Old community, great market
No matter where you happen to be in Bangkok, chances are that a vibrant market is buzzing away nearby. But unless you’re brave enough to wander into the city’s innumerable alleys just to see what might be there, finding them can be tough. For decades, Trok Mor morning market has been going strong right under the noses of travellers in the historic Rattanakosin district.
The market along Trok Mor (aka Soi Thesa) quietly takes place every morning within easy walking distance of Bangkok’s biggest tourist attractions. Great uncles display their agility while pedalling past the crumbling old shophouses that burst with fresh fruit and seafood on either side of the lane. Blending into the faded plaster walls like farmers in a rice field, many of the vendors have spent a lifetime here.
Trok Mor looks and feels like it was frozen in a time before glossy highrises and shopping malls came to define much of Bangkok. We were the only foreigners there, and locals shot us curious grins that were free of the shifty opportunism evident on the faces of Khao San Road touts just a short walk away. Prices seem 15 years behind the rest of the city — 20 baht for a fresh coffee and 10 for a sweet sticky rice snack to go with it.
Complete with spirit houses perched alongside napping cats, eager dogs and giggling kids, a tangle of side alleys shoot off the main market lane to reveal makeshift eateries. A pair of pink-clad percussionists carted a giant drum and cymbals through the market, banging away for donations as they walked. Old women held up foot traffic to haggle over a bag of homemade chilli paste or kilo of rose apples. No one seemed to mind.
While Trok Mor is worth a visit just to soak up the atmosphere, it’s also a fine place to score a cheap local-style breakfast. Common Thai sweets like khanom krok (grilled rice flour dumplings with corn) and khanom buang (crispy, super-sweet snacks that look like mini tacos) are readily available, though we were partial to a sort of deep-fried cake in the shape of a fish with warm, gooey dough and a custard-like taro filing oozing from centre.
The more adventurous will find things like grilled frogs on sticks (great for munching on the go) and fiery southern Thai curries with rice. We couldn’t resist a plate of pad prik khing, a rich and savoury dish blending crispy long beans and fatty pork belly in a dark-red dry curry with a heavy taste of ginger. The bitter melon soup, stink bean curry and Muslim-Thai biryani rice with chicken also looked tasty.
Accompanying the many street carts you’ll find hole-in-the-wall restaurants dishing out classic Chinese-Thai noodle soups, roast duck and rice porridge. Nearly all of them get it done with humbly atmospheric shops featuring posters of the Thai king, Chinese spirit shrines, faded walls and a few stools clustered around the most basic of tables. Just like in Chinatown, most of the owners sleep upstairs and run businesses on the ground floor.
More than just a market, Trok Mor is also a very old community that’s almost entirely self-sufficient. Small restaurant owners purchase their fresh meats, seafood, spices and vegetables from neighbours. Some shops focus on dried noodles, handmade fish balls and bottled sauces, while others offer clothing and kitchenware. Even the ice is made on site.
One of the best parts about Trok Mor is how it retains a genuine local character while being wedged smack into the middle of a touristy area. It makes a great starting point for a day of sightseeing at places like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the Golden Mount, all no more than a 10-minute walk away.
The market covers the entirety of Soi Thesa between Bamrung Muang and Ratchabophit roads, as well as Soi Sukha 2, which can be accessed from Fueng Nakhon Road right across from the Interior Ministry. The easiest way to get here is to take a taxi to Wat Ratchabophit, walk east on Ratchabophit Road and enter the market from the south side of Soi Thesa, which is marked by a blue sign (it's not marked on Bamrung Muang Road). You could also take the Chao Phraya express boat to Tha Tien pier and walk straight east past Wat Pho and Saranrom Gardens, then take a left (north) on Atsadang Road after the canal bridge, then the first right (east) onto Ratchabophit Road. Note that while any taxi driver will know Wat Ratchabophit by name, some won't be aware of Trok Mor, and others might confuse it with Soi Baan Mor closer to Chinatown.
David Luekens first came to Thailand in 2005 when Thai friends from his former home of Burlington, Vermont led him on a life-changing trip. Based in Thailand since 2011, he spends much of his time eating in Bangkok street markets and island hopping the Andaman Sea.
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