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March 11, 2018, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok’s under-the-radar markets

After a ban on street food in Bangkok last year, many street hawkers have disappeared. But there is hope. Here are five local markets that still serve tasty and authentic street food

Clara Lock

Bangkok's street food ban, announced last year, has taken hold in many well-loved food alleys, especially in the city centre.

I visit Sukhumvit 38 anticipating the smoky-sweet pad thai I ate on the street five years ago, but can no longer find it. The pushcart vendors there have been relocated to a permanent indoor food court where prices are high and standards are middling.

Thousands of other vendors have been trundled off to dedicated areas, in a drive by the Tourism Authority of Thailand to reduce congestion on the streets and for hygiene purposes.

The authorities seem more focused on banning food stalls in the touristy areas, such as Siam Square, Pratunam and Sukhumvit.

For tasty and authentic street food, I venture further afield to five markets that cater to locals and have not yet found their way onto the tourist radar.

• Clara Lock is a freelance writer.

1 JJ GREEN: THE ALTERNATIVE CHATUCHAK

To escape the heat and crowds of Chatuchak market, check out its nocturnal cousin, JJ Green. It is located in a park near the famous weekend market, frequented by a painfully hip pixie-haircut and chest-tattoo sort of crowd.

They come for the vintage clothes and second-hand shoes sold out of car boots and displayed on the floor. Apart from clothes and accessories, JJ Green sells a lush array of greenery such as succulents, air plants and dried floral arrangements.

Even the food is on trend, with stalls selling stringy cheese toasties, Korean-inspired shaved ice desserts, and seafood in a bag, complete with gloves and bibs for diners.

It is a bright night when I visit, illuminated by the full moon of Loy Krathong. The band is playing and locals are climbing into the neon-lit carriages of a ferris wheel, waving when they get to the top. It is a convivial, bohemian atmosphere, perfect for a Friday night. 

Getting there: Take the BTS to Mo Chit station. Walk through Chatuchak Park and towards the lights of JJ Green. 

Also visit: Stop by the well-manicured Chatuchak Park on your way back from the market and join locals chilling out around the lake.

2 KHLONG LAT MAYOM FLOATING MARKET: LESS TOURISTY 

Thailand's ubiquitous boat noodles got their name from the boats where they were sold, served in small portions to prevent them from spilling on bumpy canal waters.

 

Most vendors have moved to dry land - except at Bangkok's few remaining floating markets. At Khlong Lat Mayom, diners half-sit, half-squat at low wooden tables, tucking into pork broth and curry noodles.

The market sells staples such as grilled meat skewers and Thai milk tea, but there are also unique dishes that I have not previously encountered. A pandan-coconut pudding is sticky and gently sweet, and slabs of dried salted fish smell deliciously pungent.

Khlong Lat Mayom is less touristy than the more well-known Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa floating markets, but burgeoning English signs and Western food offerings mean it is only a matter of time before the tour buses arrive. Until then, this weekend market is only a half-day trip from Bangkok but feels like a world away. 

Getting there: A 40-minute Grab ride from the Sukhumvit area costs about 350 baht (S$14.50), including tolls. 

Also visit: Hop on a boat ride through the surrounding waterways, which passes homes and shops on the way to an orchid farm, a temple and a smaller floating market. The ride costs 100 baht a person and takes about 11/2 hours.

3 WANG LANG MARKET: DOWN THE CHAO PHRAYA RIVER 

A boat ride down the Chao Phraya River is a quintessential Bangkok experience. A variety of buildings line its banks, from luxury hotels to wooden stilt houses.

The ride is even better when there is good food waiting at the end.

Just off the pier at Wang Lang market, umbrellas and charcoal fires line the streets. I follow my nose down a twisty warren of stalls, stopping for a skewer of glutinous-rice-stuffed sausages and a much better plate of pad thai in a leafy, tree-lined cul-de-sac.

There are no English menus, but the chirpy women manning the stall ask if I want chicken or pork, then gesture at an empty table in the makeshift food court.

The crowd grows while I am eating, mostly high school students in uniform. They're here for brewed coffee and trendy takes on Thai classics such as tea egg tarts and mango sticky rice crepes, their chatter lilting in the late morning sun.

Getting there: Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station, then hop on a river boat to Wang Lang Pier. The ride takes 20 to 35 minutes depending on the time of the day - late afternoon and early evening are usually busiest.

 

Also visit: Wang Lang market is a 10-minute walk from the Siriraj Medical Museum, with educational but highly graphic displays on pathology, forensic investigations and birth abnormalities. Along the Chao Phraya River, temples such as Wat Pho and Wat Arun are just a couple of stops away.

4 VICTORY MONUMENT AND BOAT NOODLE ALLEY: LOCAL FLAVOURS 

The Victory Monument roundabout is only a few BTS stops away from Sukhumvit's mega-malls, but it is a workaday neighbourhood that feels completely different from downtown Bangkok. Victory Monument is a transport hub, with buses connecting Bangkok to other parts of Thailand and street vendors aplenty to cater to the bustling local crowd at all times of the day.

The nearby Boat Noodle alley is great for a snack, and even better for a meal. A row of boat noodle shops line a narrow canal, where diners choose one of six types of noodles for their pork and beef broth. I sample a few and find the springy Thai glass noodles tastiest.

Each bowl, at 12 baht (S$0.50) contains about three mouthfuls. Locals order four to six bowls each, together with sinful but tasty sides such as pork crackling topped with fried garlic bits. 

Getting there: Take the BTS to Victory Monument station. From there, Boat Noodle alley is a seven-minute walk away. 

 

Also visit: If you are still peckish after the boat noodles, take a stroll down the nearby Rang Nam alley, where street vendors feed the lunchtime crowd. Alternatively, stop at Kuang Seafood at the end of the alley for a reasonably priced seafood lunch.

5 HUA MUM NIGHT MARKET: WHERE LOCALS SHOP

Hua Mum night market glitters from afar, an expanse of fairy-lit stalls that are bustling when I arrive close to 9pm. The stalls are varied and sometimes eclectic, offering everything from manicures to car accessories. There is even a shop selling sunglasses for pets, complete with a small white dog modelling a pair.

Save space for food. My partner and I share a grilled catfish and a serving of grilled pork collar, both of which hit the spot. The pork is lean yet tender and the lemongrass-stuffed catfish is fresh and clean-tasting, with a zesty fragrance from the herbs.

The market is a great place to people-watch. At the next table, a petite blonde girl props her phone on a tissue box and live-streams her dinner, leaning in to chat with followers as she devours a salt-baked tilapia and papaya salad.

At one point, she picks up her phone and pans it around the market, showing off the bars set in shipping containers and the live bands crooning in Thai. By the time she sets it down, "likes" and "hearts" have flooded the screen.

Getting there: Hua Mum market is not located near a BTS station, so wait till the tail-end of peak hour (about 8 to 8.30pm) before taking a taxi or Grab car. Let your driver know that you would like to travel via highways or toll roads - the extra 120 baht (S$5) is well worth the time you save.

 

Also visit: Men tagging along while their partners shop can get spiffed up by one of Hua Mum's numerous barbers. Look out for old shipping containers lit by the classic striped barber's pole.

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