There's a saying that if you really want to get to know a country, you should visit its local markets. In Thailand that's certainly true; you can soak up a whole lot of local flavour – and eat some too – just by walking around the local market (or ‘talad’ in Thai).
Thai fresh markets are cornucopias of colourful fruit and vegetables, prepared snacks & food, chunks of red or green curry, dried foods, unrecognizable merchandise, dodgy CDs, DVDs, and computer games and brightly hued T-shirts and jeans, hair accessories, handicrafts, not to mention secondhand shoes, name-brand copies… and all at bargain prices.
Fresh Market and Weekly Markets
Basically, there are two types of markets in Thailand. The first type is known as a talad sod (or fresh/wet market) which is a more permanent market. They always operate in the same place, at the same time and for seven days a week. The second type is talad nat ('appointment' or 'meeting' markets) which is similar to the weekend markets you'll find in many other countries where farmers bring their produce into town to sell. It is basically a community market. There are lots of them; almost every village, big or small, will have one. Local shoppers love them because the produce on sale is usually fresher than in supermarkets and cheaper too.
But then, like with most things in life, there is an exception. One of the most talked-about markets in Phuket is the weekend market called Talad Tai Rot on Chao Fa West Road near Central Festival Phuket. This is a typical Thai bazaar, featuring all sorts of items similar to those sold at the other two market types above.
In most markets, there's very little order to things. You may find barbecued chicken next to a secondhand shoe stall. Or, if you're lucky, you might find some sexy underwear for sale next to the seafood stand. Lobsters and lace – talk about exotic.
With Phuket being surrounded by fertile fishing grounds, the fresh seafood at most local markets makes for a fascinating sight. You can see huge groupers, big juicy tunas, red snappers, thousands of tiny silvery anchovies and shiny white squid all laying side by side on a bed of ice.
On top of the standard pork or chicken displays in the market, the most fun comes in seeing things you would never encounter on a hotel menu (think fried grasshoppers and some tasty silkworms).
Vegetables and Herbs
Among the vegetable stalls, you will find a bewildering selection of greens (and reds, yellows, purples and pretty much every other colour of vegetable). Thais don't just eat the fruit and leaves of plants; at a typical vegetable stand you'll find on sale everything from the roots to the stems, the seeds and even the flowers. It is a common sight to see mountains of garlic, aubergines – both long and short green runner beans and bright-orange carrots, potatoes, shiny red tomatoes and glistening salads.
Many of the greens that you'll see will be herbs, which add the flavours and aromas that Thai food is so justifiably celebrated for. Herbs can also confer medical benefits. Trouble sleeping? Eating ta-krai (lemon grass) can help. And there's one variety that will keep the mosquitoes away if you rub the juice on your skin. Blogged-up doze? Sa-ra-nae (Thai mint), is a big help. Embarrassed to wear dark clothes because of dandruff? The juice of ma-krood (kaffir lime) helps.
Cooked Food (or Thai Takeaways)
Thailand's markets are also a good opportunity to appreciate how rich in food the country is and many shoppers take home an entire cooked meal wrapped and bagged along with their fresh veggies and fruit at the end of their shopping foray.
There are usually quite a few cooked-food stands in one market. If you look closely you will find all kinds of curries to spicy soups and salads, stir-fried dishes and more. Perhaps the most convenient item to sample is the barbecued seafood, chicken or pork that goes so well with sticky rice.
Local sweets should not be missed either. There are varieties of sweet and desserts to choose from those sweet stalls; bua loy (rice balls in coconut milk), khao niao mamuang (ripe mango with coconut milk on steamed sticky rice), buad faktong (pumpkin in coconut milk) and kha-nom mo gang (egg custard pudding), to name just a few.
Where to Find Markets?
Many market traders move from site to site around the island selling their merchandise at talad Nats. In reality there are dozens of these markets taking place daily in Phuket come rain or shine, and you won't have any trouble finding one. If you are driving past one, slow right down as the traffic around the markets is at best unpredictable and at worst impassable. Park up the road and walk back a little to catch a glimpse of the 'real' Thailand and enjoy your bargain lesson in Thai culture!
Staff at your hotel should be able to tell you where and when the nearest one is open. AlterNatively, see the list below for the locations of some of the markets, and the days on which they operate.
- Baanzan Fresh Market Located right behind Jungceylon Shopping Mall - Daily 09:00 - 19:00
- Nanai Road Fresh Market Not far from Baanzan Market - Daily 08:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat near the Chalong Circle Heading south toward Rawai Beach direction, the market is just about 200 m from the circle, on the right-hand side of the road - Sunday 06:00 - 12:00
- Talad sod opposite Villa Mall, Chalong - Daily 06:00 - 12:00
- Talad Nat near shell museum on Viset Road, date 14:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat in Soi Saliga on Viset road - Wed, Sun 14:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat opposite Friendship Beach On Viset Road heading to Rawai Beach - Tue, Fri 15:00 - 19:00
- Talad Nat opposite Vijitt Resort & Spa On Viset Road - Wed, Sun 15:00 - 19:00
Karon & Kata Beach
- Talad Nat on Patak Road - Mon, Thu 12:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat at Wat Karon - date, date 14:00 - 20:00
- Kamala Talad Nat On the back road, on the way to Patong Beach - Mon, Wed, Sat 14:00 - 20:00
- Kamala Friday Market A bigger market than the one above, located at the coconut plantation opposite Phuket FantaSea - Every Friday 14:00 - 19:30
Bangtao Beach & Cherng Talay Area
- Talad Nat opposite the Cherng Talay Police Station - Wed and Sun, 13:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat next to Tesco Lotus Express - Mon and Thu, 13:00 - 20:00
Nai Yang Beach & Phuket Airport Area
- Talad Nat at Wat Nai Yang Going toward the airport using the old road (road no # 4031), you will pass by the Nai Yang Temple. The market operates inside the temple - Sat, Tue from 14:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat opposite Shell Gas Station 200 metres past the Blue Canyon Golf Club on Thepkasattri Road (Airport Road) - Every Sunday 14:00 - 20:00
- Muang Tong Fresh Market Coming from Cape Panwa on Sakdidet Road, at the first traffic lights (look for a 7-Eleven shop at the corner), turn left and the market is about 200 - 300 metres from the turn opposite a Tesco Lotus Express Shop. - Daily from 07:00 - 22:00
- Fresh market at the Heroine’s monument The market is located in a simple building with a tin roof on the right-hand side of the monument if you are facing north - Daily 05:00 - 10:00
- Talad Nat at Wat Pra Nang Sang Located inside the well known Pra Nang Sang Temple, before Thalang main traffic lights - Tue, Fri 14:00 - 20:00
- Baan Kian fresh market Turn left at the Thalang main traffic lights. The market is a few metres after the turn - Daily 07:00 - 17:00
- Talad Nat at Suan Pa Bang Kanun Park Thepkasattri Road opposite Mung Thalang School and not far from Mea Juh Phuket Souvenir Shop - Wed, Fri 14:00 - 20:00
- Pa Klock Talad Nat From Heroine’s Monument, turn east toward Pa Klock, the market is about seven kilometres from the monument and located just a few metres past the Old Age Home and the Phuket Special School. Best to look for the signs - you can’t miss it - Tue, Thu, Sun 14:00 - 20:00
- Ranong Road Main Market: Phuket Town's main market on Ranong Road has been operating since time immemorial. Although the market itself has recently been completely rebuilt this is the same site that pirates, traders and adventurers would frequent for their business dealings. Many vendors open up shop as early as four in the morning and close around midday.
- Talad Tai Rot The biggest market in Phuket, with over 1,000 stalls. On Chaofa West Road from Central Shopping Mall, heading south toward Chalong Bay direction; turn left at the first traffic light - Sat, Sun 16:30 - 20:30
- Talad Nat at Soi Samkong If coming from Tesco Lotus on Bypass Road, keep going east and go straight through the Samkong traffic lights the second set of traffic lights. The market is a few hundred metres from the lights - Tue, Thu, Sat, Sun 14:00 - 20:00
- Talad Nat at Soi Panieng If coming from Tesco Lotus on Bypass Road, heading east and turn left at the first traffic light and continue for about 500 metres, the market is on the right-hand side in a very busy community - 14:00 - 20:00
- Kwang Road Talad Nat The market is located south of Phuket Town, on Chao Fa East Road opposite Siam Commercial Bank and not far from Phuket Villa California Housing Estate, the market is located just before the Kwang Road traffic lights - Mon, Wed, Sat from 14:00 - 20:00
- Baan Na Kok Talad Nat Located next to the TOT office, by the side of Land & House Housing Estate on Chao Fa West Road before reaching Wat Chalong - 14:00 - 20:00
A Note on Money
It's wise to carry small change and some low denomination banknotes when you go to a talad nat. After all, the vendors are not generally related to the Rothschilds or the Vanderbilts, and they won't be carrying lots of cash to make change.
So don't expect to be very popular if you want to buy a 20-baht bunch of bananas and then ask for change for a 1,000-baht note.
And Another Note on Feet
When you're going to the market, put away your Jimmy Choo sandals and wear solid shoes that protect your feet. In some markets, especially after rain, you might even want to wear rubber boots - the ground may be wet and muddy.
If you insist on wearing flip-flops, do be careful where you step. Bashing your toes against a piece of wood or concrete is likely to take all the fun out of shopping.
Take care, and enjoy your bargain lesson in Thai culture!