Have you heard about the Rot Fai Train Market?
It used to be my favorite night market back when I was living in Bangkok and I think it might be the best night market in the whole city, which says a lot about its awesomeness, considering that Bangkok is a metropolis bustling with night markets and bazaars.
As you may know, I know live in Krabi, Southern Thailand, but last month I was in Bangkok for a few days and, on a Friday night, I went back to Rot Fai to see how it looked after the two-year pandemic.
My father was visiting from Europe while my boss Pluto happened to be in town too, and both of them had never been to Rot Fai, so they joined me in the expedition to the outskirts of Bangkok. You can watch my video of Rot Fai here.
Rot Fai is an authentic open-air market selling an incredible variety of vintage memorabilia, from shoes and hippy clothes to antique forniture, old cars, spare parts and road signs.
There are also shops selling modern fashion and more typical stuff like toys, pins, socks and underwear; there are cool restaurants, bars and snack stalls, tattoo parlours, barber shops and even a skate park.
FRIDAY NIGHT AT ROT FAI
We (as per my father, Pluto, his wife Alice and I) left from La Pala restaurant in Asoke (which you must try if you fancy great authentic Italian food at a reasonable price in an informal and central location) at around 7.30 pm on a Friday night, after an early dinner. Our decision to visit Rot Fai was last minute and we were all very tired after a full day of walking in Bangkok heat, so we didn’t feel to go by BTS and decided to risk being stuck in traffic by riding a taxi. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Rot Fai, but it could have been a much longer ride.
We entered Rot Fai from the main entrance, flanking some Thai restaurants, a few bars, hairdressers and barber shops. A bunch of kids and teenagers were skating in a new skate park I didn’t notice on my previous visit. I was happy to see that the market was lively although not crowded.
THE FIRST SECTION
The first section of Rot Fai has shops selling modern clothes and bags, and popular Korean and Thai restaurants and cafes, some housed in containers, some in old train wagons and campers. Don’t be tricked into thinking that this is all the market is about, but keep going and explore the huge plot of land until you find more interesting sections.
Food stalls selling popular Thai street specialties are abundant, as are the ones selling insects, if you want to try something unusual for a Western palate.
One place I really like is an old style café selling juices, granitas, drinks and snacks in the first section: you will notice a bicycle with the Coca Cola logo and lots of old posters and advertising. Alice confirmed that this café looks exactly like the ones she used to buy her after school snacks when she was a little kid in the Seventies.
We had had dinner already, so we skipped the food stalls and headed directly to the second and third section of the market, where the car sellers and antique furniture shops are.
OLD STYLE AMERICA, BEATLES AND CARABAO
What makes Rot Fai Srinakarin stand out among all the other markets in Bangkok is the hard-to-find items located in the Warehouse and Rod’ Antiques sections of the market, such as 1950s Cadillacs and Volkswagen minibuses, old record players and juke boxes, tin kids cars and scooters, one-off vintage leather jackets and boots, 1960s Adidas sneakers and action figures combined with a few old style American diners and a Carabao and Beatles café. (Carabao is a Thai rock band, the Beatles are… well, I bet you know who they are).
This time I couldn’t find both the Carabao and Beatles venues, so it might be that they shut down during the pandemic, however most of all the other Road 66 style diners are still there and open. Gasoline pumps and rugged lamp posts and traffic lights give the place a ghostly atmosphere, like an abandoned mine city in the middle of a desert, somewhere in Arizona. An American bomber is set on a warehouse roof, its wings and cabin menacing above the stalls and shops.
At the Warehouse vendors are incredibly friendly and the array of products is astonishing, so we spent a long time there taking videos and photos. You’ll be surrounded by old cameras, Coca Cola , Ducati & Marlboro merchandise, ET puppets, household furniture, electronic equipment and shoes that will make you feel like you have been sucked into Netflix’s “Strangers Things”, then walk to Rod’s Antiques zone and you’ll be catapulted into another era, head first in a James Dean’s movie.
Some of the sellers are also collectors, always on the hunt for something original, so you never know what you’ll find next time.
A MIXED CROWD
What I couldn’t record on video, for copy right reasons, is the music coming from the shops: a good balance of Jazz from the Fifties, early rock’n’roll & old Thai folk songs. I couldn’t help but wanting to dance, there, among the piles of All Stars and Elvis’ records and life-size mannequins. And somebody was dancing.
This is what I like most about Rot Fai: the easy attitude of everyone involved, from the vendors to the customers, a crowd of friendly and chilled people that you don’t see often in tourist traps and bars downtown. Families with young children living in the area come to take their evening walk and dinner at the market, teenagers zig zag among the warehouses on bikes and skates, older people sit drinking a Chang and discussing the old cars and us, the foreigners, blend in the scene without attracting much attention.
Bargaining is expected at this market, yet the vintage items you’ll see displayed are guaranteed to be original, so don’t try too hard: if the price is high, it’s probably for a reason.
Even if you’re not an expert on vintage goods nor a fan, I promise that Rot Fai Srinakarin has an authentic charm and a friendly environment that you’ll end up loving. It’s far from downtown and you might struggle to find a taxi willing to bring you back to Asoke or Silom late at night, but the market really makes for a fun night out of the city centre and it’s a fantastic place to buy souvenirs.
GOOD TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO ROT FAI MARKET