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
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
Commission: 10 percent