to Western belief, spicy food is edible and delicious 24/7!) and coconut ice cream as a snack. I was able to pick 3 toppings (see photo above) and decided on cookies (traditional, safe choice), sweetcorn (had it before, it’s good) and bread (uhm, what..?). I have to admit both corn & bread were delicious in combination with the ice cream, whereas the cookies just didn’t fit with the strong coconut flavor and creamy ice cream texture.
I almost bought a T-shirt for my brother (he would have loooved it… or maybe not? I know my family would have due to a family inside joke!), treated my feet to a pair of (fancy!) pink Birkenstocks, and bought a retro sign similar to the ones below (guess who I took these photos for…).
So far, so good. But what was there not to like? The answer is short: the pet section. If you – to any extend – care for animals, you should not enter this area! The first few booths were nice, with well-groomed and nicely treated puppies, bunnies, cats, birds, mice, ducks, and chicken on display. I was quite excited to see them. But as I wandered further into the section, the horror began. Cages became smaller, dirtier and overcrowded. Many animals were obviously sick, apathetic, tired and weary, and some displayed abnormal behaviour typical for animals which are isolated from others for too long or never get out of their cage. The smell became unbearable, the noise sometimes as well – at other times it was far too quiet… The animals on display became more and more bizarre: hedgehogs, chipmunks, some sort of squirrel, et cetera. I found small, probably underfed owls (a species I absolutely adore) sitting on top of a cage and being uninterested in flying away. One was actually lying on its stomach (since when do owls lie down?!). I noticed it was tied to the cage with a piece of string, and figured it had walked a few inches on the cage, fallen over, and was now too weak to get back up. Seeing it lying there helplessly and apathetically broke my heart. Then, I discovered giant turtles (an almost endangered species…) in tiny cages. They couldn’t move one single inch. It was at this moment that I almost started to cry. I just felt so sorry for these poor creatures.
By trying to find my way out and get away, I got deeper and deeper into the section. While I wish I had some photos to put up here, I wasn’t willing to pay for them (most places asked for a donation) and support those shops in doing so. But I can tell you that it was only fish which were always (!) well cared for. And fish, ironically, have the tiniest brains and notice so little!
I know the way we treat pets in the West isn’t perfect, but I still believe we do better than what I saw today. Sweden, for example, has a law on how many times per day a dog owner has to walk his dog! On a different note, I am not oblivious to the fact that meat comes from animals, eggs from chicken, etc. and that we have created a whole industry around raising healthy, fat animals as quickly as possible so that we can kill and eat them. I am by no means a vegetarian. Still, this treatment felt differently. These animals were pets. They were supposed to be part of a family: loved and well taken care of.
I wanted to get as many animals out of there as possible, even if only to kill them, i.e. to put them (the sick ones) out of their misery. But I didn’t. Their misery, however, reminded me of what elephants have to go through each day (which seems, at least to me, to be even worse since they are far more intelligent than any of those animals today!). And so this experience has become quite valuable to me: it has strengthened my will to do something good for them.
Hope you’re doing well – next post will be from Pai!