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With a resounding crack, a still squirming fish is beheaded under a butcher’s knife. In the dense, pungent air, women haggle over fresh produce and slabs of raw meat. Wriggling in shallow buckets, dozens of live eels cause a fright to the only foreigner around (hi there). Miles away from the tourist trail, Bang Kapi wet market in east Bangkok is one eye-popping spectacle.
Squeamish stomachs be warned: Bang Kapi puts it all out in the open. Heads, feet, intestines and all of the organs ensure you’ll learn a lot about the anatomy of several animal species. Among the raw meat in a damp and steamy alley where puddles gather in unnatural colours on the pavement, a lone prepared food vendor grills up sausages on a stick. Just in case you get hungry.
From dancing shrimp to frogs to squid and fish of all shapes and sizes, the seafood sections — yes, there are more than one — seem to stretch on endlessly. The powerful scent emitted by tons of raw seafood might be too much for sensitive noses, but it doesn’t stop the vendors from cracking a smile.
Not to be outdone by the meat and seafood, the market’s produce sections brim with the vegetables and spices that keep east Bangkok’s restaurants and street carts in business. Along with the usual 15 types of mushrooms, 20 types of chillies and fresh spices like galangal and turmeric, Bang Kapi features countless lesser known greens cultivated specifically for this or that soup or curry.
The Thai word kapi means ‘shrimp paste’, so Bang Kapi translates as ‘Shrimp Paste Village’. Not surprisingly, spicy nam phrik kapi can be scored along with fresh Chinese rice noodles, bags of wholesale rice, mounds of curry paste and the most rank-smelling ingredient of all: pla-raa.
Partly roofed and partly tucked into the alleyways, the market also spills out onto Lat Phrao Road. Because the footpaths are almost completely clogged with vendors selling flower garlands, lotus blossoms and fruits like salak, rambutan, mangosteen, guava, pomelo and durian, pedestrians who actually want to move at least once every five minutes are forced to share the sides of the road with motorbikes and buses.
The atmosphere at Bang Kapi market is always bustling, noisy, cramped and as colourful as it gets. Far less touristy than Pak Khlong Talaad, much bigger than Phran Nok and less contained than Khlong Toei, Bang Kapi is perhaps the quintessential Bangkok wet market. It doesn’t offer much in the way of prepared foods, but the nearby Happy Land market is one of the best spots in Bangkok to try all of Thailand's regional cuisines under one roof.
How to get there
Bang Kapi wet market occupies everything north of Lat Phrao Road between Soi 119 and Soi 127 in east Bangkok. Other than local buses, the only public transport option is to take the San Saeb khlong boat to The Mall Bang Kapi pier. If arriving here, walk to your right as you leave the pier and follow the walkway around the east side of the mall building, or head into the parking garage and walk through the inside of the mall. At the front of the mall, take the elevated walkway across Lat Phrao Road, exiting on the east side (to the right), then make your way along the footpath and the market will begin immediately after the Tesco Lotus shopping centre. (Note: go left after crossing the elevated walkway and the side street for Happy Land will be immediately on your right). The khlong taxi is a thrill in itself, and you could make a day of it by also hitting the nearby Batcat toy museum.