Photo gallery: Curiosities and altruism at Khlong Lod market While exploring a century-old market filled with oddities like dried two-tailed geckos, Chris Menist meets up with its kind-hearted ‘father’

Following Bangkok’s canals, or khlongs, is an instructive experience. Running like arteries through the city, they still act as a transport network. But they can also represent a sort of visual fissure, a direct symbol of some of the city’s fractures.

The Chao Phraya River, which feeds the khlong system, proudly boasts river-view apartments and luxury hotels. Indeed, a sunset reflected in its hazy surface, seen from any number of buildings that hug its banks, is still something everyone should experience at least once.

Klong-side is far less romantic. The clogged-up waterways often double as sewers, putrid in the summer sun, a haven for mosquitos in the cool of the evening.

 

“Some of these phones are from China, some are made in Poland,” says this Khlong Lod market trader.

A short walk from Saphan Lek and its record stores, Khlong Lod runs alongside Atsadang Road, which leads past the always-curious “Pig Shrine” toward Rajadamnoen and Democracy Monument.

 

Towards the end of the road a scattering of stalls selling a curious juxtaposition of Buddhist medallions, antique telephones and imitation Viagra tablets marks the beginning of Khlong Lod market, which has been running here for roughly a century. (Click here for a Google map of Khlong Lod)

Wandering round, the stalls shift from DVDs to street food, broken toys and second-hand clothes. People are friendly, though some bear their troubles openly, be it visible scar tissue or a partially toothy smile.

Some of the stall-holders operate at society’s edge, reclaiming discarded items from rubbish tips and selling them here for a small profit.

‘To do this, you need a big heart’

Overseeing the day-to-day running of the market is a middle-aged man named “Bang,” affectionately referred to as “Por” (Dad) by the traders.

His is a curious story, as he has been based at Khlong Lod market for 20 years.

“One day I was walking through this area, when I heard a father and son talking,” he says. “The boy was asking for food, and his dad said he had no money for a meal. I decided I needed to do something.”

For two decades, Bang has acted as the market’s unofficial paterfamilias. Until recently he ran a stall himself, selling curry rice for 10 baht a plate. He also liaises between the stall holders and the local police.

Politicians don’t come down here, he says, except to try and get the area cleared, although he emphasizes the city authorities have been more supportive of late.

 

Dried lizard anyone? This isn’t any ordinary gecko. Look closely and you’ll notice it’s been blessed (cursed?) with two tails.

I’m unfortunately a natural cynic when it comes to certain claims of altruism, but as we wander around the market, Bang has an obvious easy manner with the stall-holders, sharing jokes and putting people at ease.

 

At one stage, a lady complains about a vagrant who sleeps behind her stall.

Sure enough, a young woman is napping on a makeshift bed of packing crates and cardboard, covered with rice sacks. The complainant points to the mess around the “bed,” mostly discarded food cartons. Bang makes some suggestions to resolve the matter, ending with “And if that doesn’t work, come and see me.”

In a strange way the market, which runs from early evening to well after midnight, appears to operate as a constantly evolving drop-in centre — part self-help, part social support.

It also exemplifies a few of Thailand’s characteristics — the spirit of the people, the protective influence of community figures and the seemingly precariousness existence of some of its citizens.

I wonder what will happen here when Bang eventually retires and ask if he is training anyone up to maybe take his place.

“To do this you just need a big heart,” he replies. ‘You can’t train anyone for that. You either have it or you don’t.”

DJ Chris Menist spins alongside DJ Maft Sai at the bi-monthly Paradise Bangkok parties. The next event will take place in May, dates/location TBA. Visit ZudRangMa Records for more info. 

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