Like so many cities around the world, Bangkok has a sizeable Chinatown. Over the past few hundred years, the Chinese has become very integrated into Thai culture and many Thais, including His Majesty the King, have Chinese blood in their veins. This is especially true of the merchant families, as a trip to Yaoworat – Bangkok’s teeming Chinatown – illustrates. I had the opportunity this past weekend to join Tawn and his boss for a early morning shopping trip to talat gao – the old market.
We parked in a gutted theatre that used to stage Chinese operas. It is interesting as the arches mark the boundaries of the original hall and the backstage area would have been where the white car is parked. The walls have been removed for ventilation, leaving only the columns and beams. The neighboring balconies and windows now look in on the car park.
There are two main streets in Yaoworat, both one-way and both very crowded even early in the morning. Yaworat is located on Rattanakosin Island, the historic center of Bangkok. When the police officer finally does stop traffic for pedestrians he admonishes them: “Raew, raew, raew!” – “Quickly, quickly, quickly!”
The old market area is a wet market – meat, seafood, and vegetables – located off the street. It is crowded early in the morning but by 8:00 when this picture was taken, the customers are clearing out and the vendors are shutting down. This is where Tawn bought a lot of seafood including fresh lump crab meat for one-quarter the price we would pay at our local market.
There was still a large selection of fresh fish around, including what I believe are baracuda in a basket.
The knives used in the market show their age, having been sharpened thousands of times. Reminds me of the show Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
The market has vibrant colors and interesting openings where natural light comes flooding in. It is a place where you need to be paying attention, with lots of people passing through carrying boxes, pushing carts, and riding motorcycles stacked high with deliveries.
On the opposite side of the street, we explored some of the new market, which focuses more on dry goods and prepared foods. Any guess what are in all those bags? Fried fish swim bladders, also known as fish maw.
Tight quarters in some sections as motorbikes and pedestrians create traffic jams.
A mad rush for fresh cherries! The vendor also sells toilet bowl brushes in a variety of colors.
Ginko nuts on ice. Very nice sweetened in a little sugar syrup and added to my morning oatmeal. Plus, they are supposed to be very good for your kidneys.
Freshly shaved pig’s head. You don’t want any bristles before serving this to guests.
Chinese buns are stacked as part of a good-luck offering.
Small, very sweet pineapple.
A Chinese shrine located in the car park with tea and water left for the gods. Note the mound of incense stick ash that has built up at the base of the shrine.
Outside the new market, makeshift vendors line the sidewalks in front of shops that have not yet opened for business, selling whatever items are from their farms (of their relatives’ farms) in the nearby provinces.
On a nearby street, a shop sells all things steel, from containers for burnt offerings (far left with holes in them) to stools to buckets, to huge stock pots, to funnels, to an oil lamp for use at shrines (far right, wrapped in plastic). Regarding my earlier comment that many of the merchant families in Bangkok are Chinese, you see signs of this all the time – literally! Notice that the shop’s name appears both in Thai letters (left) and Chinese characters (right). Very interesting is that right between the two are some markings made by Buddhist monks to bless the shop. I’ll have to do a close-up of that one of these days and explain it in more detail.
These three-wheel tuk-tuks, when not gouging tourists, haul bulk goods (usually with their purchaser, although not in this case) around the city.
Getting hungry, we stopped by a fastidiously clean, freshly painted shop known for its muu daeng – literally “red pork”, which is the barbecue pork often known by its Chinese name charshu. This man is the owner. Signs in the building proudly announce that he is now 82 years old and has been in business for 61 years.
There’s not much else he serves but the rice or noodles with barbecue pork on it. This is a plate of “two types pork” – one barbecued and the other roasted with the crispy skin on it. The sauce, unlike that of many competitors/immitators, isn’t super-sweet and has a complex flavor to it. He serves it with a slice of soy sauce boiled egg (not the “100-year old egg”) and some slightly sweet pickled cucumbers. Wonderful, all for about US$1.
So that was my morning trip to the market. We were home by 10:30, a bit exhausted but with a lot of seafood and other good buys. I hope you enjoyed coming along for the ride.
Very interesting photos you have here, Chris! I wonder why they have to shave the pig’s head? You guys did not venture into the gold merchants this time?
Awesome, I like these mini adventures you take “us”. 😉 Have a good day, or night, I’m not sure the time there but whatever is the case have a good _______.
I love the photos. We have a “farmers’ market” Saturday mornings in the center of town. You got to be there early to get the fresh fish and veggies and fruits. Honeydew melons were $.50 a piece compared to 2 for $5 at the local Publix market. I shop at the market there on Saturday and then Wednesday afternoon at another one set up on an historic park. I just have to be careful not to spend too much money. The Wednesday afternoon has beautiful crafts! Could not find a shaved pig’s head.
The pink taxis are so cute… can’t say quite the same about the pig head and the fish bladders.
I really prefer traditional markets compared to super markets. I always know the food there is fresh and brought in this morning. When meat and veggies are frozen, the texture and the moisture concentration changes…Maybe people should update their recipes to compensate for that loss…
Can you believe the colour of those taxis?? The Ginko nuts, is that their real size, or did you zoom into them? Very educational Chris.
My favorite Chinatown that I’ve ever been to is the one the in San Francisco. I had some of the best hot and sour soup there that I’ve ever had. I would have been there probably about 6 or 7 years ago.
Thank you for sharing the great photos.I used to love pig head meals, the noses, ears, and tongues. lol….YUM!I don’t know when I can have a trip to China, but definitely, I will spend a week in Thailand!
The dish looks great. And the man does not look 82 at all!Motorbikes shouldn’t be allowed in the markets. Tsk tsk.
Those baracuda fish look humungous! And 82, that man definitely has some secret elixir of life he’s drinkin’. He definitely looks a lot younger… I guessed pig stomach for those things hanging so I was close!!
Thanks for taking us with you on your trip :)I agree with the comments right above me. That man looks like he’s in his 50s. His dish looks really good!
sigh… this really makes me miss chinatown, which we don’t have in baltimore. it’s really sad not to be able to get so many things that i want to cook with and eat. that plate of char siu and roast pork looks so good!
@CurryPuffy – You shave the pig’s head to remove the bristles, since those aren’t edible. That’s my understanding, at least.@NVPhotography – @Senlin – Glad you enjoyed it.@Fatcat723 – I’m glad that there are more and more farmers’ markets type of events in the US, helping people connect more with their food and their food producers. Great value plus you cut out the middleman.@Dezinerdreams – Our taxis are very colorful here.@Wangium – My one concern, especially around the vegetables, is that the vendors can’t usually speak to how things were grown/raised. Pesticide (over)use is a problem here in Thailand and so I’m concerned about buying from a source that doesn’t know these things. When it comes to the meats, they are probably a little better from the local market and more likely raised in a way that doesn’t resemble a factory farm.@brooklyn2028 – I’m assuming he eats his pork and rice every day and that sauce must be the elixir of youth!@kunhuo42 – Sadly, chinatowns in many, but not all major cities… Can I send you anything?@yang1815 – “Not allowed…” Ha ha…. words that don’t exist in Thai, or at least are certainly not understood.@foggysunnymorning – Just a short trip from China…@TheCheshireGrins – The one in SF is very vibrant, too. The soup sounds tasty.@ZSA_MD – The ginko nuts are their real size. To put it in proportion, the block of ice is about 7-8 inches long.
I didn’t realize cherries grew in Thailand, or are those shipped in from some other location? It doesn’t make sense that they would be, but…. We really enjoy the locally grown foods that we buy at our local farmer’s market and the meat I purchase from a local meat market. Sadly, we’re too inland for fresh fish unless one has a fisherman friend.
Well, cherries and toilet brushes really go together well. I like these markets as they present ample of photo opportunities but they can be exhausting to walk around.
I loved this tour! In the photo under the Chinese shrine in the car park, what are the long green things in the second basket? They look like huge okra!
@murisopsis – Some sort of melon/gourd thing. The ones in front of them are bitter melon, but I don’t recall the name of the ones that look okra-like.@beowulf222 – This is definitely the place for someone who likes taking photos – you just have to be careful not to upset all the people trying to get by you!@jandsschultz – The cherries are from China, I think.
I have a thing for Thai and other Asian food. Thanks for sharing this experience.
@christao408 – haha i appreciate the offer, but that would be one expensive shipping cost! besides, my parents send me things already, but there are some things you just can’t ship.
Quite an interesting place there! Reminds me a bit of our Pike Place.
Sweet! I really like the view you provide into Thailand. I’ve always been interested in seeing how people live, so this is a welcome change from the usual tourism photos that I see elsewhere. I have a friend who would go nuts over the pink taxis 🙂
@Dezinerdreams – Fish bladder is actually not as gross as one may imagine!
@Poomsira – They are better when called “fish maw”, I think. It is all in the marketing…@AzureRecollections – One of the many things I try to accomplish with this blog is to show slices of life in Thailand that go outside the normal tourist/foreigner perspective.@Ampbreia – Somewhere I love. Pike Place is a lot… cleaner, more organized, less chaotic, more expensive. (pick any four) Thank you for subscribing.@VampireEdwardCullen – You’re very welcome, and thank you for recommending the post.
I love the tour! I can practically feel the tropical heat combined with the smell of the market, the sounds of the vendors and clients, the hustle… what a great entry. I love going to these places when I’m traveling. It’s nice to go to the big malls and touristy stuff but this is where I can learn a lot.
@ElusiveWords – That is true – you’ll get a much better feel for a place at a market like this than you will at a mall. As for the heat, we were there early in the morning and have actually been having some (relatively) cool weather, so it was not unpleasant.@A_NY_Zone61 – Thank you; I’m glad you enjoyed them. Thanks for commenting.
@christao408 – You’re welcome.
Yum, the last photo of the roast prok made my mouth water.
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