Thursday, February 16, 2012

Night Bazaars of Bangkok – Punnawithi (Siam Paradise) and Onnut

Siam Paradise Night Bazaar Market are better, safer alternatives to sleazy old Patpong night market.

Bangkok's Siam Paradise entrance - the new Suan Lum night bazaar

Siam Paradise Night Market gate

T-shirts, beach shorts, sunglasses, leather and cloth handbags, wallets, phone cases, silk and pashmina shawls, button-down dress shirts with pirated logos, alleged hill tribe crafts, underwear, jewelry, wooden and plastic toys, fake Rolexes, real cheap watches, pirated DVDs, artwork ... nearly all these souvenirs are sold during the day at sidewalk stalls wherever foreign tourists congregate. 

The main virtue of night markets is that so much of this merchandise can be found all in one place. There’s more space and less stress. In the case of  Siam Paradise Night Bazaar and, to some extent, the Onnuj, Ratchada and Weekend Train markets, permanent structures mean there are also bigger, bulkier and more expensive items, such as sculpture, dinnerware and fine jewelry.

As for the sleazy Patpong bazaar, nobody normal likes shopping there. The temporary tables and stalls are crammed into the already crowded lane and spill onto the broken sidewalks of Silom Road. Vendors are pushy. Shoppers are constantly jostled by schlubby old sex tourists, drunker middle-aged ones, aggressive transsexual prostitutes, sex show touts, pickpockets,
pimps, and ticked-off office workers struggling to reach the Saladaeng Skytrain station. Besides, it’s all the same tourist trinkets to be found on sidewalk stalls all over town throughout the day.

Asiatique or Siam Paradise Night Bazaar?

Bangkok Punnawithi night market - lighted aisle and decor shop

Small decor shops at Siam Paradise 

Siam Paradise Night Bazaar is intended to replace the Suan Lum night market, a favorite of residents and tourists alike until it closed down in late 2010. 

Update: I think Siam Paradise may have closed! At least its website has. Proceed with caution! While that Google shot doesn't look good, recall that is it a night market, after all, so the shops would look shuttered during the day regardless.

Opened in spring 2011, Siam Paradise night bazaar, also known as Punnawithi night market,  is owned by the same people that operated the Lumpini Park market. It occupies a similar large patch of a land and has similar dining and shopping structures, though there must be even more shop space. But the shops have been slow to open and it remains to be seen whether it will catch on tourists, local Thais or expats. 

Surely tourists staying near the Oriental, Shangri-La, Chartrium and other riverside hotels are going to opt for the Asiatique night market, which opened in May 2012. As I say in my Asiatique review, though, I can't see it turning into the after-work hangout that Suan Lum was. 

Anyhow, Punnawithi's official name is Siam Paradise Night Bazaar, as you can see from the picture of the entrance gate with the Angkorian tower effect (which might be the same gate that adorned Suan Lum). Locals call it Punnawithi (pronounced “poon-na-wi-tee”) market. The Thai name might stick because it’s easier for Thais to pronounce and the market is near both Punnawitthi Skytrain station and Soi (Lane) Punnawithi. Soi Punnawithi branches to the north off Sukhumvit Road.

Siam Paradise probably started out so slowly because it couldn’t be reached directly by Skytrain until the Punnawithi station opened in September 2011. Next, this area of Bangkok was threatened by floods throughout the fall 2011. And from either the Punnawithi (recommended station) and Udom Suk station, it's still a gloomy 5- to 10-minute walk to the  bazaar guarded by huge elephant statues. 

Whatever the explanation, by mid- 2012, fewer than 40 shops were occupied —though there is space for 1,300 of them--and the shoppers haven't flowed in. The one-story rows of shops are laid out strip-mall style, separated by covered walkways, with only a few shops opened in each row. Items have price tags but, by all means, attempt to haggle a discount. There are clothing and shoe shops with try-on areas and a few with ceramic dinnerware, leather and crocodile bags, and home décor items (pillows, lamps, vases, trays, cheap art). Of course there is traditional massage and nail care on offer. All in all, the range just doesn't compare to the old Suan Lum. No Joe Louis puppet theater either. That will be reappearing at Asiatique by the end of 2012.

Suvarnabhumi Airport Connection and Mega Bangna Mall

Maybe first-time tourists won’t mind Siam Paradise's drawbacks. Forty shops is still a lot, after all. At the international airport, free round-trip transfers to and from the bazaar are supposedly offered to the many travelers sitting out long layovers--though there’s no mention of such transfers on the market’s own website. And now there's a better choice for people killing time while waiting for an outbound flight: the Mega Bangna Mall out on the highway to the airport. If you're coming from the city, there's a free shuttle bus running between the mall and the Udom Suk Skytrain station.

The new mall is not a normal tourist attraction, by any means: it's resembles one of the glossier Bangkok malls, even though it does boast the country's first Ikea and Doc Martens stores. However, for those killing time waiting for a late night flight, it's a better choice than the Siam Paradise Night Market. That might be true for those staying out near the BITEC convention center too.

If you're already in the central city and taking a flight that depart at midnight or beyond, Punnawithi should be a good place to eat, shop and otherwise kill a few hours before leaving for the airport--provided there’s some place to store luggage. The nearest hotel, by the way, is KS Mansion, across Sukhumvit and up several hundred meters on Soi Punnawithi.

As for food, there is the beer garden with plenty of Thai food and fresh fish, overseen by a large screen that broadcast international footfall (soccer) matches.  A live band has been appearing on weekends. There is also a separate two-story building with food stalls in food court formation on the ground floor. Upstairs is an entire floor of karaoke rooms, much to the dismay of nearby residents.

By the way, most Bangkok Thais still associate the Punnawithi area with Wat Dhammamongkol, a large temple famous for its traditional massage school, beautiful jade Buddha image and views of the cityscape. The temple is quite far from the market, though, on the other, northeast, side of Sukhumvit. The temple is farther inside in a tangle of lanes, though easy to spot because of its high tower. You can catch a motorcycle taxi near the entrance of Punnawithi Soi 101; it's 15 baht to the temple.

Location, directions and hours of Siam Paradise Night Market

Hours: Daily, 4 pm to midnight.
Skytrain station: Punnawithi Station (Exit E11) or Udom Suk Station
Location: Southeast side of Sukhumvit Road, near 64 Sukhumvit Road, about a ten-minute walk from Punnawithi Station. The market's entrance gate and streetside beer garden are across the street from the entrance to Sukhumvit Soi 101 (Soi Punnawithi).
Nearest hotel: KS Mansion

On nut (Onnut, On-nut, Onnuj) NIght Market - Very Thai

dresses on dummies at bangkok night market
No one will claim that the older, very Thai On-Nut Night Market has a selection of shops to rival Siam Paradise. But it's more convenient! No walking along the dark street. When you exit the Onnut Skytrain, the market is right there at the bottom of the steps. The exit number is E1. You can spot the sea of white awnings from the Skytrain platform.

On-nut market is directly across the street from the Tesco-Lotus hypermart, which is impossible to miss even if you want to. You don't have to run across Sukhumvi Roadt; the Skytrain station and platform serves as a pedestrian bridge across the road. If you are compelled to go to Tesco to find a proper extension cord or packaging material, you might as well drop into the night bazaar afterwards.

The bazaar set-up is semi-permanent. Concrete walkways are sheltered by permanent tent-like awnings. The lighting is not great.  I don't suppose there are more than 40 of these shop stalls running along the walkways.

The goods are intended for the lower and new middle-class Thai shopper, so expect a lot of synthetics, designer knock-offs, costume jewelry, mobile phone jackets, sunglasses, bras and other underwear. A good selection of 120-baht t-shirts. Many shops do have curtained-off areas for trying on clothes. 

 For new expats, some basic housewares and office-wear, such as cheap dresses, can be had. Then there are secondhand shoes. They are in good condition, some barely used--trainers, pumps, good quality leather shoes. (But nonetheless, shoes? Where do they come from? Pawn shops? Are the high-end name-brand ones imported? Smuggled?). 

Next there are a few  foot massage and nail decoration stalls. Expect a few oddities each time. Last time I saw a stall selling colored contact lenses from Japan--not prescription, the kind you wear merely to change eye color. 

Food: Tom yung kung and other Thai basics, fish and chips, hamburgers, Japanese noodles. Several local beers,  Heineken and Carlsberg are on tap. The food is served from stalls and under awnings on paper and styrofoam plates at crowded tables.

There are no proper restaurants but directly across the street (via a walkway over Sukhumvit) the Tesco-Lotus hypermart has a clean, modern food court and familiar chain restaurants like S & P and Pizza Hut that close around 9:30 pm. The McDonald's at ground level is open 24 hours and is one of the premium editions with lattes, cappucino and croissants. Perhaps a better choice is the foreign-owned former On Nut Guesthouse,  linked below, which is known for an extensive, varied menu. It's on Soi On Nut, also known as Sukhumvit Soi 77.

Entertainment? Perhaps there is on the weekends and special occasions. Somehow squished among the food stalls was a bandstand with large amps but it was vacant the night I visited.

Hours: Daily, 4 pm to midnight.
Skytrain station: On Nut Station, Exit 1
Location: North side of Sukhumvit Road (across the street from Tesco-Lotus hypermart), near Sukhumvit Soi 81 and Soi Chinnamat 
Nearest hotels: Imm Fusion, The Bedrooms Boutique, KV Mansion, Cedarberg aka Sukhumvit On-nut Guesthouse.

Copyright +Susan Cunningham. No republication without permission. Contact SoutheastAsiaTraveler @

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