What do you get when you take a picturesque river setting and add friendly locals on row boats serving a plethora of fantastic Thai food? You'll find the answer at Bang Khla floating market: a lot of very happy people. Like most of Thailand’s modern floating markets this one exists more due to local tourist money than anything else, but there’s no doubt that a good floating market helps keep Thais in touch with two vital elements of their culture: food and boats.
In the old days, floating markets existed as a natural extension of a society connected by seas, rivers and canals. Situated in western Chachoengsao province along the Bang Pakong river, the modern Bang Khla floating market only developed in recent times, but markets have existed in one way or another at the site for centuries.
Locally known as the “land of two water sources” due to this part of the river being a submerging point for fresh waters from the north and salty waters from the south, the Bang Khla area is home to a wealth of agriculture. So bountiful is the land that the legendary King Taksin led his battered army here to regroup immediately after it fell to Burmese forces at Ayutthaya in 1767. A memorial to the king still stands as tribute in the centre of Bang Khla town.
Due to it being relatively small, and requiring some effort to reach from Bangkok, Bang Khla is well off the foreign tourist radar. Though it’s popular with weekending Bangkokians, the market retains a definite country charm.
While buying a couple fresh coconuts we chatted it up with a vendor who teaches English in a Bang Khla school on weekdays, contributing to the weekend market as more of a hobby than a means of livelihood. Whatever their reasons for spending weekends here, a great deal of pride was evident both in the demeanor of the local vendors and the fabulous edibles they produce.
A healthy smattering of traditional Thai treats, snacks and meals can be sampled here, but Bang Khla is best known for its local fish and seafood. Fresh as can be and hot off a floating grill, whole river fish, jumbo shrimp, crab, squid and a range of shellfish fill the market’s air with savoury scents.
We arrived to Bang Khla right after a rather freakish food indulgence at Khlong Suan old market, and our stomachs didn’t have a lot of room leftover. But we did manage to devour a mix of fresh cockles and mussels with an array of chilli-lime-garlic based dipping sauces, chicken satay with peanut sauce and cucumber salad, and a fiery plate of som tam puu paara, or green papaya salad with pickled crab and fermented fish bladder sauce.
We also couldn’t resist the local Bang Khla specialty, thoowa pap — a semi-sweet finger food made from locally produced peanut, jasmine flower, palm sugar, pandan leaf and shredded coconut along with rice flour for consistency and aan chan (Asian pigeon wing flower) for the bright, natural purple colour. The Bang Khla area is also known to produce some of the best mangoes in all of Thailand.
How to get there
Bang Khla is a small town located 25 km east of Chachoengsao. From Chachoengsao, catch a local bus or songthaew from the bus station (tell them you're heading to Bang Khla and someone will put you on the right bus). If coming from Bangkok about 100 kilometres to the west, buses run hourly direct to Bang Khla from Morchit or Ekkamai station, or you can take a bus or train to Chachoengsao first and switch to a local bus from there. You could also arrange a taxi for the whole day for around 2,000 baht, which could also bring you to Khlong Suan old market. Bang Khla is a small town and any motorbike taxi will take you straight to the market -- tell them talaad nam bang khla
By David Luekens.
Last updated on 24th December, 2016.
The Travelfish newsletter is sent out every Monday and is jammed full of free advice for travel in Southeast Asia. You can see past issues here.