Khlong Suan old market

An old school Thai market

What we say: 4 stars

Century-old Khlong Suan old market is out of the way, to put it nicely, or in the middle of nowhere, to be blunt, but for an offbeat food experience that might be a highlight of your trip — it’s worth the effort.

What treats await beyond these walls?

What treats await beyond these walls?

Khlong Suan is a canal that was once the fastest way to journey from Bangkok to the more easterly Bang Pakong River and beyond. The market sprung up along this canal more than 100 years ago, and has long acted as a central meeting point for traders, travellers and farmers from all over central and eastern Thailand. While the boats have been replaced by cars and buses, the market remains a middle ground for people from Bangkok, Chachoengsao, Samut Prakan and Chon Buri provinces, attracting day-trippers from as far afield as Rayong and Nakhon Nayok.

Not a foreign tourist in sight.

Not a foreign tourist in sight.

The market was 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 venerable air; it doesn’t look or feel all that different today than it would have when Thailand was still known as Siam.

Old shophouses like this one line part of the market's long walkways.

The area surrounding the market can feel more like an old neighbourhood than a market.

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.

Just as it would have looked a century ago.

Just as it would have looked a century ago.

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).

Look in to the secret orb, I mean, egg.

Look in to the secret orb, I mean, egg.

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.

Sweet, savory, magnificent; or in Thai, simply AROY.

Sweet, savoury, magnificent; or in Thai, simply aroi.

After a brief Thai coffee break we dove back in with northern Thai-style curried soup with crispy noodles and chicken (khao soi).

Half way through this khao soi I needed reminding that I was not in Chiang Mai.

Half-way through this khao soi I needed reminding that I was not in Chiang Mai.

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 an on-site oven.

Roselle and coconut ice cream treats -- elegant and refreshing.

Roselle and coconut ice cream treats -- elegant and refreshing.

We also snatched up homemade egg noodles, 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).

"Come on, I dare you to make the trip."

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.

I'd run too little fella; best of luck to you.

I'd run too little fella; best of luck to you.

Khlong Suan isn't easy to reach, but those who are up for a market adventure could combine it with a trip to Bang Khla floating market and Chachoengsao.
More details
Opening Hours: Early morning-around 16:00
How to get there: The cheapest way to get here is to catch a Bangkok to Bang Khla bus from Ekkamai station. Tell the driver you want to be dropped at talaad khlong suan. Buses leave regularly throughout the day and it's a little less than an hour 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 catch a songthaew bound for the bus stations of either Chachoengchao or Bang Khla, either of which will have buses heading back to Bangkok.

You could also catch a taxi from Suvarnabhumi or anywhere in Bangkok. Note however that due to the distance, you'll probably need to negotiate a fare beforehand. Around 200 baht one-way from Suvarnabhumi should be plenty, or somewhere in the 500 to 1,000 baht neighbourhood if you want a return trip.
Last updated: 16th May, 2014

About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.
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