Everywhere you look you see food. In fact, you don’t just see it; you can smell it too. The scent is so strong you can almost taste it. It’s busy. Chaotic even. The closer you look, the more you see. There are people preparing food and people concentrated on their telephone conversation. In the middle of all the stalls there’s someone asleep on the floor. There’s a dog. A cat. Maybe even a rooster. An abundance of colors is coming at you, from clothing to flowers. Yes, you’re at the market. One of Bangkok’s many.
You may have asked yourself at some time: “Why are there two stalls offering exactly the same right next to each other?” To our western eyes, this seems completely illogical. But did you know there’s actually logic behind the market’s colorful chaos? Together with Context travel, I visited a local market somewhere in the outskirts of Bangkok. We spoke to the market manager there, who explained the market’s structure to us. Placing the stalls together ensures competitive pricing. A stall with a monopoly would just drive up the prices. And that’s not the aim, because markets serve the community in residential areas. People from all walks of life should be able to buy everything they need to fulfill their basic daily needs here. From food and clothing to cookware and sacrificial goods. And because there’s less demand for the latter than for food, for instance, the market has only one of these stalls. The market also has to be able to support dozens of families. This means the market is at the heart of local society.
Travelers love it: street food. We want to try everything (well….almost everything). And yes, you can truly find it on every street corner in Bangkok. You can also taste the real Thailand at the market. You’ll find a bit of everything here and you can easily shop for an entire lunch or dinner. So be sure to visit the market with an empty stomach and try a few things. Especially the stalls that are well attended by the Thai people themselves are usually good quality. You may think it’s impossible for the products to stay fresh in the heat, but because ‘eating off the street’ is part of daily life, food turnover is so high that you can expect fresh fish, vegetables, fruit and meat every day. Nothing is kept for the next day. After all, the Thai people want to eat good, fresh food too!
Differences per neighborhood
Thailand is a vast country. From endless rice fields in the north to a long coastline and islands full of palm trees in the south, where the sea is dominated by colorful fishing boats. Needless to say, this also influences the cuisine and the dishes in the north differ from the ones you find in the south. You’ll find this difference in the markets of Bangkok too. Some markets will have a lot more spicy curries with meat and vegetables, whereas others will mostly have fish and shellfish. There’s also a large Chinese community in Thailand and Bangkok’s Chinatown offers entirely different dishes. If you only visit one market you won’t have discovered the entire cuisine of Bangkok yet. There are large differences between the markets when it comes to other shopping goods too. Some markets cater mostly to the young, whereas others focus more on families, working people or even tourists.
Discovering the markets of Bangkok on your own
Go on a discovery tour. And yes, Bangkok is huge! So spend a few days visiting. Try to look beyond the overly crowded and ‘anything-but-Thai’ Kao san Road! Learn about the city. Immerse yourself in its daily life. Take your time. It’s the only way to make the Thai people’s radiant smile truly come to life. But where should you go?
Bangkok has a few very cool, colorful markets that are easy to find on your own. This is simply because they’re listed in every guidebook. That’s right, you won’t be the only tourist here, but that doesn’t make a visit any less worthwhile. The Chatuchak (weekend) market, Night market at Lumpini Park and flower market in Chinatown are popular markets.
See more, off the beaten track
Although I’m in favor of undisturbed wandering, it’s difficult to discover the diversity of a city in a short period of time in a metropolis such as Bangkok. Which is exactly what I’m looking to do. Seeing and, more importantly, experiencing as much as possible. Luckily there are a few tours that are a valuable addition to my own ‘wanderlust’. And I would recommend anyone to head out with one or more of the organizations below, simply because you can never discover as much on your own. And because it’s just so cool and original!
Night light tuktuk tour
There’s only on way to describe the night light tuk tuk tour by Expique: awesome! I had such a great evening. You won’t just discover a truly local market and learn more about Thai religious traditions. The beauty of Wat Pho by night pleasantly surprised me. It’s already one of my favorite temples by day, but it might even be more beautiful by night. Not a soul to be found, even with the beautifully lit, gigantic, golden stupas. Impressive. The tour takes you further, with its own tuk tuks, through various neighborhoods of Bangkok, past the city’s very best Pad Thai restaurant (yes, it was truly delicious and we didn’t have to wait long) and through the streets of Chinatown. A must!
Co all day bike tour
Another must that shows the intensity and diversity of Bangkok is the all day bike tour by Co van Kessel. Over the course of 9 hours (there are also 3 hour and 5 hour versions, but these are less extensive) you will be guided through the various corners of Bangkok. The small streets of Chinatown, straight through the market, to the wetlands in the east by train, through the klongs by boat and on a packed sky train right through the heart of the city during rush hour. Yes, all of that by bike! ‘Intense’ is the word that best describes this. But it’s also a way to really enjoy Bangkok’s diversity. A tour so original, it becomes many people’s highlight of their stay in the city. I loved it!
Authentic market tour
During the ‘Authentic market tour‘ by Context travel you’ll learn all about one of Bangkok’s many local markets. The idea behind the Context tours is to discover a city together with a guide specializing in a specific subject. And to then fully focus on that subject. From architecture to history or food, for example. The authentic market tour is a unique one, where you learn all about the market’s function in society. You’ll get a look behind the scenes that gives you an entirely different perspective on the Thai market. And last but not least, you can shop for your own lunch and taste the things that you’re curious about. Bon appetit!
Thai cooking class
Bangkok has many Thai cooking schools, so it pays to shop around for a while. I took a cooking class with Silom Thai cooking school. One that I was very enthusiastic about! You start the day with a visit to a local market. It’s a market without tourists where locals and chefs come to stock up in the morning. Silom cooking school’s chef enthusiastically guides you through this market and shows you which ingredients he buys. Accompanied by a brief explanation of each product, of course. After that, it’s time to get cooking. The chef’s passion quickly becomes contagious. The nice thing about this cooking class is that you cook each course separately and sit down to eat it immediately after preparing it. This creates a nice balance between cooking, eating and fun. All in all a very successful morning, delicious lunch and I finally prepared that delicious Pad Thai myself!
Do you also love markets when you travel? Which one is your favorite in Bangkok? Let us as well as other readers know in the comments!