Bangkok is definitely not short on night markets. Unfortunately, a lot of them tend to sell the same mass-produced crap and are overrun with tourists, pushing up prices and making vendors either aggressive or insanely apathetic when they see your farang face. For those who have lost their appetite over endless booths hawking RUN BKK t-shirts, pop-up greeting cards and tasers, a night out at eastern Bangkok’s Rot Fai Market will put the hunger back into your shopping belly.
Talat Rot Fai is full of awesome, like awesome handmade clothes and jewelry, and awesome cheap cocktails. Rot fai means train, and the market got its name from the abandoned stretch of rail upon which it was built every weekend in the Chatuchak area of northern Bangkok. It was forced to relocate in 2013 when the BTS Skytrain was expanded, and its now flourishing at its new location on Srinakarin Road behind a shopping centre called Seacon Square.
The market is split into three major sections. The first area is a block of converted warehouses that have been transformed into permanent shops, housing everything from tailors to tattoo artists, burger restaurants to bong shops. While it looks similar to the disappointingly modern Asiatique market on the other side of town, the vibe is overwhelmingly street style rather than Disneyland shopping mall.
The main arena, called “Market Zone” is packed chock-a-block with standard Bangkok night market fare that’s been given a trendy revamp. Food hawkers serve traditional and unusual street food fare while playing up retro nostalgia in their signs and furniture. Nearby, row after row of rainbow-coloured roofs shelter stalls that sell all the essential hipster fashion and accessories at unbelievably decent prices. There is some truly cool shit, and it’s cheap.
Beyond the temporary market stalls lies a third area, one that really sets Rot Fai apart from other night markets. Called “Rod’s Antiques”, this is a second block of converted warehouses with shops selling kitschy retro antiques and vintage clothing, all which would look completely at home on London’s Brick Lane. There’s old Americana like classic cars and street signs, gumball machines, trading cards and board games alongside things like life-sized figures of Ultraman, safari hats, industrial lighting and kendo gear.
Around the perimeter of the market there are shitloads of bars, the coolest of which are temporary popups out of old classic cars. Some are rasta themed and some retro, but they all serve pitchers of frozen cocktails with a spoon and shot glasses. The drinks have dubious alcohol content but the locals love them, and they’re made with good ol’ fashion coloured syrup, so they dye your tongue, too!!
We visited Rot Fai twice, once on a Thursday and once on a Saturday, and had two completely different experiences. On Thursdays things are still being set up, and we found that about half of the temporary stalls were absent and many of the antique shops were closed. While this made the market significantly smaller, the stuff on offer was still cool as hell, and the lack of crowds made it feel like we had stumbled upon something secret and exclusive.
On Saturday the market gets cranked up to 11, in terms of both the number of stalls and the number of people. It’s crowded, even past midnight when the BTS has stopped, but the vibe is festive with live music, comedy shows (in Thai), performance art, and European football on projectors in the bars. Both nights are cool, depending on what you’re looking for, but we’d recommend heading there after 8pm if you don’t want to get stuck in too much traffic.
Rot Fai has the bonus of being far outside the reach of the average tourist, meaning those that make the journey are rewarded with the opportunity to shop for some of Bangkok’s funkiest stuff without tourist-inflated prices. Both the shoppers and the sellers are friendly and unpretentious, and after drinking a couple slushie cocktails it’s easy to navigate the massive crowds and make a few friends along the way.
Rot Fai Market is open from Thursday to Sunday, 5pm to midnight, and is behind a giant shopping mall called Seacon Square.
Seacon Square is located in an eastern suburb of Bangkok, about 4km from any metro station. Your best bet is a combination of BTS or Airport Link, then taxi or songthaew. From central Bangkok, head to BTS On Nut station. Cross the road to hail a cab heading northbound, and tell them Seacon or Dalat Rot Fai (the former works better as most drivers don’t know the market is there). Or walk to On Nut road and hail a songthaew travelling eastbound. Cabs will cost you 65-80 baht depending on traffic, while songthaew cost 10 baht per person.
Alternatively, take the Airport Link to Hua Mak station and grab a cab for about the same price as from On Nut. Because you’ll probably want to visit Rot Fai when the traffic in Bangkok is at its absolute worst, we don’t recommend taking a cab from the centre.