A Year in Bangkok – Bang Phli Old Market

6 03 2011

Artist's impression of how the market originally looked.

A little over four years ago, my god-daughter was staying with me and we were taken to a delightful old covered market on the outskirts of Bangkok. It was very run down and probably as many as half of the stalls were closed. Those that were still open were selling old fashioned and traditional goods. It was so run down and so many stalls were closed that the market seemed to me to be on the final stretch of a slippery downhill slope. A few months after that, I recognized it on a current affairs programme on the local TV – it turns out that a serious attempt was being made to regenerate the market with a view to attracting tourists. To say I felt cynical about the attempt to regenerate it and create yet another market filled with touristy baubles and copy goods would surely be an understatement. Sometimes though, it is really good to be able to eat your own words or, in this case, thoughts.

You cross this wooden bridge to enter the old market.

Some Japanese friends came over to look at our new home and have some lunch. Afterwards, we wandered into our local version of a town centre and, lo and behold, we were by that old market! We drove to the local temple, which seems to be commonly known as Wat Luangpho. Luangpho is the name people have given to a large bronze Buddha image here. My understanding is that the temple’s real name is Wat Phlapphla but it is also known as Wat Bang Phli Yai Klang. Just in case that isn’t confusing enough, there happen to be three temples in very close proximity here and taxi drivers are often unsure which is which. If you get to the right one, it is quite a nice temple and no doubt the others are nice too! There is also an outdoor market in the temple grounds.

Inside the old market.

To find the old market, if you are fortunate enough to be at the right temple, head towards the canal (Khlong Samrong) and follow it away from the road. It is lined with regular market stalls which are part of the outdoor market  and you will find a small pier from where you can take a short boat trip along the canal. Keep going and, in about two minutes you will reach a short narrow foot bridge which leads you into the market’s dark wooden entrance. Stepping over the threshold, you will need to give your eyes a moment or two to adjust to the murky light. You will see that you have entered a kind of narrow corridor stretching as far as you can see. The floor of this corridor is made of beautiful old teakwood and it is lined with small shops. The shops on the right are quite deep and are obviously homes as well but the shops on the left are on the canal side and are much smaller.

Boat trip along the canal.

There are no windows but many of the shops open on to the canal so a fair bit of light comes in from there and there are plenty of bare light bulbs overhead, hanging from dodgy looking frayed cables. It has a kind of musty smell as you enter which is quite pleasant and which changes as you walk along.

It can get quite busy.

This is one of the oldest markets in Thailand, founded in 1857 by Chinese traders. It was originally called Talad (market) Siri Sopon and, in those days, the canal it is situated on was a major trading route between the Chao Praya River and a place called Chacheoengsao. Today, the people live here much as they did 150 years ago, in wooden shop houses which, as the name implies, are both shop and home. Keep your eyes open in this wonderful old market – if you are lucky, you will see the local goldsmiths carrying out the ancient skill of beating and rolling their gold to make gold foil. These guys don’t just follow the traditional techniques, they even use tools which have been handed down through the generations. One guy has an amazingly old set of scales which, he says, belonged to his grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather! These lovely traditional shops exist alongside a handful of more modern ones which cater to the tourists’ spending power but even those shops retain a certain old-world charm.

Kitchenware.

They seem to sell everything here – carpentry tools, meat-on-a-stick, stationery goods, old agricultural tools which you might see in a museum back home, coffee, mushrooms, delicious sweet sticky things, toiletries, books, Buddha images, more coffee, traditional sweets and even pets.

Lovely tool shop.

There is even a delightful little visitor centre almost bang in the middle of the market. And, because this is Thailand, there are lots of little places to eat, many of them alongside the canal. Most of the tourists who come are ‘local’ tourists and I am seriously impressed with how they have regenerated this old market in a way that has restored many local traditions to their former glory. You should visit this place before it becomes well known – it is possibly the best example of ‘old Thailand’ I have seen so far.

Some of the many food stalls.

There is also an easier way to find it than through the temple. The end of the market furthest from the temple has a little footbridge made from a few boats strung together which lead across to the local Big C store. So simply ask a taxi driver to take you to Big C in Bang Phli Yai, walk through the store and out at the back, look for the bridge and you’re there!

The bridge to Big C.

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One response

8 03 2011
adrian spendlow

fascinating, thanks, ade

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