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5 Crazy Southeast Asian Food Markets

Southeast Asia will engage your senses in ways you've never experienced before. Bustling streets crammed with exotic food, drinks, and trinkets. Vendors and consumers barter in different languages. An undercurrent of energy permeates through the pervading, thick smells. Whether you're looking for your perfect afternoon dish of beef noodles or something more enthralling like snakes’ blood and chicken feet, you're sure to find it and much more in any of these markets.

1. Neighboring markets in Vientiane, Laos

Laos Asian Food Market

Vibrant colors of the Vientiane Market. Photo by Kiran Jonnalagadda.

Located on either side of Vientiane's main bus terminals, the Khua Din and Talat Sao Markets are the biggest you will find in Laos’s capital city. In the Khua Din Market, vendors sell their goods on uneven dirt floors. An endless selection of fabrics, shoes, bags, toys made of beer cans, and nearly anything else you can imagine are on offer. From fresh fruits and vegetables, to bush meats native to Laos, to an impressive selection of insects - this market has it all. Walking through the tiny, dark corridors and trying to absorb the market’s commotion is fascinating. Be sure to leave with a Khao Jee Pa-teh, and if you're daring enough, take some frog innards and larvae home with you.

2. The Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia, Market, Central, asian food, food, international recipes,

The domed Central Market
Photo by Vicki

The Central Market (Psar Thmei or "New Market") found in Phnom Penh, Cambodia is housed in a massive 1930's Art Deco building remaining from the French colonial era. Business is carried out under the building’s distinctive soaring golden dome. The building  is a Phnom Penh landmark. Its domed interior is built without beam support. The entrance to the market is lined with merchants selling souvenirs. As you shop for the perfect gift to take home you can take in the aroma from the hundreds of flowers sold outside the market. This market contains everything. You can find crocodile handbags at one end, and crocodile heads for eating at the other. Yum.

3. Klong Toey and Or Tor Kor Markets, Bangkok, Thailand

Thailand, thai food, asian food, frog legs, market, exotic foods, international recipes,

Skinned frogs in Klong Toey Market
Photo by LouiePac

Close to Bangkok's city center is the Klong Toey Market, a "wet market" filled with products that are not for the faint of heart. If you want to get a real idea of how traditional Thai markets are run, this is the place to come. The vendors serve food true to tradition, and the menus at this market boast such exotic treats as freshly slaughtered beef, pork, chicken feet and even duck bills (umm... what?). You can also find the more recognized meals such as pad thai, green curries and sticky rice and mango. If you're looking for something a little less crowded check out the Or Tor Kor Market, which has the same "wet market" style but is known to be more organized.

4. Bến Thành Market, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

Vietnam, vietnamese food, market, fruit,

A fruit stand in the Ben Thanh Market
Photo by Ian

The Bến Thành Market is one of Vietnam's best-known markets, and for good reason. Though Vietnamese food is increasingly popular throughout the world, there's nothing like getting an authentic fresh-cooked Pho or Bahn-mi sandwich from the local vendors here. 48 percent of the Vietnamese labor force work in agriculture. This market is subsequently stocked full of the spoils of their labor: delicious, freshly harvested local produce. The stands near the outside of the market are where you'll find bright textiles and souvenirs. Near the back you'll find the wet market section with the freshly prepared meats and seafood. If you’re daring (look hard enough), you can find the cobra butchers who still serve the traditional glass of snakes’ blood, along with their still-beating hearts. Their still-beating hearts. It might not be a Southeast Asian market, but you can watch Gordon Ramsey eat a beating snake heart here (warning: NSFW language):

5. The corridors of the Geylang Serai Market, Singapore

Singapore food, asian food,

Fresh, tropical fruit at its best. Photo by Choo Yut Shing

Singapore is an island nation with a strong influence from three cultures: Indian, Chinese and Malay. The Geylang Serai Market is a shining example of this. If Malay or Chinese food isn't what you're looking for, all you have to do is go to the second floor of the market to find some of the best Indian food outside of India. Be sure to try the Roti Prata, one of Singapore's most recognized dishes. The friendly merchants are even willing to share some of their international curry recipes with you if you ask them. Located near the Malay Cultural Village, this wet market hosts a number of sloshing tanks full of fresh fish, eels, dried insects, meats, and a variety of delicious exotic fruit (some of which you never even knew existed).   Ever eaten crocodile head? Or experienced a crazy market in Southeast Asia? Join in the conversation below!