Outdoor markets are an integral part of Thai life and practically every neighbourhood has some form of local institution to purchase food and goods from as well as being an informal social hub for vendors and customers alike that is buzzing with activity, sights, and sounds on a regular basis. Away from the most well known one of them all that is the colossal Chatuchak, smaller all-in-one shopping, food, and entertainment-filled weekend markets are springing up all over town as trendier and more relaxed alternatives to navigating the packed crowds and never-ending rows of souvenir items whilst working up a sweat under the mid-day sun.
ArtBox is a recent addition to the Bangkok market scene with the unique concept of being housed in shipping containers and embodying a more ‘creative’ style than other increasingly popular markets catering to a predominantly youthful crowd such as Talad Rot Fai (Night Train Market) and JJ Green which are more retro/vintage in character.
Initially situated next to Makkasan MRT station, ArtBox started in June 2015 and was originally planned to operate for two weekends only but proved to be quite popular so was extended to be a regular event on select weeks instead. Its most recent incarnation has taken them a few stations south to Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in the car park space besides the Stock Exchange of Thailand, and will subsequently move on to another location near the Em District at Phrom Phrong for their December dates.
The venue encompasses rows of open-sided containers draped with strings of fairy lights with a central cluster of large trees that glow in an almost Avatar-like blue separating the two main retail and food areas, and to the side a live music stage with bales of hay and wooden pallets for patrons to sit and soak up the family-friendly atmosphere under the night sky. Many vendors set up shop from around 3pm but most of the activity happens after dusk falls, and as the monsoon season transitions into winter it provides the ideal opportunity to enjoy a breezy al fresco evening out in a vibrant environment.
The photogenic nature of ArtBox attracts large numbers of students and young adults, mainly Thais interspersed with Asian tourists and the occasional Western face, providing plenty of opportunities for selfies and group shots with social media ready props and crazy looking culinary creations. It could be seen as somewhat of a hipsters’ paradise but one cannot help being easily fascinated by fruit punch being served in and sipped out of medical drip bags, rainbow coloured buckets of Italian soda with the added drama of foam or dry ice, or candy floss being shaped into fluffy chicks, Minions, and other cute creatures. Naturally, every purchase is followed by a flurry of snaps on the phone before consumption.
A vast range of cuisines are represented here with the array of items on offer including Taiwanese style deep fried jumbo squid and chicken fillets, Belgian waffles, churros, kebabs, barbecued ribs, and blow-torched fries dressed up in various cheese, meat, and salsa toppings as well as Thai favourite bites and seafood. Some of the city’s most renowned food trucks also make an appearance such as Orn the Road with their charcoal bun burgers, grilled cheese toasties from Answer Cheeze, and Ta’cone’s taco wraps.
Also on display are products by local entrepreneurs and designers with clothing, bags, jewellery, sunglasses, phone covers, footwear, hats, and other accessories at very affordable prices, and some niche items like decorative rubber stamps, terrariums, and patterned camera straps. Strolling through the semi-paved alleyways one may come across promotional teams handing out freebies such as green tea Kit Kats or flavoured water, or encounter a busking Superman sneaking up on unsuspecting groups of passers-by and playfully posing for photos.
International chart pop and R&B hits fills the air on one side of the premises with an upbeat vibe while the acoustic sounds of the Thai performers from the stage area facilitates more of a chilled ambiance alongside the makeshift bar spaces along the perimeter. A repurposed stacked container decorated with graffiti art greets visitors at the entrance alongside other installation pieces and provides an elevated platform overlooking of the whole area. Despite its apparent popularity and ease of access by public transport in a central part of town, ArtBox still very much retains a local flavour as it remains off the main tourist trail as places like Asiatique have now become and therefore adds to its already abundant charm.