Chatuchak Weekend Market
As I got off from the Mochit BTS Station, the first thing that struck me was how few people actually got off from the train. Usually, during the weekend, there would be a ton of tourists getting off at Mochit to go visit the Chatuchak Market and there were barely people getting off.
I continued and walked down the platform and as I approached the exit, I stopped and looked out at the street that was usually full of people heading to the Chatuchak Market. It was empty as well. There were more taxis waiting desperately for clients than the people themselves.
Usually, there are several entrances to the market but now, there were only 3 main entrances on each side, all of which have signs of preventive measures the market is undertaking to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 with instructions on how to enter.
In Bangkok, they have implemented an app where everyone has to use to check into a place with a QR code scan. The app, Thai Chana, is surprisingly well implemented and extremely fast to operate, something I honestly did not expect 😅.
The app only requires my phone number to set up and all I had to do was to scan the QR code and showed the check-in page to the security while they take my temperature. Since the app works well, there wasn’t any long queue at the entrance as people swiftly scanned, checked in, and walked in without delay.
Within Chatuchak Market, it used to be that the entire road is packed with people from one end to the other, but now, the road is being used by cars going in and out of the market and only a pocket of people resided on the side of the road instead.
Restaurants are mostly empty even at noon with waitresses and owners of these places, hung out together hoping for more customers. Surprisingly, I did see some foreigners whom I believe were either eex-pator got stuck here in Bangkok after the international flight ban. Lucky them 😉.
Signs warning visitors to keep social distancing are hung everywhere around Chatuchak Market. Though some shops were open, I can’t help but notice that many of the stores I often frequented are still closed.
Who knows how long these small shops will be closed. The area once filled with street food trucks and shops by the Chatuchak Clock Tower is now mostly deserted. Unused street carts were shoved away in the dark corners of the market while some shop remains hopeful and discounting their products to attract customers.
I knew COVID-19 would impact Thailand’s economy in a bad way but after the lockdown was lifted for the past weeks I would imagine the people would be back in drove to come out to these places but I was wrong.
There were a few local people, sure, but that will not be enough to kickstart the economy, not without international tourism. Without the foreign tourists, the Chatuchak Weekend Market has a long way to go to recover from this economic downturn.
After spending a few hours at Chatuchak Market, I continued on my journey into the heart of Bangkok’s Old Town starting at one of my favorite temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho, home to one of the largest reclining Buddha statues in the world.
As I walked into the temple, I saw a foreigner sitting outside the entrance. I did not pay attention to him until I saw a sign forbidding foreigners from entering the temple.
Apparently, only Thais were allowed into Wat Pho. I asked the lady at the checkpoint the reason behind the decision and they said that they were still unsure about COVID-19 coming from abroad and so they decided to bar them out for now. Do not sweat though as the lady told me that foreigners will be allowed into Wat Pho by the first of July.
One of the reasons why I love Wat Pho so much is because of how few tourists it gets compared to the Grand Palace. Now, there were even fewer people with the courtyard that used to be full of people, all empty. Wat Pho finally feels like an actual temple!
With fewer tourists, you can finally walk around Wat Pho calmly and peacefully while appreciating the intricately designed patterns of one of the many beautiful pagodas without being shoved to the side by some “travel influencer” who wanted to get that “perfect gram” shot.
There was not a single soul around when I was walking towards the hall where the large Reclining Buddha statue is located. With fewer tourists, the temple took finally the opportunity to start repainting many parts of the wall inside the Reclining Buddha hall.
If you have ever seen the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, you know how massive and extremely detail the wall paintings are and the tremendous effort that will require to repaint them all is almost unimaginable.
That said, I am actually glad that the temple is using this downtime to its advantage to maintain these works of art for future travelers to appreciate them in their full glory.
Seriously, I have never appreciated these little details of Wat Pho until now. With barely anyone around, it almost felt like I had the whole place to myself to enjoy.
There were still locals in Wat Pho here and there, but most are there to pay respect to the Buddha Image which is what a Buddhist Temple is for and so I am actually quite glad to see Wat Pho going back to its roots during this trying time.
The Grand Palace
After Wat Pho, we arrived at one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok, the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace used to get over 8 million visitors a year making it the 4th most visited tourist attraction in Asia so you can imagine what my face looks like the moment I arrive at the gate to the Grand Palace.
Throngs and throngs of tourists that used to wait in line to enter the Grand Palace now reduced to almost nothing. There were no lines at the entrance, nor at the ticket booth, nor at the temple’s gate, it was a bizarre sight to behold.
The last time I was at the Grand Palace, I remember quite vividly how crowded it was. There was no place for me to stand at the entrance courtyard leading to the large Gold Stupa up the stairs.
Everyone was trying to get their picture with the stupa and all I could do was to stray clear of the area, but now… there were only a few locals and that was it. I can actually see the floor tiles in the courtyard!
I never really liked the Grand Palace, mostly due to the excessive crowds one has to go through to get anywhere but now I can really see why it is the 4th most visited tourist attraction in Asia.
The amount of detail that goes into carving these beautiful walls and pillars of the temples inside the Grand Palace is astonishing and I am glad that many Thais are actually interested in seeing their tourist attractions now that they are bound here for the time being.
There are hopes in Thailand for domestic tourism to sustain the economy until the border is open and even though, it won’t match the money coming in from international tourists, at least I hope it would put us on a more sustainable path than before COVID-19 happens.
Not all parts of the Grand Palace were open though as many of the areas were under maintenance when I was there, but this sure is a great sign that the country is utilizing this downtime to improve upon these stunning places.
As I walked out of the gate, I was met with another sad reality. The stores that used to be in front of the temple, renting out long pants for unprepared temple visitors, are 90% closed. Not even the restaurant I used to eat at was open now which is really depressing to see.
After the Grand Palace, I took a ferry across the Chao Praya River to Wat Arun, the famous temple that has the honor to adorn the back of the 10 Thai Baht coin.
To my surprise, the temple was not open as of yet, which is something I am now expecting to see more of around the country after the 1st of July. Not every tourist attraction will be opened despite what the country claims so prepare to be flexible if you are planning to travel in Thailand during this time.
Not to mention, many of the popular restaurants might have already gone out of business by the time you can travel here from abroad which makes the future looks rather bleak, to say the least.
Since the temple ground was closed when I was there, I only get to enjoy Wat Arun and its beautiful pagoda from the outside. I was hoping to climb it for the sunset like I used to back in the days, but since there weren’t going to be sunset anyway due to the rainy season, I decided to hop on a ferry back to Bangkok’s Old Town and visit the last destination, Chinatown.
After seeing all the deserted places around Bangkok, you would probably expect the same for Chinatown. I did too but the moment I walked out from the underground station, I was met with hundreds of locals, mostly young people, out and about, feasting all the food Chinatown has to offer.
It was a total flip from over the other places I had been to. The streets were full of food carts on both sides of the road, there were no social distancing measures whatsoever. It was a crowd that I did not expect to see post-COVID-19.
Sure, there were fewer people than they were before COVID-19 but still, seeing this many people rubbing shoulders together as they devour their way through the market is a little disturbing.
That said, most of the people were wearing masks so that was a little more reassuring. While I was there, I was observing many street food carts around the market and there were mostly using gloves to handle food, which is a good sign.
Although, there was one particular place, which is also extremely popular due to the long queue I observe in front of the cart, which had me a bit worried as the guy was not using gloves to handle the roasted duck.
I am not gonna lie, I was caught off guard by the number of people that were out and about in Chinatown that day. One side of me is happy that people are finally out and about again, spending money to support the community, and ramping up the local economy, but on the other hand, I am still a little cautious of it.
It is great that we do not have any new domestic case for a month but the moment we open our borders, one bad apple in a place like Chinatown and it could create an unstoppable ripple that will result in another spike of COVID-19 cases which will further impact an already suffering economy.
No one knows what is going to happen in the next few months and I really hope for the best to the world as I can not wait to travel again but without caution, we might be heading into another wave like so many of our neighboring countries, and who knows how much another surge of cases will impact the economy again.
I feel like I am only scratching the surface on the impact of the COVID-19 here in Thailand. I am planning to travel around Thailand a bit more in the upcoming weeks as the economy opens up and I can’t wait to start talking to the locals and hear first-hand how COVID-19 had impacted them and hopefully I’ll be able to provide you with some insights on how we are doing here in Thailand.
I hope you enjoyed this article. It was an eye-opening trip for me to see how COVID-19 impacted Bangkok, a city so reliant on tourism. If you have any questions about the situation in Bangkok, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below.