Taling Chan Floating Market
As I bite into the pastry, the warm custard filling oozes over my hand. “Real Macau egg tarts,” the sign reads. Well, this is better than anything I ever had in Macau. Licking my fingers, I wonder how I could get my hands on the recipe. But sensory onslaught distracts me – the smell of barbecued fish, the exotic scent of orchids, an old Thai man playing a traditional string instrument. I turn just in time to jump out of the way of a motorcycle. A blast of exhaust fumes hits me as the driver plows through the crowd. Clearly, this guy is even hungrier than I am!
Taling Chan Floating Market, northwest of Bangkok, is small, not especially traditional, and usually appears as an afterthought in most guidebooks (if it appears at all). But as hordes of tourists flock to the larger commercial floating markets, travelers in the know realize that Taling Chan is an exceptional opportunity for excellent, inexpensive Thai food in the company of friendly and inviting Bangkok locals.
Finally catching sight of the floating restaurants at the end of the busy street, I work my way through the fruit and orchid stalls over a small bridge on to a serious of connected platforms floating on a khlong, one of the many mud-colored canals crisscrossing Bangkok. I glance down to witness a truly bizarre sight – what must be a million catfish writhing and wrestling in the water fighting over scraps of food being dropped into the water by giggling Thais. It’s like a mad storm of piranhas devouring a cow! I make a note NOT to fall into the water.
Recovering from my fish angst, I catch my first glimpse of the culinary chaos. The platforms are surrounded by boats doubling as floating kitchens with vendors in traditional straw hats preparing a thousand tasty treats. Thai families are sitting around knee-high tables covered with piles of food. I hear spitting, smacking, tearing, cracking, and lots of laughing. It’s a food lover’s dream.
I head straight for a boat where a young woman is preparing my favorite dish, som tam, green papaya salad. While I’m waiting my turn, I see Tony on the other side negotiating for seafood. Off to my left, I notice a woman selling beautiful multicolored sweets which look like small pieces of glazed ceramic art. Minutes later, we plop down around a squat table, the platform rocking gently as a long wooden speedboat zooms by behind us on the khlong.
Sitting in a sea of steaming bodies, we admire the food in front of us: wild river prawns, fried spring rolls, chicken saute, barbecued river fish, green papaya salad, sticky rice with mango, and, of course, a plate of the delicious glazed sweets. The table is covered with dishes and associated condiments, including a spicy hot fish sauce, peanut saute, a piquant green dip and a thick mixture of honey and orange rind. Wow! This is a lot of food and, for under $10, an absolute bargain.
But food isn’t the only attraction at Taling Chan. If you survive the feast, you can take a two-hour tour of the surrounding khlongs for just a hundred Baht per person. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch a glimpse of Bangkok’s vanishing backwater culture as well as a couple of temples and an enormous orchid farm. Can you believe the Thais on our tour were eating the whole time? These people must have multiple stomachs!
How to Get to Taling Chan
To get to Taling Chan market, take the air-conditioned bus 79 either from Banglamphu or from downtown Bangkok from Central World Plaza.