Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Market Day in Bangkok

A man unloads a side of pork to deliver to a butcher's stall in Khlong Toey Market in Bangkok. 

Today was my first "work" day in Bangkok. Up to now, I've been taking care of the mundane chores one has to deal with when sets up a new home. Opening a Thai bank account (which was very easy), setting up my apartment, which was a little more complicated and settling in. 

This morning, I left my apartment about 6 and walked down to the market, which is only a mile or so from where I'm living. 

There are two types of markets in Asia - "wet" markets, which sell fresh foodstuffs like produce and meat, and dry markets, which sell clothing and drygoods. Khlong Toey (which is also called Khlong Toei) is one of the largest wet markets in Southeast Asia. You can buy pretty much anything in Khlong Toey, from soup to nuts (literally - there are food hawkers selling tom yum and noodle soups and lots of peanut stalls). If you're a carnivore, you'll be in heaven. There's pork, chicken, duck, frog, crab, fish - if it bleeds it's here. I am pretty sure this side of pork was a living breathing hog a few hours before I made the photo. 

There's a whole section of the market that sells chickens. Pick your bird from a cage and the vendor will pull it out, ring its neck and package it up for you. Feathers on or feathers off, your choice. Doesn't get any fresher than that. 

Some people find the wet markets are a little off putting. I've been with more than one who swears he or she is going to become a vegetarian after seeing the meat section. 

Asia's wet markets can be quite an eye opener. There is a pecking order to the quality of the markets. Personally, I find Thai markets to be pretty clean. The wet market in Vientiane, Laos, was so wet you sank into the mud as you walked between the stalls. (And this was in the dry season - the mud was from the water and other things flowing off the vendors' tables.) Bali, Indonesia, wasn't much better. But Myawaddy, Burma was the worst. Even I thought about becoming a vegetarian in that market. Then I saw the vegetable section and was really glad to be eating in Thailand that night. 

Photographing in Thailand's markets is pretty easy. The Thais are extremely cordial and seem to enjoy being photographed (it helps that there is a very vibrant photographic tradition here, the King is an avid photographer). Your biggest challenge will be convincing your subjects you want a natural photo, not a cagey portrait of someone looking right at you with a big smile and flashing the "V for Victory" sign. 

The market is almost always open but best seen early in the day, when folks from the neighborhood are doing their shopping. It's so congested that I ended up using my 24mm lens the most frequently, followed by my 40mm lens and then the 50. I tried to use my 200mm telephoto for a couple of long shots of the streets, but it was too crowded to get anything I really liked. 

I knew the 40mm would be a good lens for the markets when I bought it. It's a very natural focal length and works great in tight confines. 

There are more photos from today's walkabout in Khlong Toey in my archive. The photos are available for licensing.