Every travel story should have an amusing anecdote of mishap, misunderstanding and misadventure in the pursuit of enlightenment. So it was with my visit to Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok’s spellbinding flower market. I won’t go into detail but, badly pronounced, ‘Pak Khlong’ sounds a lot like ‘Patpong’, Bangkok’s notorious red light district.
I can only assume my attempts to mime a bunch of flowers didn’t improve the situation. It was a close escape, but the taxi driver eventually found the right ‘market’.
In a city renowned for its wonderful markets, Pak Khlong Talat is alive with sound, movement and colour in a way few others can match. Vast numbers of colourful blooms make this an irresistible place for photographers and anyone who wants to watch a fundamental part of Thai life unfold before their eyes.
Flowers are hugely popular in Thailand, they’re used extensively in religious devotions at Buddhist temples and Bangkok has, literally, thousands of temples to create a demand that needs supplying. Symbols of good luck, flowers aren’t just reserved for temples, you see them pretty much everywhere you go.
The market sprawls across a vast area, both indoors and out. As you walk around, dodging carts that whizz past loaded with flowers, stall after stall is piled high with colourful bouquets. Orchids, carnations, roses, lilies, jasmine, lotus buds and brilliant, bright orange marigold flowers. The marigolds are sewn together into garlands known as phuang malai, which adorn everything from tuk-tuks to shops to statues of the Buddha.
The trick to visiting Pak Khlong Talat is to come late, and by late I mean after midnight, preferably after 2am. During the day the market sells fruit and vegetables, only transforming into the extraordinary flower market at night. Flowers arrive on trucks from early evening onwards, but the number of buyers and sellers builds throughout the night and into the morning. Freshness is important, so the later you buy the better.
The whole market is buzzing with life, but thanks to the inhospitable time it is largely free of tourist groups that make visiting other places in Bangkok a challenge. People sew garlands and make flower baskets at stalls; porters push heavily laden carts loaded with boxes; others rush around with blocks of ice to keep the flowers fresh; and wherever you look there are vibrant colours.
It is brilliant. I loved visiting so much that I decided to to go back a second time. Despite the time of day, I’m glad I did.