The ultimate Bangkok wet market
Published/Last edited or updated: 1st September, 2017
Snakefruit, live bugs and climbing wattle burst from baskets in Talad Khlong Toei, the ultimate Bangkok wet market. Come to acquaint yourself with the building blocks of Thai cuisine amid a seething sprawl of fresh ingredients.
Khlong Toei, meaning “Pandan Leaf Canal”, was named after a fragrant leaf used to flavour Thai sweets and freshen the air inside taxicabs; it once grew alongside a waterway that could now be renamed for something less pleasingly aromatic. The name is also used for one of Thailand’s two shipping ports and a municipal district hosting some of Bangkok’s poorest neighbourhoods. The market itself sticks out along the western edge of the district, two kilometres south of Sukhumvit Road and near the MRT Blue Line.
An enormous web of stalls stretch under pavilions and narrow lanes where vendors lay out their goods under umbrellas on the pavement. Porters push their carts full of goods as motorbikes thread the crowds and restaurateurs haggle over prices. Sourcing thousands of kitchens, from street eateries to upscale restaurants and working-class homes, this is the largest wet market in Bangkok—and that makes it one of the largest anywhere.
There is some semblance of order to the chaos, with different sections devoted to similar types of ingredients. Live eels wriggle as catfish flap around and frogs peer out from beneath nets in the seafood section. Over in vegetable land, fresh chillies with many hues join finger root and eggplant nudging up to bundles of basil, bok choi and countless other leafy greens. Mounds of durian, apple, pomelo, watermelon and rambutan line the fruit section.
The eye-popping meat section includes whole goat heads, piles of intestines and pig feet. Various types of fowl come plucked and ready to cook or still waddling around in cages; we once bought a duck to roast and the vendor just handed it to us live. You’ll also find mounds of curry pastes, pungent shrimp pastes and stinky fermented fish sauce among the pre-prepared ingredients.
Morning is the best time to go but the market is open until 02:00 and there’s plenty of activity throughout the day. While most vendors sell fresh ingredients, you will find an alley full of noodle stands and curry shops just west of the main market area across Rama III Road. Snacks like grilled pork skewers and steamed dumplings can also be scored around the edges.
The scales, innards and scraps emit quite an array of stenches in the tropical humidity and it’s not so easy to find your way out of the labyrinthine market once you’re inside. Visiting with a hangover is a no-no, and those with weak stomachs might want to skip this one altogether. If you’d like some guidance, Khun Puu tours her students through the market, buying ingredients before leading a cooking class at nearby Helping Hands Cooking School.
Khlong Toei Wet Market stretches at the corner of Rama III Rd and Rama IV Rd in East Bangkok, and there are several entrances. Queen Sirikit Convention Centre Station on the MRT Subway line is a half-km to the north; take exit 1 out of the station, walk south and take the pedestrian bridge across the intersection to reach the market. You can also come from Khlong Toei MRT Station, located less than a km west of the market. From the market, it’s only a two-km taxi ride north on Ratchadaphisek Rd to Asok BTS Station on Sukhumvit Rd.
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.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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