A Guide to Visiting Floating Markets in Thailand
Years ago, when I worked on tourism for Thailand, it was only a few years after the floating markets had started to gain widespread notoriety with Western travellers.
In actuality, the awareness was really the rise of social media, which made it easier for travellers to share vibrant photos of their market visits.
At any rate, visiting a floating market in Thailand was a long held travel wish-list item.
When I finally got around to planning a trip to Thailand, I wondered if the floating markets were still something to visit. Would it be a waste of time if they’d become too touristy and lost their magic?
After doing a bit of research and looking at tour options, I decided to take my chances and visit the Damnoen Saduak market with Viator.
The market is located 1.5-2 hours from the centre of Bangkok in Ratchaburi province, and frankly, difficult to get to on your own, which is why I decided to book a tour.
Today, Damnoen Saduak is Thailand’s biggest and best preserved (for what that’s worth) floating market.
Hosted on 19th-century canals built by King Rama IV, the market occurs every day of the week. Week days, you’ll find mostly tourists. But on weekends, I’ve heard the market really starts to blend visitors and locals, who still come to the market to do a bit of shopping.
On our trip out to the canals, our guide regaled our group with stories of the canals in their heyday and told us a lot about the history of Thailand.
We made a brief stop at a ‘coconut farm’, but even our guide admitted the stop is really more of a rest stop than anything else. There’s a small area where you can watch farmers make coconut sugar, and you can buy coconut beauty products and candy, but it’s not much to be excited by.
Once we arrived at the canals, we were led onto a long tail boat to cruise to the heart of the market.
This was my first time on a long tail (I visited the canals before I went south to the islands), and loved the experience. Whizzing past homes on stilts was an added benefit to what was already shaping up to be a great tour. I found it so interesting to see how locals in this area of Thailand lived- a stark contrast to the over-crowdedness of Bangkok.
Rounding a corner, the long tail slowed as we approached the market canals. After de-boating, our guide explained we’d have an hour and a half to roam the canals at leisure.
Hearing this, I was excited- I’m usually not one for group tours because I like to have the time to explore and photograph things on my own time and terms.
We had the option of cruising the canals in a boat, but it seemed pretty expensive (150 baht) for a 25-30 minute ride through crowded canals. I decided I didn’t need that experience, and would rather stroll the canals.
Plus, I was looking forward to trying to find what was left of the original market- fruit and veg sellers, boats brimming with flowers, people cooking Thai specialities a la boat. I knew being on land would make it easier for me to walk along the canals, pop onto bridges, and weave in and out of the canal quarters.
By foot, I found the canals easy enough to navigate. Sometimes you have to walk away from the water edge to walk through stalls of tourist tchotkes, but there are signs that point you back to the water.
Wandering at leisure turned out to be the perfect strategy to capturing the kind of shots I wanted. It gave me time to stop and watch people cook, slice fruit and interact with each other on the canal.
It also meant I could stop and pause to wait for the shots I wanted. I worked really hard to take the photos in this post- all on my iPhone, no less.
If you’ve got a DSLR or GoPro, bring it. The added stability and zoom functionality will be great to have. I struggled a bit, but think I did alright in the end.
I also worked hard to keep the touristy bits out of my lens view. I don’t mean to misrepresent the market, which is why I’m clarifying it in writing, but only captured the ‘best bits’ of the market because that’s how I want to remember the experience.
Has Damnoen Saduak become too touristy?
Absolutely, and sadly.
But, all of its magic isn’t gone. I had a great morning seeking out traditional vendors and watching their exchanges.
From one of the fruit vendors, I asked for a sliced mango, and to sample rambutan and mangosteen (two new to me fruits).
This is a perfect example of a travel experience I’d dreamt of having- perusing a floating market and trying new fruits with the encouragement of local vendors.
So yes, you can enjoy the Damnoen Saduak market. There’s still charm present under the surface, you just have to search for it.
If you want to visit a floating market in Thailand, I’d recommend the tour I took with Viator, or check out this blogger’s post on other markets you can visit.
Have you ever visited a floating market in Thailand?
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