May 30 2012
Asiatique, a new Bangkok night bazaar set along the Chao Phraya River, appears to be catching on fast. Along with upwards of 1,500 shops and restaurants, the bazaar boasts Thailand’s longest riverfront boardwalk, which stretches 300 metres and makes for some glitzy photo-ops among the evening sparkle of the river. Asiatique isn’t quite running on full steam as of yet, but all signs point to it filling the hole left by the closure of Suan Lum night bazaar in 2011 while far surpassing it in both quality and scope.
Asiatique occupies the area of the city’s first international trading port, initially opened in the early 1900s by King Rama V with help from the Danish, and thematically the bazaar tips its hat to Bangkok’s early 20th century industrial period. It may sound painfully trendy at first, but the name “Asiatique” is a rather clever play on words honouring the old Danish “Asiatic” freight company, which helped construct the port in the early 20th century.
Some of Asiatique’s shops are situated in renovated old sawmills and there are, for example, some fake antique train cars, anchors, and push carts lying around. Even so, the overall design and feel of the bazaar is both flash and contemporary; it’s far more of a modern boutique mall than historical museum.
Well-dressed cosmopolitan types meander the bazaar’s four shopping and dining zones as cool modern jazz sets the mood. Later in the evenings, and especially on weekends, hip live bands and DJs liven things up, and the bazaar intends to hold small music festivals from time to time, complete with elaborate fireworks displays over the river. I happen to live on the other side of the river and caught Asiatique’s grand opening fireworks from my balcony, which were impressive to say the least.
Also on the entertainment side of things, the famed Joe Louis Shadow Puppet Theatre is readying to re-open at their new Asiatique theatre site. The troupe’s previous theatre near Suan Lum night bazaar had become a top Bangkok tourist attraction, but the puppets stopped performing when Suan Lum shut down. They’re soon to be brought back to life at Asiatique, however, likely solidifying a future place for the bazaar on many a Bangkok tourist’s itinerary.
Some of Asiatique’s stalls have yet to be occupied, but we still found it to host a diverse range of shops and stalls offering everything from expensive (and real) name-brand sunglasses to cheap fake ones, chic designer clothing boutiques to simple racks of 100 baht wears, and hand-made traditional Thai mask galleries to standard T-shirt and souvenir shops. With its upmarket first impression, we found the fact that Asiatique caters to all budgets both in shopping and dining a pleasant surprise.
Suan Lum had mainly been aimed at the tourist, and while Asiatique is equally accessible to tourists and has most of the same products, it also caters heavily to the style-conscious local, which is good news for travellers seeking something different. Most shops are locally owned small businesses, but a few big names have jumped on board as well — an iStudio Apple shop is opening soon smack in the middle of the bazaar.
Asiatique’s food scene is similarly diverse. A handful of flash air-con restaurants and wine bars close to the boardwalk cater to the upmarket folk while a central food court hosts moderately priced sit-down Asian restaurants, along with coffee and dessert shops in a still rather flash open-air setting towards the centre of the bazaar.
Further back the usual corporate suspects — MK, KFC, Pizza Company — run large air-con establishments, and near Charoen Krung Road there’s a smattering of good old-fashioned street stalls offering finger foods like northeast Thai sausages and hoy tort fried oysters for 30 baht.
We had our doubts about Asiatique before visiting, but we must admit it far and away surpasses the old Suan Lum bazaar while still coming in a highly accessible, tourist-friendly package. Of course, Asiatique is far from a true old-school Thai market, but it does make for a fun evening of shopping, dining, entertainment and enjoying the river lights along the boardwalk. As the bazaar’s confines fill out over time, we won’t be surprised if Asiatique becomes Bangkok’s premier night bazaar for tourists, as well as a go-to hang out spot for trendy locals. Overall, it’s a bazaar well done.
Asiatique occupies a large swath of land between the Chao Phraya River and Charoen Krung Road in the Yannawa area, one and a half kilometres south of Saphan Taksin bridge and BTS (sky train) station just past Charoen Krung Soi 74. A free express boat shuttles shoppers from Saphan Taksin pier — if coming before 20:00, the boat picks passengers up from the Sheraton pier (all the way to the left if facing the river) and after 20:00 from the main Chao Phraya Express Boat pier. Asiatique is open nightly from 17:00 to 23:00.
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