A Brief Guide to Bangkok’s Amulet Market
If you read our previous post on Thai amulets, you probably have some idea already about just what an integral part of the culture these items are in Thailand.
And while it may be true that some people have the wrong assumption that Thai amulets are merely some kind of good luck charm, that would be something of an overly- simplistic way of viewing them.
Buddhist and similar amulets are worn to protect the wearer from a variety of potential dangers and ills, as well as attract anything from good financial fortune to a new romantic partner.
And there is seemingly a fine art to determining an original, authentic – even valuable amulet from one of the cheap and mass-produced items that the majority of people are sporting.
Pretty much everywhere you go in the country of Thailand, and of course in the capital city, you will see opportunities to purchase amulets of some form or other.
However, if you are interested in taking a closer look at some of the more authentic and intriguing amulets that are to be found in the city, then you might want to check out some of the many more specialised amulet stalls or even fairs that feature such items.
You won’t have to go far if you are looking for an amulet to catch your eye – and when wandering through the populated tourist areas like Chatuchak Weekend Market you are likely to find plenty of stalls are offering amulets, as well as in the central market areas and malls like platinum and MBK.
However, it’s fairly unlikely that you will find anything of any real authenticity or value in these places if you are looking for something a bit more meaningful – as the majority of Thais may be.
And it is true that sometimes it can be fun getting involved in doing a bit of digging and comparing with these interesting little items, especially if you have even a passing interest or working knowledge of Buddhism in its many forms, along with some of its associations. In Thailand these are usually related to Hinduism and ancient Khmer culture which is possibly where these highly collectable items originated from.
But it is worth knowing that, apart from avid devotees and collectors of these items in Thailand, the majority of locals obtain their amulets from visiting a temple, whether that be a local one or another which they have made a special pilgrimage to.
They usually obtain them after having them blessed by a monk, and any sacred Buddhist amulets are meant to be made only at a Buddhist temple – so if you are looking for genuine Buddhist items, go to the temple and get one from the monks.
Although it won’t necessarily hold any financial value, especially if mass-produced, at least you know it is authentic and offering a donation or buying the amulet helps support the needs of the temple.
If Not a Temple Then Where Else?
One of the more well-known and popular places for checking out amulets in Bangkok is an area near one of the temples known as Wat Mahathat, where whole alleys of vendors have stalls set up with a variety of amulets for sale.
This place is actually known as the amulet market, and is one of the more credible places to go and peruse around an aspect of Thai culture that you might not necessarily understand or even find that interesting – but it is an insight into the culture in and of itself. So let’s take a closer look.
The Amulet Market
This amulet market in Bangkok is apparently one of the largest in Southeast Asia. Anyone arriving on the scene, whether by design or accident, will see large numbers of vendors with a mixed variety of items looking like some form of amulet or lucky charm.
Parallel to the Chao Phraya River, not far from the Grand Palace, you will find Maha Rat Road which is behind the temple Wat Mahathat, close to the Silpakorn University faculty.
The core of the market is to be found behind the cafes and restaurants on the riverfront near the Chang Pier and the Maharaj Pier, so it is relatively easy to get to by stopping off at one of the these piers after taking a river ferry.
This fascinating market runs from the area around Pier 9 back to the Maharajah Pier shopping complex. It has a somewhat arcane feel to it, and covers paths along the Maha Rat Road and also includes a fairly dense network of covered market stalls, with the easiest entry point marked ‘Trok Maha That’.
This market is something of an institution in Bangkok, but in recent times the business has veered more towards a formal approach, making it more difficult for amateurs and casual traders. Here has been something of a push towards making Maha Rat Road less accessible to anyone who simply wants to come and sit on the pavement and ply their wares.
The small lanes of this market’s network are lined with stalls selling nothing but the sacred trinkets so familiar in Thailand. As the exact qualities of each amulet vary widely, here you will find hordes of both locals and visitors from out of town alike, looking to sift through the vendors’ wares for some special amulet or figurine that will do some special service for them.
The amulets and other objects found around this are all purported to have quite different aspects and qualities. The term ‘Buddhist Amulet’ is somewhat generic and also a little misleading. Here you’ll see all kinds of images related to the Buddha along with others related to Hindu deities or famous monks.
It’s up to each person seeking out any particular item to identify which amulet appeals to their specific need. This may be one of the aspects of a visit to the Amulet Market somewhat intriguing to the uninitiated, passing traveller. It is a notable feature of the experience of this market that prices are rarely displayed, which means the art of haggling or bargaining a requirement.
Many of the potential buyers, who you can identify from the fact that they are already sporting a variety of amulets, can be seen skimming magazines dedicated to the amulets and haggling with the traders in their own inimitable way.
There is good reason for this — some of the amulets can bring fairly astronomical prices, if deemed to be a ‘genuine’ article. It’s usually men wandering around and peering through magnifying glasses at the amulets, in hope of identifying any clues as to hidden meaning or value.
Admittedly this place is really is a locals’ market unless you have some idea of what you are looking for in particular, like the majority of Thai buyers – although the amulet market is a great place to pick up a somewhat more unique souvenir of Thailand than might be found elsewhere.
Also, if you are on your way to the Grand Palace or somewhere else along the river, then it is well worth stopping off for a look at the Thai amulet market.
This particular area, which is near the Chao Phraya River, is serviced by river ferries from 3 different piers, namely: Chang Pier, Maharaj Pier, and Phra Chan Tai Pier. Tha Phra Chan Tai Pier, which borders the market to the north, can be reached by a cross-river ferry from Wang Lang Pier.
If you are on foot and you come in on the From Tha Maharaj river ferry pier, then you should head in a northern direction. This will take you past a few brand-name shops, but you have to keep your eyes open or you could easily miss the small riverside alley that takes you in the direction of the market and the amulet stalls.
If you are coming on foot from the Grand Palace direction, you should again go north up Maharat Road for 2-300 metres, again looking for any narrow lanes leading west into the market.
If you are in the central shopping district of Siam or maybe coming from the huge MBK shopping complex or even riding the BTS sky train system – from the National Stadium BTS, go down to street level (via exit 2), make a U-turn, and walk another 20 metres or so to the bus stop.
If you then jump on bus number 47 it will take you to the grand palace. This is the budget option and is far more fun than a taxi! The journey should take around 20-30 minutes, and the stop is right in front of the Grand Palace (or Sanam Luang, the big park just past it in case you miss it.
From here there’s a side street somewhere between the 2 stops, going left, and if you head down that for a few hundred metres before turning right, you should be able to see the start of the market across the street, again to your right.
Location: Between the Chao Phraya River and Maharat Road, just west of Wat Mahathat