Many travellers revel in the idea of touring a floating market. The prospect conjures images of colorful fruit stacked sky high, hawked by vendors donning conical straw hats. It's a vision where locals float along canals in a sort of organized chaos, engaging in an economic and culturally significant exchange of goods. Travellers may struggle with a reality that is far less glamorous. Some markets are wholesale, selling few items of interest to tourists. Others are not at all contained by charming canals, but are located alongside muddy riverbanks. Alternatively, some markets cater specifically to tourists and lack authenticity. Having realistic expectations seems to be directly related to how much one enjoys the experience. Here are 5 options for day tripping to floating villages in the Bangkok area.
Bangkok's Floating Markets:
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
In the past, travellers seeking an authentic floating market experience would have sung high praise for Damnoen Saduak. Today many say the market simply exists as a tourist trap. You can partly thank James Bond for that too. (It served as a film location for Man With the Golden Gun.) Judging by the souvenirs and trinkets that make up the narrow range of products sold there, it may well be the case. The floating market is located 105 kilometres from Bangkok and most visitors arrive on coach buses via organized tours. Pick your tour operator wisely, as in typical Thai fashion many include other banal tourist traps, long stop overs at random bus stops, and late arrivals back to Bangkok. Travellers craving a photo safari will certainly get it, just be aware of Damnoen Saduak's commercial reputation.
Amphawa Floating Market
Amphawa is located in Samut Songkhram and seems to strike a balance between authentic and touristically charming. Departing Bangkok, the floating market is a half day trip and while it is busy, it is not overrun. The market offers picturesque insight into daily commerce, an attractive selection of artisan wares, and savory fragrances entice visitors into sampling a variety of Thai dishes. As with most markets, the frenzied trade typically takes place early in the morning, but the daylight conceals Amphawa's whimsical delight: fireflies. Boat cruises depart at dusk to whisk visitors down the Mae Klong River, where fireflies swam the trees of the riverbank. Amphawa is considered the best place to view them and firefly tours operate year round.
Don Wai Floating Market
Less popular only because it is not on the tourist map, Don Wai is a long-standing market that has only recently been popularized. More of a riverside market, Don Wai's charm is preserved in the traditional timber frame structures that line the banks of the Nakhon Chaisi River. As a plus, the market is just 30 kilometers west of Bangkok. A wide variety of goods are available for sale, including toys, plants, clothing and decor. But like most markets, the real draw is the cuisine. Duck stew (ped phalo) is a popular dish and there are many Thai desserts to sample. Make a point to try the grilled coconut cakes or kanom paeng jee.
Taling Chan Floating Market
By Paolobon140 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Just 12 kilometers northwest of Bankgok, Taling Chan is doesn't require an organized tour. In fact, visitors can simply ride the BTS ('sky train') as far as Wongwian Yai Station, and then travel the remaining distance by taxi (approximately 150 Baht.) Taling Chan retains the authenticity that travellers find popularized markets lack, and Thai nationals enjoy the outing as much as foreign visitors. Eat a seafood lunch, explore the nearby klongs (canals) by boat, get a massage and purchase fresh fruit and snacks. Market hours are 8:00 AM through 5:00 PM on weekends only.
Bang Khu Wiang Floating Market
This market is closer to Bangkok than any of the aforementioned markets, and if you thought it was too good to be true, you're right. Bang Khu Wiang only sees trading from 4:00 AM through 7:00 AM. That's about the time backpackers on Khao San Road start making their way back to their beds. Those who can manage an early rise will be truly rewarded. The market is hardly commercialized (as evidenced by the hours) and visitors will delight in seeing monks arrive by boat to collect alms. Bang Khu Wiang is best accessed by boat. Water taxis can be caught from Wat Chalo Pier, departing every 15 minutes beginning at 5:00 AM.
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