My second visit to Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok’s largest wholesale flower market, started much the same way my first visit began, a bizarre encounter with Bangkok’s sex industry. This time though it was well after midnight and I stupidly decided that, rather than try to explain to a cab driver where I wanted go, it would be easier to walk to the market. What would travel be without an occasional brush with the underbelly of the country you’re visiting?
At first it was fine, the streets were full of people and it felt pretty safe. Soon though I found myself on quiet, dark streets that were home to a low-grade version of Patpong’s more ‘glamorous’ sex trade. It was clear that there was a substantial drug trade as well, the relationship between drug addiction and selling sex was writ large. Conscious that I was lugging a camera with me I started to look for a cab…there were no cabs anywhere.
The mood lightened a bit when I reached a street that was home to a number of transgender sex workers. A few people shouted ‘hello’ and I soon found myself on a big road a short distance from the flower market. Mentally reviewing my walk, it was obvious that I’d not been in any danger and that I’d witnessed a part of Bangkok life that largely goes unnoticed by tourists. These were clearly some of the most marginalised people in the city.
Still, after that little adventure it was reassuring to find myself on the outskirts of Pak Khlong Talat. You know you’re in the right area when, suddenly, you find yourself amongst trucks unloading huge bundles of flowers for porters to deliver to the hundreds of flower stalls in the market. I took their lead and followed the flowers deeper into the market.
The market is close to a number of landmarks. It’s a short walk from the Memorial Bridge, close to both Wat Pho and Chinatown, although this didn’t stop me from struggling to find it, twice. Pak Khlong Talat means “market at the mouth of the canal”, and a market has existed here for several hundred years. It started life in the 18th Century as a floating market specialising in fish. The area probably smells a lot nicer now the fish have been displaced by flowers.
The sights, sounds and smells (pretty good smells by Bangkok standards) of the market are amazing. I can’t share the sounds and smells, but I hope the sights are inspiration enough to visit if you find yourself in Bangkok…just make sure to take a taxi.