Ask a visitor to Bangkok which markets they have visited and, aside from the most well-known night markets and ready-to-eat food markets, the famous 24-hour Pak Khlong Talat flower market might just be the answer you hear most. This is a market with a rich history and a flourishing reputation – but chances are you don’t know as much about it as you might think.
Believed to have begun its life centuries ago as a floating market – the name belies its location close to the points at which two nearby canals empty into Bangkok’s Chaophraya river – Pak Khlong Talat eventually transitioned around six decades ago into today’s produce market, with a particular focus on flowers for both offerings and decoration. However, it is also one of the biggest markets for fruit and veg in central Bangkok.
This powerhouse operates around the clock, receiving vast quantities of fresh flowers from both nearby provinces and further afield, and selling them to a mix of wholesale and consumer trade. Pak Khlong Talat flower market is at its busiest either side of midnight, as huge deliveries are followed by the arrival of Bangkok florists keen to stock their own shops and market stalls with the perkiest, most colourful and most keenly priced bouquets they can find. If you can come at this time, it’s a chaotic and fascinating sight to behold as trucks full of roses, orchids, tulips and a million other varieties of unique-looking and brightly coloured flowers are unloaded.
The saying goes that many of the ingredients in street food dishes eaten across Bangkok will have originated at the infamous Khlong Toey wet market. And so too is it true that, if you see a bunch of flowers on display somewhere around the Thai capital, it’s a likely bet that they will have passed through Pak Khlong Talat flower market at some point.
But the flowers here aren’t all sold simply for decorative use: Thailand also does a huge trade in flower garlands intended as good-fortune-bringing offerings to mythical animist spirits and religious deities. Jasmine-scented garlands are bought in bulk not least by roaming roadside traders who sell them to motorists to hang from their rear-view mirrors, as well as from religious shrines in homes and other buildings.
The area is actually made up of 3 separate markets. The privately owned Yodpiman Flower Market and ICP Market as well as a government owned Pak Khlong market. The majority of the vendors sold within these markets although until last year there were also many vendors selling on the sides of the main road. However, in 2016, as part of an ongoing, widely reported campaign by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to ‘reclaim’ public spaces for the benefit of pedestrians, large numbers of the street vendors were evicted, and the area cleared by authorities. These traders had operated by nightfall on the footpaths around Pak Khlong Talat, and were accused of long having done so illegally and without paying rent.
They were reportedly offered alternative pitches within the existing market areas and also at the newly opened Yodpiman River Walk, a much higher-end, open-air community lifestyle mall that occupies a renovated riverside market structure on the banks of the Chaophraya. Many moved to these here or to a new market area that was set up by Wat Tripet (a few hundred meters away) but many complained that there was less traffic and that rents were in many cases unfeasibly high. However, some did leave the area.
Nevertheless, while the street through Pak Khlong Talat market may lack its previously popular outdoor nightime buzz, the main indoor market remains busy and vibrant, and the vast majority of those vendors who previously traded inside – with properly licensed market plots on which rent is paid – continue to do so successfully.
Visitors in Bangkok for just a short time may have limited use for a fresh bunch of flowers in their hotel room (indeed, one of the most frustrating sides of a visit to Pak Khlong Talat as a tourist is knowing that you can’t realistically buy any of the keenly priced and immensely tempting bouquets on offer). But Pak Khlong Talat is all the same a fascinating slice of Bangkok, and well worth a stop by to wander the narrow alleyways between stalls piled high with sweetly perfumed flowers of just about every colour and description imaginable.
It’s also a great spot to pick up an understanding of both the life and work of the vendors, porters and others who make the market’s cogs turn, and the pivotal role of flowers and floral offerings in everyday Thai life and culture. And needless to say, for those living in or close to Bangkok, being able to pick up a gorgeous, great-value bunch of something pretty to brighten up the home is an added bonus!
Pak Khlong Talat flower market is also home to a host of fruit and vegetable vendors selling all the basics for a delicious home-cooked Thai meal, from stalls that are often just as photogenic as those of the flower traders. And because no Thai market is complete without a smattering of outstanding ready-to-eat meals, in a corner of Pak Khlong Talat’s ground floor you’ll find a number of vendors dishing up market staples like noodle soup, satay skewers, and curry and stir-fry dishes over rice. Given these are primarily intended as sustenance for market traders, you can expect unadulterated, authentic Thai flavours, as well as low, low prices.
Since the launch of Expique’s innovative tours and experiences focussed on the unique, unseen parts of Bangkok that other operators just don’t take you to, our immensely popular Bangkok Night Lights tuk tuk tour has included a walk through the hustle and bustle of Pak Khlong Talat flower market. It continues to do so, but things are now better than ever – because Expique’s newest venture, The Market Experience, has its base right within the market itself, from a second-floor vantage point with fantastic bird’s-eye views over all the day-long trading action below.
From up here, we offer a selection of one-of-a-kind market experiences that range from tours of Pak Khlong Talat to unique and innovative Thai cooking classes, as well as workshops covering everything from floral art to making snacks and desserts using edible flowers and other local ingredients, many sourced from within Pak Khlong Talat itself.
Open 24 hours; Chakphet Road (Yodpiman river boat pier)
At Expique, we’re experts at showing you the unique parts of Bangkok that most tours don’t take you to – and which you probably won’t discover on your own. Joining one of our tours or experiences (or having us create a custom tour for you) is a great way to make the most of your time in bangkok and ensure you leave with a memorable experience.
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Have you visited Pak Khlong Talat flower market in Bangkok? What was the highlight for you? Let us know in the comments!
Market view photo by Vernon Chan; chillies photo by Mark Fischer; all other photos by Chris Wotton
Want to explore more? Contact us about arranging to come on a custom market adventure with Expique.