April 10, 2009
A walk through Bangkok’s Amulet Market
I grew up in Bangkok as a little girl and I’m always amazed at how much the city changes every time I return. Even with the constant modern expansion, it’s always possible to find the city’s deeply traditional culture, customs, and hidden cultural gems if you know where to look. Whenever I return, I enjoy re-visiting and seeking out these types of places and experiences so that I can share them with our travelers and include them in our private Thailand tours.
The last time I was in Bangkok, I stopped by the amulet market along the Chayo Praya River. Amulets are sold all over the city—from grocery stores to cell phone shops—but this particular market along the river is one of the busiest and largest gatherings of amulet and talisman vendors in the country.
Amulets are an important part of Thai culture, and being somewhat superstitious, most people will carry at least one amulet on them at all times. Every amulet has its own special purpose and an inscription that states specifically what the amulet is for: warding off evil spirits, good fortune, falling in love, having a child, protection from traffic accidents (Bangkok is renowned for its bad traffic!), getting a job, passing a test, etc. You name it and there’s an amulet for it.
Amulets are made from a variety of materials such as plaster, clay, bronze and gold. Some amulets are mass-produced and cost just a few cents. Others may be handcrafted, blessed by a monk, made at a sacred temple or by an important person, or even contain a special ingredient such as the ash of a burnt sacred text, all of which make the amulet’s powers very strong…and valuable.
In Thailand, amulets are not only used for spiritual purposes, but they are also a collector’s item, much like collecting stamps. Walking through the narrow, dusty walkways of the market you see people holding up the amulets and inspecting them with a magnifying glass – either to check the amulet’s quality or to read the inscription. You can also see avid collectors, and even monks, browsing stalls selling books on amulet collecting.
Besides amulets, there are also sections for traditional medicines, food stalls, and religious statues where you can watch sculptors at work creating statues of renowned monks and holy men, and of course, the Buddha. I also recommend a visit to the fortune teller section of the market. Here, you can have your palm read—if you dare. Don’t be surprised, however, if your fortune teller whips out a laptop and reads your charts off of the internet while simultaneously reading the lines on your hand. This is modern Bangkok, after all!
Artisans of Leisure’s luxury tours of Thailand and Southeast Asia are designed to focus on authentic local lifestyle, culture and traditions. The amulet market in Bangkok is just that kind of place.