Bangkok and the charm of its markets

  Marica&Sonia   |     02/03/2018

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We reach the Thai capital by train from nearby Ayutthaya ( From the station, we take a tuk-tuk to reach our Khaosan Lovers hostel which is in an optimal position to visit the city and its magnificent temples ( In the evening, in addition, the nearby Khaosan market is perfect for savouring local food of all kinds, especially the delicious Pad Thai at very modest prices (from 40 to 60 THB). But there is also a wide choice of restaurants and clubs that satisfy Western tastes, not to mention the lively nightlife that animates Khaosan Road in the late evening!

Lying on the streets of the old city and beyond, in fact, we notice that there are markets almost everywhere, in any district of the capital. It is therefore certainly a living city, which hates going to sleep.
As in any self-respecting Asian city, you cannot miss the neighbourhood of Chinatown where we come across by chance while walking in the city. It is a district called Sampeng by locals, located south-east of the old city. Historically, in the area of the current Bangkok, in fact, there was already a small Chinese community before the city was founded. When King Rama I took possession of Rattanakosin in 1782, it was forced to move a little further east, but still close to the Chao Phraya River, an important trade route. When King Rama IV built the Chaoren Krung in 1863, the newly paved road linking the Royal Palace to Sampeng, the business affairs of the Chinese community in this area grew considerably. However, with the increase in wealth, the problems also came: the area became the scene of opium and prostitution. The latter was indicated by green lanterns placed in front of the houses. Sampeng, therefore, became famous as the centre of any illegal activity in Bangkok. Around 1950, then prostitution went elsewhere and the consumption of opium was forbidden, so as to bring Sampeng to be a quiet area, known above all for the shops where to buy goods from China. Today this area is famous for the shops of Indian and Pakistani tailors.

Another typical feature of Bangkok is its numerous channels. In fact, during the monsoon season, heavy rains hit Thailand, causing rivers to swell. For centuries local sovereigns decided that it was useless to build roads and that the waterways were the best routes for internal communication. Various channels were therefore dug, perfect even in case of possible invasions. When King Rama I decided to establish the capital in Bangkok, he chose the area of Rattanakosin that was wet from the Chao Phraya, but on the other side, he dug the Klong Lawd, a channel that started from the river and ended it, thus making Rattanakosin an island. Later, channels were built on which a large part of local life took place. Around 1950 Bangkok began to become a more modern city, so many channels were replaced by roads to meet new needs. Bangkok, therefore, lost the title of "Venice of the East", bestowed on it especially for the numerous floating markets that populated it.

Nowadays it is still difficult to find these characteristic markets around the city. One of the most visited is the floating market of Damnoen Saduak for which hundreds of tours are organized every day, at really low prices (about 10 euros). It has, therefore, become more a showcase market set up for tourists who come here to take a characteristic photo. So we decide to avoid going there and instead choose to go there, by local buses, at the floating market of Amphawa located about 90 km southwest of Bangkok. We take a bus to the south bus station. From here we take a minivan to Mae Kong, famous for the red train passing in the middle of the local market where traders are forced to move the goods several times a day. It is nowadays one of the many crowded tourist attractions.
From here we then resume a minivan to Amphawa, after about an hour of waiting since, as usual here in Thailand, there are no fixed timetables and nobody knows anything. So we reach Amphawa and take a ride on this market on the canal. Despite the excellent reviews read on the web, here too we find a showcase market for tourists, mostly Chinese. Also, being Friday, there are not many boat vendors on the canal that instead seems to fill up during the weekend (information found only once on site, unfortunately). The floating markets, therefore, remain an icon of this country, both for the importance of the channels and for the skill of the traders in skilfully handling these small boats crammed with goods up to the impossibility, but they lost much of the charm of the past.

Finally, we cannot miss one of the biggest markets not only in Southeast Asia but apparently in the world: the Chatuchak market. It really offers any kind of souvenirs, food and clothing. From here we take one of the public buses going to the airport because it is time to say goodbye to this wonderful nation to venture into Vietnam!

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