Rediscovering this well-preserved, century-old structure
One of the most authentic and oldest markets of Bangkok is often neglected by travellers, perhaps because it is located between two tourist areas—Ratchadamnoen and Rattanakosin Island on one side, and Yaowarat and Siam on the other side—so it gets lost in the shuffle. However, it’s high time to rediscover this well-preserved market, which is over a century old.
Nakhon Sawan Road is a large artery which links Rama I Road, via Krung Kasem Road, to the Old City’s many government buildings. This is probably the reason why tourists tend to neglect this road, with its series of pale purple buildings built in European style. This is Nang Loeng Market, a structure built in 1900 which has barely changed over the last ten decades.
The market was directly inspired by the ones seen by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) during his trips to Europe. He had been impressed by the covered markets there—modern structures of iron and glasses. Once back in Thailand the King charged the Department of Public Works to develop what could then be considered as Bangkok’s first purpose-built market in a walkable area of town, in the vicinity of the Dusit district. At that time, most of Bangkok’s traditional markets were floating ones, plying their trade along the Chao Praya River.
Nang Loeng Market was part of a vast urbanization plan to turn the Dusit district into a new administration and residential area, modelled fter European urban criteria. The location of the market was chosen due to the proximity of the rail station and palaces in Dusit.
The 1900 architecture is still visible today with its two-storey shophouses surrounding large halls where the market’s sellers settled. Nang Loeng Market was linked by a tramway and became an extremely popular place for shopping. Originally, a Mon ethnic population settled in the area, selling water in jars (‘E-Loeng’), which actually gave its name to the market.
However, the construction of the market turned the area into an extremely cosmopolitan place, and Thais and Chinese joined the local Mon population there. The Chinese community was, as usual, involved in trading. Their influence is still very visible with numerous old signage in Chinese characters still to be seen today, while a Chinese shrine is also located inside the Market Hall. It was only installed in 1959 and testifies of the importance of the Chinese community there.
In the midst of the market stands a statue of Prince Abhakorn Chumphon, surrounded by offers and flowers. A theatre was also integrated to the market by 1918. It showed movies until 1993, but was subsequently closed. Today the place is not open to the public as it serves as a private warehouse. However, its characteristic wooden structure remains and can be seen from outside.
The market is, today, mostly dedicated to food items and it still remains famous for its specialties. Among them are So Samran noodles, with duckling in a five-spice sauce, as well as Rungruang noodle and grilled duckling. Many traditional Thai desserts are also available here as well.
A seating area has been built in the middle of the market where visitors can sample local food from the various stalls. The area was carefully restored in 2006 by the Royal Crown Property, which helped to highlight again the stucco and old columns of the market area.
Behind the market, one of the alleys connects to an interesting historical temple, Wat Sommanat Rajavaravihara. A rather low profile temple, this Wat was constructed around 1853 by King Rama IV, and renovated later during King Rama V’s reign. There are distinctive European architectural features in the cloisters, and monks’ quarters surrounding the main hall (ubosot). Inside the main hall, visitors can also admire beautiful murals.
Nang Loeng represents a lasting memory of old Bangkok. Better to rush to see it before some real estate tycoons feel interested to redevelop the area. And at the same time, it is a great way for experiencing authentic gastronomy in Bangkok.
VISITOR INFO: Nang Loeng Market is open every day, generally from 10am to 3pm. However, some shops open as early as 6am and some close after 4pm. The market is located along Nakhon Sawan Road and is easily accessible from Hua Lamphong MRT Station, BTS National Stadium, or Democracy Monument by taxi or bicycle.
Words and photos by Luc Citrinot