May 07 2012
What do you get when you take a picturesque river setting and add friendly locals on row boats serving a plethora of fantastic, traditional Thai food? On a recent day trip to Bang Khla floating market east of Bangkok we found the definitive answer: a lot of very happy people. Like most of Thailand’s modern floating markets this one exists more due to local tourist money than anything else, but there’s no doubt that a good floating market helps keep Thais in touch with two vital elements of their ancient culture: food and boats.
In the old days, floating markets existed as a natural extension of a society connected by seas, rivers and canals. Situated in western Chachoengsao province along the Bang Pakong river, the modern Bang Khla floating market only developed in recent times, but markets have existed in one way or another at the site for hundreds of years.
Locally known as the “land of two water sources” due to this part of the river being a submerging point for fresh waters from the north and salty waters from the south, the Bang Khla area is home to a wealth of agriculture. So bountiful is the land that the legendary King Taksin led his battered army here to regroup immediately after it fell to Burmese forces at Ayutthaya in 1767. A memorial to the king still stands as tribute in the centre of Bang Khla town.
Due to it being relatively small, and requiring some effort to be reached from Bangkok, Bang Khla is well off the foreign tourist radar. Although it’s popular with weekending Bangkokians, the market retains a definite country charm.
While buying a couple fresh coconuts we chatted it up with a vendor who teaches English in a Bang Khla school on weekdays, contributing to the weekend market as more of a hobby than a means of livelihood. Whatever their reasons for spending weekends here, a great deal of pride was evident both in the demeanor of the local vendors and the fabulous edibles they produce.
A healthy smattering of traditional Thai treats, snacks and meals can be sampled here, but Bang Khla is best known for its local fish and seafood. Fresh as can be and hot off a floating grill, whole river fish, jumbo shrimp, crab, squid and a range of shellfish fill the market’s air with savoury scents.
We arrived to Bang Khla right after a rather freakish food indulgence at Khlong Suan old market, and our stomachs didn’t have a lot of room leftover. We did manage, however, to devour a mix of fresh cockles and mussels with an array of chilli-lime-garlic based dipping sauces, chicken satay with peanut sauce and cucumber salad, and a fiery plate of som tam puu paara (green papaya salad with salty crab).
For what constituted our fifth dessert of the day, we also couldn’t resist the local Bang Khla specialty, thoowa pap — a semi-sweet finger food made from locally produced peanut, jasmine flower, palm sugar, pandan leaf and shredded coconut along with rice flour for consistency and aan chan (Asian pigeon wing flower) for the bright, natural purple colour. The Bang Khla area is also known to produce some of the best mangoes in all of Thailand, so we made sure to stock up: six kilos of sour green and yellow sweet mangoes for just 120 baht.
Bang Khla is located some 80 kilometres east of Bangkok, so plan on a whole day if coming by bus or a half day if you have your own wheels. Buses run to Bang Khla at least twice an hour from both Morchit (northern) and Ekkamai (eastern) terminals in Bangkok, and either way the trip takes a little over an hour without much traffic. You could also catch a train to Chachoengsao at Bangkok’s Hualumphong station and hop on to a bus to Bang Khla from there.
Once in Bang Khla you can take a songthaew, motorbike taxi or tuk tuk (tell them “talaart naam bang khla“) to the market, which isn’t far from the bus station. It’s also possible to negotiate a taxi from Bangkok, which could take you round trip to the market and back for around 1,000 baht. Or, do what we did and combine Bang Khla with Khlong Suan as part of a full day market adventure. Bang Khla floating market runs on Saturdays and Sundays only, from 07:00 to 16:00.
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