When visiting Tampa, one of the most intriguing experiences is an open-air Thai brunch at a gorgeous Buddhist temple — Wat Mongkolratanaram, or Wat Tampa for short.
With high rankings in TripAdvisor and Yelp, visitors and Tampa-area residents flock to this weekly Sunday market..
The Tampa Thai temple has been offering its Sunday market for 30 years. It started with two tables and today there are dozens of vendors selling all sorts of authentic Thai foods, orchids and more.
The Thai temple has created the perfect venue for this event, which can accommodate the hundreds of weekly visitors.
Note: The pandemic has brought changes to the brunch at Wat Tampa. Instead of individual vendors and a marketplace, there is now a single place to order food, which you can then take to the picnic tables or to your home. The menu is limited: Beef, Pork or Vegetable Noodle Soup, Pad Thai, Fresh Roll Shrimp/Chicken or Vegetable, Empanadas, Crab Rangoon and beverages.
The following article and photos describes the experience prior to the pandemic.
Vendors set up at tables on a covered porch and each sells items individually. Popular hot foods (fried bananas, pad thai, guiteow, a beef or pork noodle soup) each may have long lines. Other prepared items (mango sticky rice, spring rolls, various Thai desserts) may have no lines.
Many groups split up to purchase items in various lines and then meet among the dozens of picnic tables in the shade of the live oak trees to share and eat out of take-out boxes with plastic forks.
Be aware: The popularity of this event means you may have long lines; arrive early for the best experience.
Items are reasonably priced. A $6 or $7 order of fried bananas and fried sweet potatoes is enough for two or three people. (We had no idea and bought one order for each person and ended up sharing ours with folks at adjoining tables.) Other items were priced at $2, $3 or $5, making it easy to sample a variety of foods for a dim sum experience.
Other food items include Thai papaya salad, various chicken curries, grilled pork or chicken on a stick plus beverages.
At nearby tables, you also can choose from a wide selection of orchids (at great prices) as well as fruit trees, plants and fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Beyond the tasty and exotic food at reasonable prices, what makes this experience so great is the setting.
With its multiple pointy roof tiers and its ornate gold trim, the temple immediately makes you feel like you are, if not in Thailand, at least someplace very special. This temple was built in 2007, though a temple has been on these grounds since 1983.
The grounds are shaded by large live oak trees. Nature decorated them with Spanish moss; the temple community added dozens of spectacular orchids.
The property is located on the Palm River, with a boat dock where visitors fed bits of bread to dozens of fish and where you can tie up if you arrive by boat.
Religious services at the Tampa Thai temple
Religious services are held in the temple on Sundays from 1 to 2 p.m. The services include meditation and chanting and a sermon in the Thai language of Pali. An English language guide is available.
Visitors can observe the services but should read up on etiquette tips in advance so as to understand how to be respectful. (For example, you must remove your shoes and it is considered impolite to point your feet at other people or the Buddha.)
Most Sundays a representative answers questions inside the main Temple between 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Topics include the temple and its activities, basic Buddhism, the history of Wat Tampa, and Thai culture.
During the week, people come to the temple to enjoy the setting and meditate.
5306 Palm River Rd. Tampa , Florida 33619-3746
The Sunday Market is held every Sunday, rain or shine, from about 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. The best time to come is before 11 a.m. Note: The Sunday market is CASH only.
Temple hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday
Please respect the following times for the monks:
- 8 to 9 a.m. – Chanting and meditation
- 11 a.m. to noon – lunch
- 8 to 9 p.m. – Chanting and meditation
Things to do in the Tampa area:
Busch Gardens: This is the Gulf Coast’s only theme park.
Ybor City: Once the cigar capital of the world, Ybor City retains much of Tampa’s old city charm and Latin flavor. Restaurants, art galleries, pubs and patio cafes are everywhere, and you can still see Tampa’s famous cigar-makers practicing their trade. Best way to explore is by foot.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.