The Buddhist knick-knack market
While moseying from the Grand Palace to the National Museum, many travellers are inadvertently swept into the bustling Talad Phra Chan, a century-old market specialising in Buddhist and Hindu amulets, statuary and other sacred knick-knacks.
If coming from Maharat Road, the market begins with a lane covered by a plexiglass awning and buttressed on either side by heritage shophouses. A few cats lounge on the worn tile floor as old women sell trays of curry and bowls of noodles, and men in black slacks and collared shirts scope amulets through magnifying glasses.
Wade deeper to find dozens of stalls stuffed with statues of Buddha, various bodhisattvas and Hindu deities, wax figurines of supposedly enlightened Thai monks, thousands of amulets, antique swords and “magic” talismans. A few shops will even whip you up a two-metre-tall image of Buddha or Ganesha right in their homely studios. (Just keep in mind that it’s technically illegal to take any Buddha image outside of Thailand without government permission.)
Known as krueang rang in Thai, amulets of Buddha, famous monks and Thai kings are collected in Thailand with a fervour that’s hard for foreigners to comprehend. Dozens of Thai amulet magazines tell stories of amulets endowed with the power to ward off evil spirits, levitate or become impervious to bullets. While some Thais are positively obsessed with krueang rang, most keep one simply as a good-luck charm.
Many Thais wear an amulet (or five) around their neck or hang them from their rear-view mirror in a superstitious bid for protection on the kingdom’s notoriously treacherous roads. Amulets believed to wield the most potent powers are molded from, for example, bits of earth from the Buddha’s enlightenment site in India, hairs of former Thai kings or robes worn by famous Thai monks. A rare amulet can fetch many millions of baht, though the majority sold at Phra Chan are mass-produced and go for 100 baht or less.
When you reach the south side of Phra Chan’s dizzying amulet section, another long and dark corridor filled with noodle stands and spirit house repair shops cuts back to Maharat Road, which flanks the western wall of Wat Mahathat, home to Thailand’s oldest Buddhist university. You’ll often see the resident monks perusing amulets stands that mix with Thai sweets wrapped in banana leaves, fresh fruit and traditional Chinese-Thai medicines.
While there’s still quite a bit of food in the vicinity, including a couple of no-frills riverside eateries, a 2016 campaign by city authorities to “clean up” Bangkok resulted in dozens of vendors being kicked off the footpaths surrounding the market.
From Tha Maharaj river ferry pier, walk north past the name-brand shops and look for a riverside alley that leads to the amulet stalls. From the Grand Palace, walk north up Maharat Rd for 300 m and look for the narrow lanes cutting west into the market. Tha Phra Chan Pier, which borders the market to the north, can be reached by a cross-river ferry from Wang Lang Pier.
Address: Between the Chao Phraya River and Maharat Rd, just west of Wat Mahathat
Coordinates (for GPS): 100º29'20.68" E, 13º45'20.95" N
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David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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