Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where Flowers Come From - At Least In Bangkok

Colorful Orchids For Sale From A Retailer - Roughly $1.00 a large bunch
Our trip to Bangkok at the end of last month, gave us an opportunity to see and do some different things.  One of the things that we had not done before was to go to the Bangkok Flower Market, Pak Khlong Talat, - at night.
Marigolds For Sale At Pak Khlong Talat Entrance
I had seen some of the periphery of flower market on a visit to Bangkok's Chinatown back in 2006 however it was in the late morning when the flowers had been distributed to retailers and set up at the various stalls.  According to my research the best time to visit the flower market is at night after 10:00 P.M..  The market is open 24 hours a day but it is especially busy at night when new flowers arrive into the city and the wholesalers are occupied receiving shipments and distributing them to retailers.

Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market, Bangkok
Flowers play a very important role in the day to day life of Thai people.  In the larger towns and cities at major road intersections you will find vendors, or more correctly vendors will find you, selling floral garlands that are hung as offerings from rear view mirrors of vehicles in the hopes of having good luck for one's journey. The garlands are created by the vendors from jasmine blossoms, orchids, roses and marigolds and are beautiful.

Bunches of Flowers For Sale, Bangkok
Our home in Udonthani is very close to the intersection of Thai Highway #2 the road from the Lao border to eventually Bangkok.  Every morning the same group of vendors of "Phuang Malai" can be found at the intersection. I have lived here in Udonthani for three years now and have seen enough accidents and near misses that I support Duang in her belief of hanging a Phuang Malai from our truck rear view mirror - anything that possibly could protect us on these roads is worth doing!  It has gotten to the point where we know one of the vendors.  He gets a kick out of me speaking either Thai or Lao to him just as much as I enjoy his attempts to speak English.  Each Phuang Malai costs 20 Baht ($0.60 USD) and in addition to the bit of beauty that it adds to the truck, it quickly adds wonderful fragrances of jasmine or other flowers to the truck.  I can't complain about it - beauty, scent, and protection - all for $0.60 USD - besides it keeps my wife happy.  It has gotten to the point now that our favorite vendor will occasionally give us two Phuang Malai for the price of one - another example of the civility and kindness of the people here in Isaan.

Besides the garland vendors along the roadways, there are several stalls selling Phuang Malai as well as other floral arrangements along with loose flowers at Wats located in towns and cities.  Their products are sold to worshippers to use as offerings during merit making rituals.  In large metropolitan areas such as Bangkok, I suspect there are vendors at every Wat; making up a huge demand for flowers.

Just as in the West flowers and floral arrangements are used in Buddhist funeral rituals.  The floral arrangements used at funerals are made by florists in the towns and cities.  The floral stock comes from flower stalls at the local markets in the larger towns or nearby cities.

I have been amazed during my travels along the back roads of Isaan to see the Lao Loum people's affection for flowers.  In small poor rural farming villages, most of the homes will have flowers growing in front of the homes.  Typically the flowers are growing out of "pots" created out of painted recycled tires.  Yes this is Isaan and the people are very adept at making do with what is available to them.  Interestingly enough many of their adaptions enhance the quality of life to a level that is experienced by only people who are much more monetary richer in other cultures. Some of the homes even have orchids growing from containers attached to trees in their front yard.

The appreciation and utilization of flowers in everyday life creates a great demand for flowers throughout Thailand.  In Bangkok the Pak Khlong Talat is the largest floral market in the city.  Besides the flower market there is also a vegetable market at the "Market at the Mouth of the Canal".  We caught a glimpse at the vegetable market during our night visit but we were tired and focused on returning to our hotel rather then exploring further.  I guess this will be another reason to return to Bangkok someday - visit the vegetable market at night.

Flowers Wrapped in Moist Newspaper To Maintain Freshness

Colorful Flowers Available at Pak Khlong Talat
Flowers are delivered to Pak Khlong Talat from the nearby provinces of  Samut Sakon, Nakon Pathom, and Samut Songkran which are located southwest of Bangkok in the delta, and bottom lands of the Chao Phraya River.  Some flowers such as roses (50 long stem retail for less than $2.00 USD) are trucked in from northern areas around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.  In the late 1960's as part of Thailand's efforts to eradicate opium production by the Hill Tribes, the King of Thailand initiated programs to teach and encourage the people to cultivate flowers and vegetables instead.  We have seen huge fields of marigolds as well as other flowers during our visits to the area.  In February there is a huge flower festival in Chiang

Edge of the Market - Taxis being filled with flowers, hand trucks, carts

A Tuk Tuk Being Loaded Up With Flowers
Unlike our adventure to arrive at the Royal Barge National Museum, our taxi driver had no problem getting us to the flower market.  He stopped outside of the market area due to the streets being clogged with just about every kind of conveyance either delivering or shipping flowers.

Orchids At A Stall
Most of the flowers arrive at the market in pickup trucks of the local growers.  Like their neighbors, the Vietnamese for motorbikes, the Thais have made an art out of loading pickup trucks.  It is very impressive how much produce, flowers, firewood, eggs, pigs, or people that a Thai can transport in their pickup truck.  It adds a whole new meaning to the term "working truck" for someone who had lived in California for many years.  Some of flowers arrive by small boats on the Chao Phraya River direct from the farms down river near the Gulf of Thailand.

A Porter Prepares to Transport A Load of Flowers to a Local Shop

The trucks are parked along the streets in the market area and offloaded by men and some women using large woven bamboo baskets and either carts or hand trucks.  The market area is made up of a few narrow streets but mostly narrow alleys where it would not be possible to drive a pickup truck even when they were not encroached upon by stalls, food stands, pedestrians, and offloaded merchandise.  Part of the market is in old warehouses - open sided tin roofed structures carved up into small stall and booths as well as old Chinese traditional shop houses; shop at ground level with living quarters above with ornate exterior decoration.  The streets and alleys are lit from a combination of dim street lights, light spilling out of established shops, and strings of temporary lighting. It can be quite confusing and perhaps for some people intimidating but that is what makes it so interesting for other people.

Family Members Making "Phonem Baii Sii" at the Flower Market

The market was a beehive of activity, besides the movement of flowers, some people were busy making products out of the fresh flowers for sale in the morning.  As was typical for the market, the businesses making floral arrangements, garlands, and Pahn Sii Khwan were family run small businesses.  Often you could observe three generations working closely together for the family's benefit.

Porter Delivers Fresh Flowers to a Retailer
With this being Thailand, there was no worry as to anyone going hungry or thirsty at the market.  There were several shops that sold cold drinks either in the can, bottle, or in a plastic bag filled with ice.  Beer was also readily available.  The same shops also sold prepared snack foods.  There were several "sidewalk restaurants", a few plastic chairs, a couple of folding tables, a portable charcoal fire, a pot of soup, and a hose hooked up to a nearby spigot for washing dishes.  A man was grilling fish along with meat on a BBQ made from one-half of a steel barrel and doing a thriving business.  A few of the more established side walk restaurants even had a small television playing Thai shows along the lines of "Hee Haw" or "The Gong Show".  I watched several porters relaxing at one of the "restaurants" - drinking beer and watching TV while their hand trucks and baskets lay close by in the street.  They noticed me taking some pictures and started to pose.  I went over and told them that I liked taking pictures of people working but that they were not working.  We all had a good laugh.  That is how it was at the flower market - people relaxed, enjoying themselves and others while working to make their city a little more special. If you have to work, I guess that it is a good way to be.

A Porter Delivers Another Load of Flowers

A Female Porter With Two Handtrucks of Flowers and Lotus Leaves
Eventually Duang and I decided to return to our hotel.  We had no where near explored the entire flower market along Chak Phet Road and its side streets and alleys but we were tired.  We needed to get some sleep for the next day we had places to visit and things to do - once again.

Small Arrangements For Sale - CHEAP


  1. What I found amazing about this market was the fact it primarily operates at night. The flower market in Boston opens at 6:00 AM but by noon it's virtually deserted. Coupled with that, it appeared from your pics that it was all open air. The wafting fragrances of the co-mingling blossoms must have been heavenly.

  2. I suspect that the market in Bangkok operates at night because it is relatively cooler at night, traffic in Bangkok is better at night, flowers can be harvested out in the outlying provinces in the evening and arrive fresh and less heat stressed to the market, Chanf mai and Chang Rai growers are about 10 hours by road from Bnagkok. Some parts of the market are under open side roofed structures but most of the action is in the streets, alleys, and on the sidewalks. We will be back in the uSA soon (CT) so perhaps we will check out the Boston market.