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Smaller and more cramped, but more eclectic than nearby Bangkok Noi market, Thonburi’s Phran Nok wet market is worth a trip if you’re serious about exploring Thai food ingredients in a very local atmosphere. Be warned that a visit to Phran Nok may induce weeping (from the chilli flakes in the air), holding the nose shut (due to the pungent mix of scents), and possibly mild cases of shock (from seeing foods you never dreamed existed).
Fronting this busy market you’ll find a wealth of veggies and spices being sold by vendors who will be surprised to see a foreigner’s face in their midst. Like most people we’ve encountered in the far less touristy Thonburi side of Bangkok (west of the Chao Phraya river), most of the vendors here are extremely friendly in their relaxed Thonburi kind of way. Go ahead, forget all worries about the scammers and sketchers across the river and ask to sniff a slice of galangal or a torn pandan leaf, or if you're really adventurous, a tiny dollop of pla raa (fermented fish sauce).
Next, move out to the footpath and let the spice man show you around his display of dried sardines, garlic, onions, shallots, ginger and a dozen different types of chillies. If you’re not finished impressing the locals, tell him you want to try a phrik kee nuu (a tiny but explosively spicy green chilli), pop it in your mouth, and see if you can stomach it without jumping into the Bangkok Noi canal.
With tongue sufficiently on fire, head over to the fruit vendors and ask for a taste of cheap and memorable tropical varieties like sala (snakefruit), durian and mangosteen.
Finally, take a walk into the inner reaches of the market to catch some intense whiffs of fresh fish and meat being chopped to order. If that’s a bit much, look for the photogenic (and delicious) displays of grilled fish, which come in all shapes and sizes.
Although Phran Nok is almost entirely a wet market, just across the street you’ll find a clutch of outstanding hole-in-the-wall restaurants and curry and rice shops with massive bowls of fiery curries and stir-fries overflowing onto the street. A cheerful elderly woman also sells some outstanding khanom pat jang here, and an unassuming shop puts out some perfectly balanced northeastern Thai salads and soups.After smelling your share of fresh fish, you might take a side trip to Baan Bu bronze-smith village, Baan Luk Chup Cafe, Soi Mathum and/or Khlong Bang Luang artist village.
How to get there
Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Wang Lang (aka Phran Nok) pier, and walk straight onto Phran Nok road from the pier (adjacent Wang Lang market is also worth a browse). Continue for about a kilometre, take a left onto Itsaraphap Road and the market extends inwards from the footpath on the left side of the street.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 15th May, 2014.