One fine morning earlier this month, I found myself on the banks of the Pasak River. A little north of Bangkok in Thailand at Sao Hai District in Saraburi province. We were here to explore the Sunday floating market. Given the images of the more popular floating market, we expected the boats on the river to sell all the colorful fruits and vegetables of Thailand. We reached and found a market on the riverside. I was a bit disappointed and thought of all those missed photo opportunities. But this was just for a moment before I started exploring the Ton Tan market.
Bann Ton Tan Riverside Market, Thailand
Also known as Ton-Tann Market (Khon Kaen). There were no other tourists at this Sunday market except our small group of travel bloggers. We all started walking at our own pace, stopping where we wanted, trying to make a conversation where possible, and trying to understand the local way of life. Asian markets of any kind are always colorful and hence enchanting. The market at Sao Hai is primarily dominated by food. It is like one big Sunday party place where families and groups of friends come to eat by the riverside.
I was amazed by the variety of fresh food being served at this market including a whole lot of fresh fruits of all kinds. I ended up discovering quite a few new fruits and new ways to consume the old ones.
Ton Tan Market – Colorful Sweets, Fruits & Garments
A lot of fried/baked/roasted food was being prepared right in front of us. I noticed the women were running most of these shops. As if they decided to cook for a larger audience today instead of just cooking for their families. They chatted with each other as they cooked; and chatted with the customers as they transacted and smiled at us when language was a barrier. They were all very graceful with me. And made me taste everything that I potentially could. When I started walking around the market I was not too sure if I would find any vegetarian stuff to eat. But by the end of my walk, I was full by just tasting the options available.
My verdict is that Thai people like to eat a lot of sweets, You can find sugar, or rather palm sugar in all their snacks but they also eat a lot of fresh fruits. There were lots of salads – almost in a Do It Yourself fashion. You could choose what you want to eat with the dip of your choice. Sweets were as colorful as they could get. At one place I saw sticky rice in 5-6 different bright colors stuffed in the raw jackfruit pieces. At another place, I saw boiled pumpkins stuffed with sweets inside. There were sweets shaped like pink flowers that looked too good to put in your mouth and spoil.
Video – Glimpse of Bann Ton Tan Market
Take a look at this short video clip of the market.
The presentation of the food became my point of exploration after I walked a few steps. There were pumpkins filled with a savory, there were cones of sweets. There were lovely drinks being served out of clay pots. Fruits, fruit juices, and a combination of the two created a range of colors in transparent plastic glasses. Boiled vegetables, especially the parts of Bamboo and Banana plants seem to be quite popular. At one place I saw the eggs that looked like a fake imitation of the real eggs but I was told these are real eggs that have been hardened using salt to preserve them for a longer duration. Sugarcane could be seen everywhere and it seems like the favorite offering for the deities.
The bamboo steaming technique was used for cooking many dishes. Sweet corn and sweet potato were available as roasted or boiled or as a part of an ingredient in a bigger dish. Lots of grains were being roasted on a Tawa to make a Chikki-like preparation. Imagine having a Chikki custom-made for yourself right in front of your eyes.
Families relishing food
The cherry on the cake at Bann Ton Tan market was the small sheds by the river that could be reached through fragile bamboo bridges. This is the place where families were sitting around with all the food they bought in the market – kept in a small cane round basket like the table and enjoying their Sunday. One such shelter had maybe 20-odd places for the people to sit and eat. You must take your shoes off before you step into these places. Shaded from the harsh sun, with the Pasak River flowing quietly by the side, this was the perfect way to spend Sunday with family. Boats were parked at the banks of the river.
I tried conversing with a few people, they all had warm welcome smiles on their faces and that was the language that would work between us. Little children posed for the camera, the younger ones wanted to connect and the old ones wondered what we were doing in their idyllic village.
In another bamboo shelter, a makeshift massage parlor was operating. Mats were arranged on the floor and some people were enjoying their Sunday with a relaxing massage. At a central point, there was a wall with lots of colorful flowers and everyone was busy taking selfies here. I could not read what was written there but in my mind, this was the ‘Selfie Point’ of the Market. I also clicked a selfie and proceeded to explore some garment shops that were selling garments made of coarse hand-woven cotton. Toyshops with simple toys made of palm leaves, bamboo, or paper were a riot of colors.
At another crossroad in the market stood the traditional spirit house that you see outside houses throughout Thailand. Folded flowers spoke of the dexterity of the fingers of the Lanna or Tai Yuan people of this region of Thailand.
Relax in the market
Spending an hour and a half at the market, just wandering around and observing people as they managed their shops or as they shopped to enjoy their Sunday was such a relaxing experience. There was no hard selling, the display at shops did that well. There was no rush, no running around. The aura of the relaxed life of the hinterlands dominated the riverside. This is how the world used to be before industrialization took us towards a more mechanical life.
Who are these Tai Yuan people? Wait for the next post on Thailand where I will talk about this very interesting community of Thai people.
I recommend you read the following Thailand Tourist attractions on my travel blog.