During our time in Bangkok, there was one location to which we took many of our visitors. Its location was central to the happenings of our daily life. We went past it many times during our first weeks in Bangkok. It was only one station away from our MRT stop in Lumphini. When we were first there, it was on our way to the super open-air market, Chatuchak. Sometimes, we weren’t going anywhere in particular and we would see it. Deenaree passed it everyday on her way to work and Sundays on her way to volunteer. In the beginning, the name “Khlong Toei” was not new to us, but we were little aware of the magic of its market until we had a chance to have a look for ourselves.
We were able to walk to the Klong Toei market from where we lived and it beat taking the subway one stop and wasting 30 baht. The walk was a straight shot down Rama IV Road. It was loud, hot, and usually required a few terrifying traffic crossings where you could only guess where the cars were coming from and what they were going to do.
Finally, Klong Toei market appears on the right. At first, it looks nothing more than a collection of prepared food street stalls that are found all over Bangkok. But as you walk past those stalls, the market starts to open up. At street level, the unknowing eye could miss the lone side-walk leading right into the fray, but once you’re in, you’re in.
Klong Toei market is dirty, smelly, busy and absolutely magical. Like most markets, it seems to be loosely split into specialty departments. The fruit area is right at the entrance. Some sellers provide a vast smorgasbord of tropical fruits for the pickings, but most specialize in an individual product. The banana guys come first, with bananas as small as an index finger up to those the size of a sawed-off shotgun. The pineapple lady seems to have her business down to an art, with pineapples split into at least a half-dozen price categories based on size. Watermelons are more standard in size, but that doesn’t stop many shops from selling only them. Fruit sellers call out their products while young men in official-looking neon vests push dollies containing massive woven baskets – a true Bangkok shopping cart. Market patrons hire the carts for the hour and if one wants to protect their toes, it’s best to stay out of the neon vests’ way.
At the end of the fruit trail is the animal area. Most are dead, some are not. Chickens cluck around in their cages at stall after stall, apparently oblivious to their slaughtered, skinned compadres sitting on a tray right over their heads. Seafood is sold by specialists, some fish still fighting for their last breath on the tray as hungry shoppers inspect them to find the perfect dinner. Most other animals are impossible to distinguish by any but the most knowledgeable eye. Various limbs and organs are grouped and piled at different stalls and we try hard not to put much stock into what we’re looking at.
Finally, we reach the back of the market which houses the veggies. This long stretch has tent after tent full of mostly green veggies that we have never seen before. The ones we do know – green peppers, carrots, tomatoes – are few and far between and cost a pretty penny. Stands of chili peppers break the monotony of green with their red, orange and yellow colors spilling out of crates and baskets. They seem to be the fast sellers and why not? Thai people practically mainline these fiery morsels with every meal.
As we turn to leave the market, we catch one more glimpse of all of these beautiful areas. It’s a cultural gem that isn’t naturally stunning like Thai temples or full of history like some of the nearby ruins of kingdoms, but it captures a perfect snapshot of Thai history and culture that is slowly disappearing from a city that is rapidly modernizing.