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Beast Within – Khlong Toei Market in Bangkok

Located along Rama IV Road, not far from the expatriate enclave of Sukhumvit but very different in terms of the glitz and glamour of the neighbouring district, the Khlong Toei Market is considered the largest wholesale market for fresh food products.

An endless maze of tunnels and alleys where stalls follow one after the other and fresh products, such as meat and fish, are slaughtered instantly. This is the reason why some sectors of the market look rather bloody and “raw”.

Khlong Toei Market, Bangkok
In the area of the Khlong Toei Market reserved for the sale of butchered meat, the red curtains of the outside stalls contribute in giving a gloomy look to the sparse light inside the shed. The incessant back-and-forth among operators and customers combined with an uneven floor, perpetually wet due to the processing scraps, make this place even more peculiar.

The name Khlong Toei (Channel of the Pandanus Trees) is inspired by the intense fragrance of the pandanus leaves, widely used to flavour Thai sweets and to freshen the air.
However, nowadays, in September 2022, the canal on which the market stands looks very different. The canal’s waters are murky and smelly, partly due to the market’s scraps being poured into it.

In January 2010, CNN listed it as one of the most authentic markets in Bangkok and a place to avoid when hung over. Although the Khlong Toei Market is a little glamorous, it forces one to open one’s eyes and experience Thai authenticity.

White meat stall in the Khlong Toei Market. Within the market there is the entire white meat supply chain. From the gathering of live animals to on-site slaughtering, from the meat display to the final sale. Items are sold by weight and, in some cases, after a negotiation.

The Beast Within project aims to explore this market aspect: visual openness and Thai authenticity without prejudice and a moral filter.
But at the same time, it aspires to a search for authenticity of this place while also offering a cue for self-criticism on the dimension and ethics of a global food requirement.

Fish processing area placed just behind one of the many sales stalls in Khlong Toei Market. With no respect for the most basic rules of hygiene and the handling of fresh material, the fish is processed manually directly on the floor. The processing scraps and the water used during this practice make the floor particularly slippery and filthy.
Stands for processing small fish, crustaceans, and amphibians (i.e. frogs) placed directly in contact with the sales area.
As the Khlong Toei Market is open from 6am to 2am, these processing stalls are rarely cleaned thoroughly and the presence of rat colonies is particularly widespread.
The area and working tools are at the complete mercy of any visitor or customer.
The Khlong Toei Market is also particularly stocked with white meats such as poultry (chickens, geese, turkeys, etc.) and farmed game. Live animals are gathered in metal marls piled on top of each other. They are kept inside the market for as many days as it takes to sell and slaughter them. Within the market there is a “hidden” area for boiling the carcasses. It is necessary for plucking and the subsequent slaughter. (The photo of this area is not part of this selection, but is available)
Shellfish and crustacean stall at the Khlong Toei market. The goods on display are devoid of all hygiene and storage precautions.
Staging and storage tanks for certain varieties of fish. They could be eels or freshwater fish coming from the Mekong river or from the nearby Chao Phraya, the great waterway that cuts through Bangkok and opens trade channels with the Khlong Toei Market.
According to the vendor, the colourful baskets are used to divide the type of fish and to manage how long any type has to stay in the tank.
Behind the butchering and boiling of white meat, before display on the market stalls.
Outside the market, a view of the drainage canal once used to transport goods and connected to the Chao Praia, now an open-air dump for market waste.
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Gabriele Orlini

Documentary Photoreporter

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