If this isn’t your first time in Bangkok, you’ve probably already visited the city’s most famous landmarks, such as the Royal Palace, Lumphini Park and the Jim Thompson’s house; you’ve also likely taken the Chao Praya River ferry and shopped at the city’s modern malls downtown.
You may have visited Chatuchak market, the biggest in town, and enjoyed a drink at one of the premium rooftop bars such as Vertigo, Lebua or Marriott the Surawongsee, while admiring stunning views of the city at night.
However, if you still have some time to spend in the city and wish to see something unusual than mostly draws locals, it’s worth reading about one of Bangkok’s lesser-known market.
I doubt you’ve ever heard of it, despite the fact that it’s situated in a popular tourist zone, in close proximity to the Royal Palace and Wat Pho.
It’s called The Amulet Market.
Thailand is (primarily) a Buddhist country, and amulets play an important role in the culture and religion of the Kingdom.
The Amulet Market is a heaven for Buddhism followers, monks and collectors alike who gathers in this open bazaar in search of everything from pricey antiques to everyday talismans that can be worn around the neck for good luck.
The Amulet Market is located in Maharaj Road, behind the Wat Mahathat temple, not far from the Grand Palace and the Chao Praya riverbanks.
Ferries (such the Chao Praya Express) stop at Chang Pier, Maharaj Pier, and Phra Chan Tai Pier, from where it’s only a short walk to reach the heart of this bustling market.
Some stalls are along the main road (Maharaj Road), but the most interesting part of the market is down an alley labelled “Trok Maha That,” so keep your eyes peeled for the sign and turn down the alley.
The Amulet Market is also shown on Google Maps, so once you’ve arrived in the area, you can ask your phone for directions.
If you’re traveling around Bangkok by BTS, get off at BTS National Stadium, take Exit 2, then walk to the bus stop of bus 47. The Royal Palace is a 30-minute drive away.
As I previously stated, the Amulet Market is nearby the Royal Palace, in one of the most visited areas of Bangkok, but it took me several years and trips until last month I finally made it there. In the past, I always lacked the time to look for it or I couldn’t locate it.
I’m positive that I had been down that particular soi (narrow lane) at least in one occasion before, but the market must have been closed on that day.
Once you’ve found the appropriate alley, however, it’s difficult to miss: there are numerous kiosks selling thousands of precious amulets “charged” with enchantments and prayers for protection, but also hundreds of Buddhist and Hindu figurines and sculptures and other religious artefacts.
It’s a neighbourhood market that draws local citizens who shop for their own collections and daily rituals, as well as monks who buys for their temple.
It has all the charm and spell you could wish for in a foreign market, but not all vendors are pleased with tourists taking photos and videos.
You’ll see a lot of “No Photography” signs and a few nasty shopkeepers.
Luckily, most salespeople are patient and polite, and a few can even provide information on their amulets in English.
The merchant I approached first was delighted by my interest and queries, so we ended up talking for a while and I purchased a couple little amulets for Buddhist friends and family.
From the patient vendor I learned that the power of each amulet varies: some are believed to fend off spiritual demons, ghosts and unbalance; others are supposed to shield owners from physical threats such as road accidents, gunfire and so on.
It’s for this reason that every customer that visit the Amulet market has a specific goal in mind; they’re hoping to find a talisman that will bring them exactly what they seek, whether it’s a blessing on their business or their new home, a long desired child or the winning lottery ticket.
Amulets might be in the shape of medallions, Buddha statuettes or other Hindu or Buddhist deities, and they can be made of a variety of materials, including wood, clay, stone, brass or even human body parts (like hair or bones of a deceased monk).
It’s best not to haggle too much on the price unless you’re quite certain of what you’re buying. Some amulets date back centuries and are extremely valuable; yet, most are mass-produced, and knowing the difference require a trained eye.
My suggestion it to simply pay the price you would be willing to pay to bring home a souvenir: it can range from as little as 10 Thai baht to as much as several thousand baht, it all comes down to how much faith or money you have!
Just to observe customers consulting merchants to identify their talisman, the one who will work the magic and grant their wish, is what makes the Amulet Market so interesting to visit, even though you aren’t seeking any talisman to bring home.