What is a food market in Bangkok like?

When I booked this trip, one of the things I was most excited to see, touch, taste and smell was Thailand’s food.

To understand Thailand’s agricultural production, I thought a good start would be to visit one of the most important fresh food markets in the country’s capital, Bangkok. Open from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., Klong Toey Market serves as a food distribution centre for this megacity, supplying both big and small buyers.

Klong Toey Market’s location:

Understanding the geographical location of the market is important to understand what it sells and at what price. The market is approximately 2.3 kilometres from the Chao Phraya River, which leads to the Gulf of Thailand. The gulf itself has as a primary inflow the South China Sea. Click on the pictures to zoom out from the market (golden star).

Proximity to a river that runs into a gulf in this case means shellfish, fish, mollusks – lots of them! Thailand is one of the main producers of fish in the world.  This wasn’t surprising as the country has a 2,600 km coastline and a 316,000km2 gulf area (Source: FAO 2009).  The gulf area is for the country’s ‘exclusive economic use’, bringing in a substantial 1.2% of Thailand’s national GDP (Source: FAO 2009). Click the images below to see larger versions.

The fresher the fish, the more value it has. That’s why even though the river is so close, sellers use methods such as ice to keep fish alive.

Rice production

Thailand has an area of 513,120 square km of which 43.3% is considered arable land (Source: World Bank 2013). Most of the agricultural production comes from the central region, fertile in part because of the Chao Phraya River. The country has roughly the same latitude as Guatemala and covers 16 latitudinal degrees with a North-South distance of 1,900 km. All this makes for a very diverse climate. Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 11.24.15.png Thailand is an important producer of rice. According to FAOSTAT, in 2014, it was the sixth producer of rice in the world (value), with the first five places occupied by China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. In the same year, it was also the second global exporter of rice (value) after India (Source: WTEx 2014). Diversity is wonderful, in agriculture it’s particularly important. When I visited the market was expecting many rice varieties and many rice varieties I saw. Click the images below to see larger versions.

There were several rice sellers and each sold 8 to 12 varieties of rice. For all sellers, wild rice, the long, dark brown grain was the most expensive. I also could tell that prices fluctuated according to the length of the grain, the shorter, the cheaper. After a quick online search there are differences related to fragrance, starch level, processing, etc.  (Source: EUTrade). In the market however, to my rice-untrained eye, I couldn’t tell why two grains (that seemed identical) varied in price. Fruits, tubers and other crops This market was a dream for lovers of fish – I’m vegetarian. Fortunately, it also was a dream for lovers of fresh fruits, tubers and vegetables. Here are some of my favourites. Click the images below to see larger versions.

My expectation was to get a sense of what Thailand produces, consumes, trades and why. I acknowledge this market is not representative of the entire country since Khlong Toey Market is very close to a main river. Other regions of the country (i.e. northern Thailand), don’t have the same access to fresh fish or the infrastructure to transport the same goods. However, because of the role this market plays in Bangkok, I think it was a good approximation to Thailand’s agricultural production. My expectations were met and I was able to see, touch, taste and smell food I think I saw I had never seen before – especially mollusks, fish and shellfish! If you want an authentic experience, Khlong Toey Market is one. This was one of the few points of interest as a ‘Western’ tourist in Bangkok, that wasn’t catered to tourists at all. During my visit to the market, which lasted two hours on a Wednesday morning, I didn’t see any other tourist. It was a real, functioning, busy market with friendly but practical people getting on with their work. Thank you for reading! I’ve been posting pictures of my travels on Instagram @angeladelcast in case you would like to see more of my Thailand journey.

Thanks Simon Lex for your thoughtful feedback on this post.