Bangkok’s Water World

Touring the floating markets

By: Christopher Batin

It’s a time of shadows, before first morning light, with spirited talk emanating from the darkness. The regular thuds of hatchets splitting coconut and sugar cane compete with the early morning scent of fresh-caught fish buoyed by a lighter fragrance of orchids. The darkness becomes gray, and the few rays of sunshine give form to a sight to remember for always.

The Venice of the Far East, Thailand’s Damnoen Saduak Floating Market has been around for more than 100 years. It is located 67 miles southwest of Bangkok, and is a day-tour so implausible, as to defy explanation, yet so intriguing, the only response is to drop into a boat, and become a part of it.

Four of us load into a pram, a square-sterned, flat-bottomed boat. Nearly all the boat handlers here are Thai women, and ours handled our collective weight effortlessly, poling and paddling and oftentimes just drifting down the canal. At times, the prams are gunwale to gunwale. The river of people and events seems ready to overflow into my lap at any moment.

For the first 30 yards, the sweet smell of fresh pineapples caress me in their ripe embrace, followed by the bite of strong Asian coffee. Looking around, I find the pineapple boat, loaded with uncut and sliced pineapple, and a coffee vendor on the side, pouring the syrupy espresso into a glass of water and milk. He offers a donut with it, as if the two are meant to be enjoyed together. He is right.

The fresh flowers that fill many of these boats are vibrant with color, probably cut within the last few hours. The prams number as far as I can see down the klong, or canal, each stocked to the gunwales with vegetables, fruits, flowers and souvenirs of all kinds. The fruit hawkers, steaming noodle cookers and wooden trays of sugared pastries create the largest food court on the water. I quickly learned to have money in hand, and ready to quickly exchange it for some fruit or flowers. There’s no second-guessing or coming back to negotiate as in the street markets. If there is something of interest, buy it or lose it forever.

We glide between boats. People move, interact, buy, laugh and smile. No one flips, sinks or drowns.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is but one of 200 smaller klongs that connect to the 20 miles of Klong Damnoen Saduak. The klongs offer an accurate portrayal of country life here, where few roads exist to serve the people living adjacent to these canals.

First light is the best time to arrive, as this is when most of the local Thais conduct their daily shopping. When the large tour buses from Bangkok arrive at about 9 a.m. the area gets very crowded, and it’s difficult to move through the various canals, and nearly impossible to do any serious bargaining with the vendors. The reason is simple. They only have so many items to sell, and chances are another tourist who doesn’t know how to haggle will pay the asking price.

Booking a Tour
While tourists may arrange their own tour of many of the hundreds of smaller floating markets in Thailand, Damnoen is the easiest to reserve for agents and offers the best activity infrastructure for the Western tourist.

There are many variations of this floating market tour.

Avoid tours that use one van to pick up guests at various hotels in Bangkok. Depending on traffic, this can result in the loss of an hour or more. Consider booking the tour for just two or three people. We paid a bit extra, but had the freedom to stop and tour when we wanted.

The most popular tours are all-inclusive from Bangkok. One of the most in-demand itineraries includes van transportation, and a stopover to visit a coconut-sugar processing facility, combined with a long-tailed boat ride through canals to visit farm country, fruit orchards, butterfly and orchid farms, and salt flats.

A variation of this tour has your clients transported close to the floating market, where the guide will issue mountain bikes for a ride from three to 12 miles through the countryside. Clients visit orchards and plantations before taking the floating market tour at mid-morning. The remainder of the early afternoon is spent riding to a fine Thai restaurant for lunch, before returning to Bangkok.

After the floating market tour, options include a large buffet lunch served at the 50-acre Rose Garden restaurant and resort, followed by entertainment at a local business, where an hour-long presentation includes Thai boxing, fingernail and hill-tribe dancing in ornamental clothing, a Buddhist ordination procession, and a traditional Thai wedding ceremony. The food is excellent, and the entertainment a good introduction to Thai culture.

The floating market day-tour, which includes transportation, lunch and optional entertainment and side tours ranges from $57 to $104.


Ricco Holiday

Diethelm Travel

Commission: 10 percent

Adventure Travel JDS Africa Middle East JDS Destinations