You haven’t truly done Bangkok until you’ve wandered its fresh markets – until you’ve taken in all the sights and smells of its produce, and had the chance to appreciate the part that these markets play in the lives of local Thai people. But the fresh markets in and around Bangkok are far from equal – instead, they come in all shapes, sizes and specialities. These are some of our picks of the Bangkok fresh markets to check out for the best all-round experience.
With a reputation that just about rivals Tokyo’s infamous Tsukiji fish market, Khlong Toey is THE Bangkok fresh market. The saying goes that if you’ve ever eaten a meal in Bangkok, chances are the ingredients that went into it at one point passed through this, the Thai capital’s biggest, freshest, most sprawling, brutal and popular produce market. That means that we’ve got a lot of Khlong Toey inside us – and you probably have, too, no matter how long or short your stay in Thailand.
Set around the canal of the same name, which itself translates as ‘pandan leaf canal’, Khlong Toey is the kind of market that pulls in everyone from street food vendors to chefs from some of Bangkok’s most prestigious five-star hotel restaurants looking for the freshest goods on offer anywhere in the city. At Khlong Toey, you can expect to find everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to meat like chickens and ducks with wings still flapping, and all manner of speciality Thai ingredients like curry pastes, herbs and spices. The market operates 24/7, with the largest number of stalls trading from around 2am until around 6pm – but, for the most vivid experience and the widest selection of goods, Khlong Toey is best visited in the early morning (aim to arrive at around 6am).
Corner of Rama 4 and Rama 3 Roads (MRT Khlong Toey)
Or Tor Kor is the high-class Bangkok market – it’s where to come when you’re looking for the finest grade fruits and vegetables, which are either imported from overseas or are Thai specimens that would otherwise themselves end up being exported to foreign consumers. That means produce here commands a higher price than you might be used to paying at other, more run-of-the-mill local Thai fresh markets, but Or Tor Kor is also a shinier, cleaner market that’s run with much more order than elsewhere, so you can spare yourself the kind of sprawling guts and blood you’re likely to encounter at spots like Khlong Toey.
As well as an extensive range of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, Or Tor Kor is particularly well known for its great food court loaded with stalls selling all manner of prepared Thai dishes like curries, noodle soups, steamed seafood noodles, savoury coconut soufflés, and plenty of snacks like meat skewers and traditional Thai desserts. This place fills out with staff from nearby offices during the lunch hour, so expect to have to jostle for a seat! The market is open daily from 8am until 10pm, and is a five-minute walk from the infamous Chatuchak weekend daytime market.
Kamphaeng Phet Road (MRT Kamphaeng Phet)
If you forgive the fact that this one is actually outside of Bangkok in neighbouring Samut Sakhon province (colloquially known as Mahachai), it’s a famous fish market that’s the perfect place to pick up heaps of fresh and inexpensive seafood to turn into an array of tempting Thai dishes. Even if you’re only in Bangkok on a short visit and don’t have access to your own kitchen, it’s worth making a trip out here just for the sights and smells of such a wide variety of fish and shellfish. It’s a short, easy ride from Bangkok – along what’s the first leg of the journey to the famous ‘train market’ in Mae Klong (known in Thai as Talat Lom Hup, or ‘umbrella market’) if you go by train – and it’s a pleasant trip with some pretty countryside scenery from the train windows.
Regular departures throughout the day from Wongwian Yai railway station to Mahachai; 10 baht, around 50 minutes. Wongwian Wai station isn’t connected to the rest of Thailand’s train network, but it’s a 15-minute walk or 20-baht motorbike taxi ride from Wongwian Yai Skytrain station.
While Khlong Toey may be the monstrous fresh market that makes it into the mainstream travel guides – and there’s no denying that any serious foodie visiting Bangkok should ensure it figures on their itinerary – it’s not the only one that’s good at its game. Another hardcore fresh market in Bangkok, and one that’s far removed from the trail of tourists passing through the Thai capital, is Bang Kapi market in the east of the city.
Expect all of the action of Khlong Toey and more – the likes of fish being beheaded, descaled and filleted in the open air, and all manner of other still alive and freshly slaughtered animals in full view, along with their blood and innards – at this ultimate local fresh market. It’s a gory affair that will put off those with an easily turned stomach and yet simultaneously draw in those for whom utterly non-airbrushed markets like this are what travel is all about, a true insight into daily local life about as far removed as it’s possible to get from the smooth tourist-oriented portrayals of modern Bangkok. If you’re a keen cook with access to a kitchen, you’ll find an exhaustive selection of meat and seafood, plus fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices that can be difficult to track down elsewhere. Best of all, the market is open around the clock.
Lad Phrao Sois 119 to 127 (take the Saen Saeb canal boat to The Mall Bang Kapi shopping centre, or take a taxi)
It might be best known as the 24-hour flower market that supplies much of the floral trade across Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand, but Pak Khlong Talat market – located alongside Memorial Bridge on the Chaophraya river – also has a substantial fruit and vegetable selection that comes close to rivalling Bangkok’s biggest fresh market names like Khlong Toey. And despite recent efforts to close down ‘illegally’ operating stalls on the pavements around the main body of Pak Khlong Talat, those traders inside the market continue to operate. Our Bangkok Night Lights tuk tuk tour makes its final stop at Pak Khlong Talat, and we also have a whole new range of market-based experiences taking place at the flower market.
Yet another large-scale Bangkok fresh market, Talat Thai (meaning ‘Thai market’) is truly a wholesale trading space in every sense of the term. Located out in the outer Bangkok suburb of Rangsit, this sprawling market sells every kind of produce you might imagine – fruit, vegetables, seafood, rice, dry goods, and more. Much like Khlong Toey, vendors from all over Bangkok come in here in search of inexpensive, high-quality goods – in fact, the market itself is divided up into a number of sub-markets that specialise in just one kind of produce, and some even say this is the largest wholesale food market in the whole of the Southeast Asia region.
These might be some of the most notable fresh markets in the Thai capital – the ones that are worth making a special journey to visit – but the truth is that fantastic markets are easily found all over Bangkok. Whether it’s a small local market or a much bigger, grander affair, there’s bound to be a market in close proximity to wherever you’re living or staying. Other foodie-friendly markets around Bangkok include those in the Nang Loeng area, Suan Phlu, Phran Nok (Wang Lang/Siriraj), and elsewhere.
If you want to go with a local guide to any of these fresh markets in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, we can arrange a custom tour for you – combining markets, food, and a little unique adventure! Find out more about our private and custom tours and what we can do for you.
Which is your favourite fresh market to experience in Bangkok? Let us know in the comments!
Photos by James Antrobus, Rob Pongsajapan, Chris Wotton, Andrew K. Smith, and Mark Fischer