The history of Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat flower market
Bangkok’s famous flower market Pak Khlong Talat has a vibrant identity – here’s what you need to know about its history, as well as its new owner’s vision for the market’s future.
Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat flower market is high up on the list of popular attractions for visitors to Thailand’s capital. Located alongside the Chaophraya river, and on the fringe of Bangkok’s Chinatown and old-town districts, this is the world’s fourth largest flower market, and one of the biggest markets globally for marigolds and orchids.
More than just a flower market
This powerhouse of a market receives floral deliveries around the clock from all parts of Thailand, and is at its busiest overnight when the bulk of these consignments arrive – yet the market is open 24/7, and makes a worthwhile place to visit whether to stock up on fresh bouquets or simply grab some Instagrammable snaps of the market’s photogenic vendors, stalls, porters, produce, and authentic, non-stop trading action.
But as well as attracting both trade florists and consumers looking to prettify their homes, Pak Khlong Talat is also one of Bangkok’s premier wholesale markets for fruit, vegetables, and plenty more gods besides. It might be lesser known in fresh market terms than the likes of world-famous Khlong Toei market or the Talat Thai market in Bangkok’s out-of-town Rangsit area, but Pak Khlong Talat is nevertheless a market with an impressive array of some of the Thai capital’s freshest produce.
Pak Khlong Talat’s regal history
Pak Khlong Talat’s owner-operator Chaleo Preekran proudly told us about the market’s royal connections, with markets having existed on the present-day Pak Khlong Talat site since as far back as the early days of the Rattanakosin period, when it is originally said to have been a flea market.
It was during the reign of King Rama IV that the trading activity on the site was transformed to that of a fish market, and the location that is now Pak Khlong Talat continued to trade in fish and seafood until as recently as six decades ago. When the fish market was relocated to the area close to Bangkok’s central Hualamphong train station (it has since moved again, to the Sathorn area), flower, fruit and vegetable vendors moved in to take over the fish vendors’ space, and Pak Khlong Talat became the flower market it is known as today.
Pak Khlong Talat: three markets in one
Although widely regarded as one wholesale flower market, Pak Khlong Talat is in fact comprised of three main, and technically separate, markets: Yodpiman Flower Market, Pak Khlong Talat market itself, and ICP Flower Market (known in Thai as Talat Songserm Kasettakorn Thai). In 2010, Khun Chaleo purchased Yodpiman Flower Market, and at the same time also took over the management of the government-owned Pak Khlong Talat flower market. While this was Khun Chaleo’s first time managing a market, he was no stranger to complex, large-scale trading operations, having previously held responsibility for running Bangkok’s wildly busy Mochit northern and northeastern bus terminal.
Yodpiman Flower Market has a rich and vibrant history. The market’s original owner was Princess Suthisiri Sopha, one of King Rama IV’s granddaughters. In fact, the name Yodpiman is itself derived from the name of one of Princess Suthisiri’s relatives’ winning racehorse. Her daughter Princess Sunida Kitiyakorn, to whom the market was passed, now spends most of her time in the UK, and so decided to sell the market. Of the many offers she received, it was Khun Chaleo’s vision – to maintain the market’s heritage and vendors, and combine it with managing the state-owned Pak Khlong Talat flower market.
The vision for Pak Khlong Talat’s future
It is the market’s long history that Khun Chaleo says most attracted him to it. “As it is a flower market,” he told us, “you can see its beauty right before you, it smells incredibly good, and it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Khun Chaleo responded to a call from the Conservation and Development of Rattanakosin Committee for proposals to manage and develop the state-run Pak Khlong Talat flower market site. While many people had expressed interest in doing so, most had plans to turn the market into a shopping centre, rather than maintain the market as it had been for so long.
The vision put forward by Chaleo and his team, in seeking a contract to run Pak Khlong Talat, comprised several different elements – but first and foremost was his commitment to maintain the heritage and trading activity that the area has been known for more than a century.
Pak Khlong Talat as Asia’s premier flower-trading hub
In addition, Chaleo expressed a determination to grow Pak Khlong Talat into an even more major hub for flowers, including his ambitious and impressive vision to see all flowers traded been Asia and Europe passing through the space. The decision to connect the two riverside markets – joining Pak Khlong Talat itself with Yodpiman Flower Market – formed part of this vision, enabling easier management and quicker and more effective growth.
Finally, Pak Khlong Talat’s unique location by the Chaophraya river – and on the edge of Bangkok’s historic Rattanakosin Island area, famed for its numerous glittery temples and other attractions – makes it perfect for tourism.
An MRT subway station is set to open nearby in late 2018, meaning that the area has the potential to become a major transit hub for visitors connecting between the river, the MRT with its links to other parts of Bangkok, and the historic old-town district. The development of Yodpiman River Walk – a sympathetic colonial-style conversion of this former collection of riverside warehouses, taking its name from Yodpiman Flower Market and aimed at maintaining the local heritage – was also part of the plan for increasing the appeal of the area to tourists.
The Market Experience at Pak Khlong Talat flower market – cooking classes, tours, and more
The Market Experience is based right within Pak Khlong Talat flower market itself, on the second floor, from where we run a range of cooking classes exploring some of Thai cuisine’s most famous foods, as well as lesser-known dishes incorporating floral twists and other produce found within the market, plus workshops in floral art and more. In addition, our team of enthusiastic expert guides offer tours of the market, enabling you to get more of an understanding of its history and identity than most tourists – passing through and getting little more than a brief photo – are able to benefit from. Click here to book a cooking class or tour with us at The Market Experience.
How to get to Pak Khlong Talat flower market
Pak Khlong Talat flower market is located on Chakphet Road, right beside the Chaophraya river and a stone’s throw from the Chinatown (Yaowarat) district and the old-town Rattanakosin Island areas of Phra Nakhon and Banglamphu. The easiest way to reach Pak Khlong Talat, which is open 24/7 every day, is to take the Chaophraya Express river boat to Yodpiman or Rajinee piers – alight and pass through the Yodpiman River Walk open-air community mall that fronts the water, and you’ll find yourself face to face with the entrance to Bangkok’s famous flower market.
All photos by Chris Wotton.