It was an unlikely hour for shopping. I felt strange walking through a messy path stacked with beautiful flowers. I should have been in bed by now. But life had just begun in Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok's largest cut-fresh flower market.
A wholesale as well as retail outlet, it's been there as along as I remember, and through the years it hasn't changed: it continues to be wet and messy but always full of vitality.
Walking from Chak Phet Road to the foot of Memorial Bridge and past Suankularb Wittayalai School and Pho Chang Technical College, one can see a myriad of freshly cut flowers from all over Thailand.
The market occupies both sides of the pedestrain walk between which runs a road choked with traffic - buses, motorcycles and push carts - all day and night, and the stalls stretch well into the roadside alleys. It has always been that way.
Historical records show the site used to be a floating market over two centuries ago. King Rama I built canals to facilitate boat travel with the Chao Phraya River serving as the artery.
The canal that ran near Wat Burana Siri Amatyaram was originally called Khlong Talat. It became a point of sale for fresh fish brought from Tha Chin River in Samut Sakhon. The market in the reign of King Rama V was called Taphan Pla. The fish market subsequently gave way to produce from farms and that has been the norm for a long time now.
As Pak Khlong Talat is a market selling fresh commodities that are perishable, vendors must unload what ever they are holding as quickly as possible or risk a loss, and therefore they have to work long hours. To them, it doesn't matter who is the buyer - it can be a wholesaler, retailer or the end user.
"We're here round the clock," noted a girl selling cut flowers.
I spotted vendors dining at a food stall and a woman sipping energy drink to set herself up for the long night ahead. She was determined to look as fresh as the flowers she would be selling, I thought.
"Flowers sell well on the eve of holy days in the Buddhist calendar," said one vendor. "And the customers come in hordes.
The market was a melee of sweat-dripping workers, vendors, florists and traders. One side of the strip stocked materials for garland makers: jasmine, marigold, violet baan mai roo roay (gomphrena) and dok rak (crown flower). Elegantly strung flowers adorned the stalls attracting buyers looking for ready-made garlands. They also make garlands to order and you can pick your choice of flowers.
On the other side of the road were florists. Fresh flowers, such as fragrant white lilies, red roses, gerbera of various colours, orchids and the exotic lisianthus, statice, calla lilies and others blooms are available in abundant quantity.
A bunch of lily sells between 70-300 baht; chrysanthemum 80 baht and cutter 40 baht. At night, the front gate of Suankularb school turns into a bed of orchids, mostly lilac of dendrobium variety that cover the pedestrian walk, and you start believing Thailand is really abundant in flowers.
Around 7pm orchids freshly cut from gardens arrive. Young men unload the cargo from pick-up trucks to the sidewalk where they are arranged in carts and distributed to shops.
Florists stock their shops with decorative leaves in spectacular shapes and colours. Some of them you might have seen in your own backyard but never thought they could be of any value. The long, wavy leaves of bird nest fern and caladium that are bronze in colour can also be seen.
One shop packed cut and potted flowers. The lilies were from a nursery in Chiang Mai, while potted azaleas came all the way from Kunming in southern China.
In addition, there is a galore of fresh vegetables and seasonal fruits that make for tempting take-home buys, like the scarlet-skinned lychee from Maeklong and green and delicious mango of the Khieo Sawoei variety. A kilogramme of capsicum sold for 55 baht, incredibly cheap compared to what you pay for it in shopping malls and superstores.
I kept buying and buying until I could carry no more. My hands full, I decided to call it a day. It was only then that I realised that in all the excitement I had forgotten to buy sorn kiln that most Thai people don't usually use to decorate homes because it is associated more with funerals, but nonetheless it has sweet fragrance. Its botanical name is Polyanthus tuberosa.
Never mind! I will save it for my next visit.
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