While Thailand’s markets are well known and loved, even the most authentic of its floating markets are now primarily tourist attractions – whether for foreign tourists in the case of Damnoen Saduak and others, or holidaying Thais (think Amphawa and Bang Nampheung). At the other end of the spectrum, local markets are great but very, well, local. Yet there is an in-between, a third way – at least there is in eastern Bangkok, just off the busy Srinakarin Road and a short ride from the outskirts of the Skytrain’s Sukhumvit line, where the Suan Luang market aimed squarely at locals still manages to have a classy edge and the distinct vibe of the kind of weekend farmers’ market you would expect to find somewhere in the UK or mainland Europe.
Sprawling clusters of stalls line both sides of Srinakarin Soi 55 on its final run-up to the expansive Suan Luang Rama IX park, a pocket of green in this part of the city. This far down the soi, as the roaring main road traffic quietens to a slight hum, the atmosphere is very local but decidedly affluent – take a peek at some of the huge properties on either side of the street!
On one side of the soi a number of large self-contained markets tout a fantastic selection of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and seafood – this is the place to come for European varieties of vegetables like bell peppers and aubergines, which are often difficult to find in regular local Thai wet markets. Other stalls setting the tone of this health-conscious market offer fruit juices – freshly squeezed and the likes of grape and passion fruit, rather than just the ubiquitous orange topped up with salt and sugar – and gac fruits abound too, not often seen outside of floating markets including Khlong Lat Mayom and Bang Nampheung. Among the other surprises are plenty of western snacks that appear well-execute – think croissants, macaroons and brownies – plus of course heaps of Thai sweets: kanom tuay, kanom krok and the like.
What makes the market is that there is a real family atmosphere to the whole place. When friends first referred to it as a farmers’ market I was skeptical – but in fact it’s the closest I’ve found in Thailand to a European-style weekend farmers’ market. This is born both of the food and the overall ambience, plus the selection of other goods on sale – everything from clothes to CDs, beaded jewellery to shampoo, crockery and kitchenware to bric-a-brac, second-hand books to vintage wardrobes, vases, typewriters and wine demijohns. Completing the friendly, relaxed atmosphere, groups of family and friends are to be found sat around eating, though you’d have to be up early to do the same!
My favourite area is a collection of stalls, on the right-hand side of the soi as you approach from Srinakarin, under quaint wooden structures topped with straw-thatch-topped roofs. Chilled English-language pop tunes selected for their slow tempo float through the air (even if the explicit version of ‘Tonight I’m Loving You’ did come on at one point) as you browse under the shade of large trees. Concrete slabs make for pathways through an otherwise gravelled space which, together with the trees, the wooden stall structure and the bamboo fencing that provides a border on one side with neighbouring houses, give the strong feeling of being in a park – clever, given the close proximity to Rama IX park itself.
At the far end, beneath a simple wall-less A-frame structure, five small wooden tables are topped with the simplest of hand-crafted pretty floral tablecloths – we’re talking cuts of repurposed fabric. A small raised bamboo platform makes for a space for a teenager to lay and relax next to the fan, while others stop for an iced coffee. Prices are honest, around the twenty-baht mark – less than what you’ll pay nowadays at some street stalls that don’t even offer seating. But this is Thailand, and a coffee shop can’t just be a coffee shop, so the one-woman joint also acts as an informal, order-what-you-like stir-fry restaurant. Families with young kids stop for a sit down and a bite to eat, while old ladies sit gossiping and reading magazines – the latter a rare sight in itself in Thailand.
To get here, from the Villa Market end of the Paradise Park shopping centre keep walking down Srinakarin Soi 55, over the canal bridge and past the Rahmatul-Islam Mosque, until you have the park entrance in sight and stalls have begun to appear on both sides of you. It’s about a twenty-minute walk; you could instead jump on a motorbike taxi from the top of the soi for 10 baht. The closest BTS station is Udomsuk, from where you’ll need to take a taxi or motorbike taxi to Srinakarin Soi 55. The market runs every day, but later and longer at the weekend – things kick off around 5am and are winding down by 9am on weekdays, and by around 11am on Saturdays and Sundays.
Talat Suan Luang, Srinakarin Road Soi 55 (BTS Udomsuk)
Weekdays, 5am-9am; weekends, 5am-11am