Bangkok's Train Night Market is where the cool kids go to shop.

Bangkok’s Train Night Market is where the cool kids go to shop.

Come sundown, while most gay visitors to Bangkok either get ready for a night of camaraderie on Soi 4, or a night of companionship on Soi Twilight, the city does offer other forms of entertainment. I know. But trust me, it does. For those willing to expand their horizons, that usually means a bit of shopping at one of the city’s paeans to commercialism, the treat of an air-conditioned environment, window shopping, and the opportunity of checking out the eye candy not so brazen as to be working the bars or sitting at home waiting for someone to click on their Gay Romeo profile, a perfect trifecta of indulgence to top off your day.

Braver touri forgo the opulence of Bangkok’s leading shopping malls and hit the more colorful street market scene instead, bustling dog-eat-dog shopping extravaganzas that are hot, humid, and geared toward the tourist wallet. A few, possibly misguided souls, head further afield to small, neighborhood night markets where the locals gather to shop, only to find what the locals are shopping for is of little interest to them. And then there are the savvy touri, those in-the-know thanks to scouring guidebooks and the Internet for those hidden, off the beaten path spots, markets so cool everyone back home will be green with envy when they see their travel pix and hear of the unbelievable deals they managed to get.

The latter group is easy to spot. You’ll find them wandering around Saphan Khwai in a daze, hunting for the famous, but elusive Talat Rot Fai – or Train Market to non-Thai speakers – a cool, nighttime flea market with a Thai twist that popped onto the scene back in 2011, a popular retro-lover’s destination that hasn’t been in Saphan Khwai for almost a year now.

Great bargains, tons of vendors, and lots of eye candy make a visit to the Talat Rot Fai market a must.

Great bargains, tons of vendors, and lots of eye candy make a visit to the Talat Rot Fai market a must.

Now in its third year – and third location – Bangkok’s Train Night Market is almost a thing of urban myth. A hipster’s paradise, an ode to all things retro, the now rebranded Srinakarin Train Market is a Thai version of a flea market, where most of the goods on sale are older than you are. And considering where you spend most of your time in the city, that should be an unique and singular experience. It’s Chautuchak without the unbearable heat and filthy toilets, Patpong’s Night Market without the endless displays of fake Rolex watches and come-ons for straight sex shows, Sukhumvit at night without the porn, sex toys, and aggressive ladyboys. The Train Night Market is young, cool, hip, cheap, and far enough outside of the usual touri haunts that farang faces are few and far between. Because most of them are still stopping and asking directions to the market over in Saphan Khwai. And, surprisingly for a market geared toward locals, it’s clean too.

When the Talat Rot Fai first started up by the Kampaeng Phet Station MRT station, it was a match made in heaven. Not far from Chautuchak Market, and filled with vendors peddling all sorts of vintage goods – from clothes to records, handmade accessories to antiques, as well as spare parts of classic cars and even secondhand Vespas from Europe – with camper vans and vintage cars serving as makeshift bars, it was a beautiful mess with access initially only through a hole in the fence at one end of a car park. Set beside an old set of train tracks topped with abandoned, rusty coaches open to visitors to explore or just kick back in, it had an ambiance worthy of the vintage wares its vendors offered for sale. And for the young and hip it immediately became major competition for the better-established Ratchada weekend night market.

Squatting on land owned by the State Railway Authority of Thailand, the market was an instant hit. Until, in the summer of 2013, when it was hit by the tsunami of competing interests that seems to govern the way things are run in Thailand. The powers-that-be decided the land would be developed for an extension of Bangkok’s BTS, and while in the middle of discussions with the market’s vendors over their home did what landlords intent on removing tenants in Bangkok seem to favor as an option: they called in the bulldozers late one night.

 Because nothing says Train Market like a huge ship, Talat Rot Fai's new location is easy to spot from Seacon Square. Or you could just follow the crowds.

Because nothing says Train Market like a huge ship, Talat Rot Fai’s new location is easy to spot from Seacon Square. Or you could just follow the crowds.

The vendors, granted a reprieve of sorts, were offered the use of a near-by warehouse, the market’s second location. Kinda, sorta. When they began moving in to their new home, mysterious black-clothed figures began threatening both vendors and railway employees who were responsible for leasing vendor spaces – ‘Cuz in Bangkok, mysterious black-clothed figures are almost as popular of an option as bulldozers are when settling disputes. Vendors pulled out, market goers stayed away, and last year the Talat Rot Fai’s organizers decided to move to the other side of town, behind the Seacon Square shopping center on Srinakarin Road.

At its new location, the Train Night Market is still a growing concern; even locals are still discovering its wonders. A bit more organized than when it was in Saphan Khwai, it offers a chilled out atmosphere with some of the coolest pubs in town. Second now in size to only the Chautuchak Weekend Market, the Srinakarin Train Night Market includes an indoor area featuring rows of old warehouses and containers converted into shops, pubs, cafes, and tattoo parlors. Outside things are a bit sketchier, with huge tracks of florescent tube lit tents and less professional displays of merchandise spread on the ground; this is where the real deals are and while the focus on vintage has made way for cheap, mass-produced clothing and knick-knacks, you’ll still find plenty of cool stuff that you’ll remember from your childhood. Or at least from your late ’30s. And, fortunately, the makeshift micro-mini bus cum bars are still as much in evidence as ever.

The Train Night Market may or may not be the best place to visit with your boy du jour. He’ll probably get bored quickly with your delight in finding out-dated technology and remembrances of your past, but your wallet will be delighted with being able to buy him a T-Shirt for 60 baht or less. (Possibly less happy about him feeling that a that price you should buy him a dozen shirts or more.) The outdoor section of the market, expanding at a breakneck speed, offers tons of food options, from inexpensive street-cart treats to slightly more pricey pub grub along its edges. And paying homage to its heritage, along with knock-off replica buildings built for ambiance, the market has brought in a few decommissioned train carriages too. So for photography buffs, photo ops abound. For the rest of you, there’s a lot of local eye candy too.

Indoors you'll find permanent shops, pubs, and cafes.

Indoors you’ll find permanent shops, pubs, and cafes.

The new version of the Talat Rot Fai is as much of a party atmosphere as it is a shopping experience. Vendors are not as aggressive as at the night markets you are probably used too; the famous and now getting to be mythical Thai smile is quite evident and there’s a good chance you’ll be invited to join the seller for a beer after he made his rent off you.

Officially, the market is open from Tuesday through Sunday, starting at 3 pm, with its food stall section only open on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (yeah, welcome to Thailand). The outdoor section is only open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, beginning at 4 pm and running to midnight. Your best bet is to arrive around 7-ish, once all of the smaller, local vendors have set up shop. It’s a massive, crowded affair, so even if you don’t plan on having dinner there, you still need to schedule about three hours for your visit.

The downside (which is a plus since it keeps the tourist hordes away) is that there is no direct BTS or MRT route running to the Talat Rot Fai. A taxi from the Silom area is your best bet; that ride will run you about 150 baht (tell your driver your destination is Seacon Square – he may not be familiar with the Train Night Market’s new location). You can also take the BTS to the Udom Suk station, and then take a motocy taxi to the market (about 50 baht) or a regular taxi (70 baht). Going back, a taxi caught on the road in front of Seacon Square will run you 200 baht – they’ve seemed to have banded together for a fixed-fare return trip. Or take a 70 baht ride to the BTS On Nut station where foot massage places abound. Your feet will appreciate the attention after having spent the night walking through Bangkok’s hippest night market.

Outside, temporary vendors offer the retro and vintage merchandise that make up the market's claim to fame.

Outside, temporary vendors offer the retro and vintage merchandise that make up the market’s claim to fame.

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