An orchid this cheap, only in Bangkok

ASHWINI PHADNIS | Updated on October 21, 2011

A flower market that blossoms riotously every day after sundown.

Mind-boggling, awe-inspiring, breathtaking… clichéd as it may sound, you cannot help but gush at the colours, scents and sheer variety on display at Pak Khlong Talat, Bangkok's wholesale fresh flower market in.

As the flower market rarely features in city guides, many a visitor to Bangkok is likely to return without experiencing the joyful sight of hundreds of flowers crowding the small shops, or standing engulfed in feet-high piles of blossoms over a kilometre-long stretch of pavement. There are roses, forget-me-nots, orchids in at least half-a-dozen colours, lilies and even the common jasmine and marigolds — all vying for space and attention.

Located on Chak Phet Road, close to the Memorial Bridge, you have to approach the flower market through the meandering lanes and by-lanes of Chinatown. The drive through this part of Bangkok is in itself interesting as you can feast your eyes on the Chinese artefacts, curios, medicines and other knick-knacks on sale here, as well as the numerous fruit stalls and restaurants dotting these streets.

The best time to visit Pak Khlong Talat (which literally means ‘a market at the mouth of a canal') is after sundown, when you will find a maximum variety and volume of flowers.

Florists, hotel chains and flower traders from all over the country, and even many overseas buyers throng the market between sundown and 3 a.m., transporting the fresh flowers to distant locations. A bulk of the cut flowers sent to Europe are believed to be sourced from here.

Local flower-sellers buy jasmine and marigold in bulk and make garlands out of them to be sold at street corners or outside temples. Besides offerings to gods, the garlands are also used to decorate cars.

Prices at the flower market are not only cheap but also negotiable. You can buy a medium-sized bouquet of orchids for 5 baht after bargaining the price down from 20 baht, or even shop for an entire wedding arrangement at a throwaway price. For tourists, language can pose a problem as most of the wholesalers are Thai-speaking and entirely unfamiliar with English. Interestingly, they use a calculator rather effectively to carry out the bargaining process.

You will come across dozens of sellers busily packing the flowers in bundles of typically 50 roses, 20 orchids and 10 forget-me-nots. While some shops stock all varieties of flowers, other stick to one kind. So you will find rose sellers occupying about 20 ft of the road, followed by 40 ft of orchid sellers and yet another 20 ft of rose sellers.

A visit to the market in the wee hours can prove an equally rich experience. At this hour, boats and trucks arrive laden with flowers from the nearby provinces of Nakhin Pathom, Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram. Some also come from as far away as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

The flower market has a long and interesting history. During the reign of King Rama I in the late 18th and early 19th centuries the present location had a floating market. However, over the years the floating market was replaced by a fish market, which in turn gave way to a wholesale market for cloth, fruits and flowers during World War II. It was about 60 years ago, when markets opened up all across the city, that this market began specialising only in flowers. In the process, the city has carved a visually delightful corner for itself.

Published on October 20, 2011

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