May 26 2013
Though Bangkok is home to some 8 million people, the urban sprawl is replaced by picturesque countryside within a 45-minute drive of the city centre. Nestled along the Tha Jeen river in Nakhon Pathom province, the Lam Phaya weekend floating market is a meeting point for the abundant food that comes from this area and the people who produce it.
It’s obvious that this is a very small town by the fact that everything seems to have the same name — Lam Phaya market is near Lam Phaya temple in Lam Phaya village. We imagine the locals refer to them simply as “the market” and “the temple”. After arriving to the market by land, visitors must walk through centuries-old Wat Lam Phaya, where monks’ robes hang out to dry, temple dogs snooze under tables and faithful villagers keep things tidy. For those who want to pay respects to the resident Buddha image and perhaps be blessed by a monk with holy water, the temple’s attractive ordination hall is open throughout the day.
Despite the relatively large size of Lam Phaya market, it’s one of the least touristy weekend markets we’ve visited. A fair number of Thai daytrippers fill in the space, but we saw a grand total of one other foreigner during our visit.
The market is divided into two sections — one on solid ground and another, more crowded one set on a series of docks that float on the river. The land section consists of a long and roomy roofed corridor lined by local vendors who sell everything from potted plants to curries for takeaway.
The fresh fruit and vegetables that Nakhon Pathom province is famous for are often sold by the farmers themselves, many of whom wouldn’t have looked out of place in 1930s Thailand. Particularly special are the pomelo, or som-o in Thai. These sizable, bright green fruits look like a type of round melon but conceal an addictive sweet and sour citrus flesh reminiscent of (but 10 times better than) grapefruit beneath a thick and spongy shell.
Often caught from the Tha Jeen and its tributaries earlier the same day, fish are another specialty that get so many Bangkokians off the couch and on their way to Lam Phaya. You can purchase whole fish — fresh, sun-dried, fried, salted and in some cases still alive — in the land section, or head to the floating section for whole grilled or steamed fishes brought right to your table.
In the floating section, the majority of vendors set up tables on the floating dock and offer finger foods to graze on. Popular snacks include brigthly coloured palm sugar and coconut sweets, iced sugarcane juice served in cups made from fresh-cut bamboo, savoury fish cakes, deep-fried pork fat and bite-size fried fish enjoyed head, tail and all.
While many weekend markets claim to be “floating markets” (to be fair, the Thai word is talaad nam or literally, “water market”) due to them being near some body of water, Lam Phaya hosts dozens of vendors who row their boats into what could best be described as “boat parking zones” found throughout the floating section.
Walkways surround the boats and make it possible for visitors to look on as floating chefs grill seafood and chicken satay, pound spicy Thai salads and toss spring rolls into woks of bubbling oil. Vendors on boats who are beyond arms’ reach of the walkways utilise fishing nets with long handles to transport products to customers, who in turn place cash in the net and send it back to the vendors.
With our stomachs full of grilled skewered prawns, mini fried/salted fish, tender pork neck, sticky rice and pomelo, we paid 30 baht per person for a private boat ride on the Tha Jeen. A gentle and seemingly contemplative old fellow, our boatman rowed us to a Buddhist shrine, past a patch of blossoming lotus flowers and alongside rows of stilted homes. The century-old boat was made of golden teak wood and covered by a bamboo roof with open windows on either side.
Though we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this lazy rowboat experience, longer trips on bigger, engine-powered boats can also be arranged from the market for 70 baht per person. These depart six times per day from 10:00 to 14:00 and include stops at local temples. The 11:30 and 14:00 trips stop at Wat Bang Phra — Nakhon Pathom’s famous sak yant tattoo temple where Angelina Jolie once received “sacred ink” from a tattoo-master-monk. These larger boats have tables and chairs on board, so you can stock up on food and enjoy lunch as you soak up the scenery.
Though Tha Kha, Bang Nam Phueng and Bang Khla aren’t far behind, Lam Phaya has become our favourite of the Bangkok-area floating markets we’ve visited so far. The food is fresh and local, the people are friendly, lots of vendors actually do float and the atmosphere is rural and authentic.
However, the countryside location has one disadvantage — it’s not easy to reach. The market is along a country road some 50 kilometres northwest of central Bangkok and 30 kilometres northeast of Nakhon Pathom town (see map). We were told it’s possible to catch a minibus from Bangkok’s Sai Tai Mai (Southern) terminal to the town of Salaya, then switch to a songthaew which passes through Lam Phaya, but that would be a lot of hassle even if your Thai language skills are strong. For travellers, the most realistic option is to hire a return trip by taxi from Bangkok for around 1,200 baht, including waiting time. Lam Phaya market is open on Saturdays and Sundays only, from around 08:00 to 16:00.
On the way back, you might make a stop at Air Orchid Farm — one of Thailand’s largest.
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