Tourist’s view of the Chatuchak Weekend Market
After nearly two weeks of backpacking around Thailand, my trip was coming to an end where it all began: Bangkok. During my trip around Thailand, I witnessed picturesque beaches and islands, dramatic mountainous landscapes and charismatic indigenous people at zoos, elephant conversation centers, national parks, night markets and food stands.
I must confess that since I studied animal behavior and write for various animal publications, my trip revolved around nature, wildlife and animals, this made my last trip especially troubling.
One of my last stops was the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which covers a remarkable 27 acres and includes 27 sections and more than 15,000 booths. The weekend market is open on Fridays for wholesale and to the general public on Saturday and Sunday where it sees over 200,000 people each of those days, 30% of them being foreigners.
According to the market’s website, “almost everything can be found here at a bargaining local price (not a tourist price).” I was excited to see the local fares and products for an authentic experience of Thailand.
After enjoying myself at the market for about five hours, I wandered across the animal section. First, I saw sellers hoarding dozens of dogs in wire cages that were barely large enough for them to turn around. I had only seen similar situations before on television. I became so uncomfortable with so many visitors manhandling the puppies that I decided to forego the pet section and start heading out of the market.
The more I tried to avoid the pet section, the more I experienced. As I tried to quickly pass through the wall of shoppers, I found myself getting deeper into the labyrinth of the pet section, seeing more ailing conditions.
I passed walls of cages each filled with dozens of brown and albino squirrels with no water dishes on the 35°C day. On top of each row of cages sat a single squirrel with a short string tied around its mid-section to promote visitors to pet the restrained animals. Since the animals were tethered, they did not have options like finding shelter to cool off in, avoiding human contact or to rest. Many of them clinged onto the far side of the cage with their eyes closed.
Even though I only witnessed the rows of vendors selling squirrels for a few seconds, I still remember the inhumane setup. I kept quickly traveling with my tunnel vision trying to escape the pet section.
Before I got out, I saw hundreds of parrots, song birds, poultry and exotic domestic cats overcrowded in cages – ruining their feather and fur condition. In my endeavor to flee, I ended up in an alley that revealed more troubling scenarios including vendors grabbing small song birds with their bare hands to transport them and a small raptor jostled by multiple people. I also saw exotic pets such as reptiles, hundreds of baby hedgehogs and two white foxes.
In my attempt to remove myself from the painful situation, I did not think to take a single picture – even though my DSLR camera hung from my neck. When I broke out of the pet section of the Chatuchak market, I found myself with sculpture and painting vendors, whose works would complement any high end gallery around the world. The way the artists maneuvered their individual mediums into works of art that represented Thai culture and nature was inspiring.
The high esteem these artists show toward nature and what I had seen in my travels around Thailand did not translate into what I saw in the pet section. For those who make their livelihood selling animals and pet products at the pet market, I would like to offer some suggestions of what I would have purchased as a foreigner.
My stipulation would be that if the seller of pet goods carried live animals that the animals be given space to fully stretch-out, shelter to conceal themselves from cage mates and people, and water available at all times. Once I saw these needs met, I would gladly purchase pet books written in Thai, locally hand-crafted pet toys and cage furnishings such as cloth hide huts, acrylic logs and food bowls. I would hope that locals who visit the markets choose vendors who follow these accommodations for their pet food and pet purchases.
Kenny Coogan, CPBT-KA, is a regular pet and garden columnist and has authored an ecological themed children’s book titled “A Tenrec Named Trey (And other odd lettered animals that like to play).” He has a B.S. in animal behavior and is a certified bird trainer through the International Avian Trainers Certification Board. Please search “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook to learn more.