Apr 19 2012
Chatuchak and Siam Square are great places to shop in Bangkok, but if looking for an authentic, non-touristy Thai market, sometimes it’s necessary to stray off the beaten path. Khlong Suan old market is most certainly out of the way, to put it nicely, or in the middle of nowhere, to be blunt, but for a taste of traditional Thai culture — and a food experience that could very well be a highlight of your trip — it’s well worth the extra effort.
Khlong Suan is a canal that was once the fastest way to journey from Bangkok to the more easterly Bang Pakong River and beyond. It was along this canal that the market sprung up more than 100 years ago, and it has long acted as a central meeting point for traders, travellers and farmers from all over central and eastern Thailand. Most of the boats have today been replaced by cars and buses but the market is still a middle ground for people from Bangkok, Chachoengsao, Samut Prakan and Chon Buri provinces, attracting day-trippers from as far afield as Rayong to the south and Nakhon Nayok to the north.
The market was eventually named after the canal, which itself was named from the fertile grounds that surround it (khlong suan translates to “canal of gardens”). Though weathered and rather dilapidated in places, the market possesses a wise and noble air. A living and breathing memorial to traditional Thai culture, it doesn’t look or feel all that different today than it would have when Thailand was still known as Siam.
While the old market’s history adds some extra mystique, most visitors come for one reason only — to eat. For food lovers who don’t shy away from the exotic, this place is heaven with a liberal helping of fresh chillies and fish sauce.
So what did we try? The better question would be what did we not try? We started off with deep-fried Chinese-style veggie dumplings (khanom guiy chai), then on to some psychedelic looking preserved eggs with salted bean and fish (tort mun kai yeow mah).
Next it was deep-fried pork wontons with sweet chilli sauce (khanom tung tong), followed by coconuts stuffed with pureed sweet and spicy fish red curry and topped with a healthy splattering of rich coconut cream (haw muk mawt phlao). And these were just the appetisers.
After a brief traditional Thai coffee break we dove back in with northern Thai-style curried soup with crispy noodles and chicken (khao soi).
And then, dessert: durian- and roselle-flavoured popsicles, coconut ice cream mixed with coconut meat and peanuts served in a coconut shell, and finally some spongy taro and strawberry flavoured southern Thai style cakes, still hot from a clearly visible on-site oven.
Always plotting our future food adventures, we also snatched up homemade egg noodles (ba mee), raw local spices like turmeric and galangal, dried shiitake mushrooms, particularly sweet mangoes that are difficult to find elsewhere, and freshly roasted peanuts (you know, for the road).
We were by this point feeling a little on the stuffed side, so we decided to go for a walk across the canal’s signature, unusually high foot bridge. On the way, we checked out a small museum within the market that had, among other things, some dusty old three-quarter full bottles of scotch on display. Before making it outside we had a look at some of the non-food items available in the market: a traditional chewable stimulant made from betel nut and tobacco; homemade brooms and baskets; pet fish; and live turtles.
Getting to Khlong Suan is a little tricky, but if you’re up for an adventure (or for forking out some baht to a tour company), you will be rewarded. The cheapest way is to catch a Bangkok to Bang Khla bus from Ekkamai, but make sure to tell the driver you want to be dropped at “talart khlong suan.” Buses leave regularly throughout the day and it’s a little less than an hour (without much traffic) once you’re on the bus.
To get back you can wait to flag down a returning bus along the main road near the market, or if getting antsy you can catch a songthaew bound for the bus stations of either Prachasoengchao or Bang Khla, either of which will have buses heading back to Bangkok.
Khlong Suan is about 25 km directly east of Suvarnabhumi airport along Lat Krabang Road, so another option is to take the airport link commuter train (which has a connection to the BTS sky train at Phaya Thai Station in Bangkok), and catch a taxi from somewhere in the airport vicinity. If wanting a return trip make sure to negotiate a price with the taxi driver before leaving the Suvarnabhumi area (around 500 baht seems fair to us; more if you want to linger for longer than 45 minutes to an hour).
Of course, you could also catch a taxi from anywhere in Bangkok, or if all of the above sounds too daunting there’s no shortage of Bangkok-based tour companies that can arrange guided trips to the market in the 1,500 baht per person range (cheaper if you can get more than a few heads together).
Khlong Suan market is open every day from early morning until around 16:00.
There’s another good market in Bang Khla, which we’ll be reporting on soon, so stay tuned if you want to make it a full day market adventure.
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Tags: Khlong Suan old market