There’s a section of Bangkok’s Chinatown called Talat Noi that is filled with small industrial concerns. You go there for steel construction material, hardware and the like.
It all seems pretty organized until you get to the streets where the used auto parts stores are. Then things get funky.
I have been fascinated by Talat Noi since I first visited it in September. There are scores of stores, one after the other, all selling what look to be the same things. How do all these stores stay in business? How does anyone know what their inventory is? Who buys and sells this junk? Armed with a translator, I decided to find out.
According to one person I interviewed, many of the parts come from Japan, where the government offers disincentives for people to keep older cars. Brokers from Thailand buy containers of used parts in Singapore, where the junkyards ship the parts after they disassemble the cars, and they bring them to Bangkok and sell them to the parts dealers. The dealers apparently make a decent living: they sell parts for 10 percent of the price of new parts, so they have a steady supply of customers; many of the boats that ply the nearby Chao Phraya river actually are retrofitted to use truck and automobile engines, so maritime workers also come in for spare parts; and other brokers down the line (including brokers from countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) might also come in and say “I need 100 transmission pumps for Toyota pickups.” If one shop doesn’t have them – say, they only carry Isuzu parts – another one will. Finally, there’s always the option to sell unused parts for scrap.
Personally, I have a hard time believing that business is good, given how enormous some of these piles of parts are, but I only have my gut to back me up on this. In the meantime, they make for some interesting abstract photographs.