During our short three-day visit to Bangkok, we had planned to take a day trip to the floating markets outside the city. We highly recommend this as a must-see tour during your visit!
While there are several floating markets around Bangkok (actually more like 5 good ones) at varying distances from the city; Damnoen Saduak is probably the largest and most well known, albeit a little “touristy” but still remained our preferred choice for this trip. We wanted to see a lively atmosphere with a large number of boats selling colorful exotic fruits and a variety of local eats!
The trip took up most of the day but we had our heart(s) set on it and simply had to squeeze this in! Besides, the Anthropologie catalog (March 2013- Thailand) with images from the floating markets had me smitten! YES, I’m still crazy about the Anthropologie & J.crew catalogs – for their beautiful photo shoots in exotic locations…but we digress! (Just see the video for yourself)
There is a GOOD reason why Bangkok is referred to as the “Venice of the East“. Before the mid-20th century, this network of canals and rivers served as the main mode of transportation across Thailand. Farmers would hawk their produce on these boats to sell to the people that lived along the river; and merchants would haul their merchandise to trade with others across town.With the advent of roads, cars, trains, the city moved away from a purely agriculture based industry and these markets now mainly serve as a tourist attraction.
The floating markets may have lost the glory of yesteryears (as many suggest), and the traditional markets have been replaced with tourist shops selling kitschy (Made-in-China) items. The air hangs heavy in the mid-afternoon heat, with a pungent smell of burnt diesel from the motorized tourist boats…EVEN THIS cannot dampen your spirits when faced with the lively chatter and bright colors of the market offering us a glimpse into the local way of life during a more simple time!
Beautiful and forever smiling old women, nimble and adept at navigating the narrow canals, while passing bowls of hot vermicelli soup and digging out exact change…
THAT sight in itself is worth the effort to get there! Oh and Did I mention the food? 🙂
So, let’s take you through our journey, shall we?
We booked a private tour through our hotel concierge as there were other markets we wanted to see on the way to Damnoen Saduak, and this would give us the flexibility at each stop!
(Tip: We recommend you plan ahead and can select from a variety of tours (see here for a reputable site) to select group/private based on your budget, but trust us a private tour may cost more but the flexibility is worth the money!)
This is an early morning kinda tour, so plan to leave the hotel around 6:30am – don’t gasp! you can sleep on the way, it’s a 2hr road trip!
1. Salt Harvest – Samut Songhram
First stop – we passed the salt fields on our drive towards Samut Songkhram. There were vast areas filled with sea water and mounds of harvested salt, dried under the scorching heat of the sun (aka. solar energy). The whole process is done manually by Thai farmers and young boys who are home for the holidays! (~May)
Sea water is transferred into large “setting ponds” with the help of windmills. The water is then allowed to evaporate (over several weeks). As the dense solution settles at the bottom, the concentrated brine is then channeled through successive ponds to go through a more directed evaporation process.
Finally, the salt is harvested as crystallization starts to appear. The farmers manually rake the salt into mounds and begin transferring these mounds around collection points.
The whole process takes up to 45 days, and the farmers can harvest a ton of salt on a given day (yes, literally 1 ton of salt a day!!). The harvest season is generally from late Feb – May (low rains).
Along the road, there are several stores packed with bagged salt sold by the farmers along with a local favorite, salted mackarel! yummm
2. MaeKlong Railway Market
Our next stop was the much read about Bangkok Railway/train market you may have seen videos such as the one here:
This small market in Samut Songkhran is famous for the finest fresh seafood and produce, and cheap prices for the locals. Over the years, it has also become a tourist destination mainly for its location – right on the railway tracks (why they choose to dock themselves on the tracks?…beats me!). Even though it may sound terribly dangerous, the train runs at a low speed through this part (average for the whole line is 30km/hr), and from what the locals told us; it’s not as frequent as the tour guides claim (and may also get diverted). Nonetheless, this sight is pretty spectacular as all the awnings are quickly pulled back with poles, and the foods are displayed on stations with wheels!
The market is along a narrow, cramped and crowded lane. At first glance, you can’t even fathom how they brought the food stacks in here, let alone a train!
The sight of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and seafood was just pure joy! ♥
The sellers are generally NOT very happy with the tourists, as they would actually like to SELL the food (locals), and pictures/videos (tourists) doesn’t always translate into money!
I bought some juicy and delicious rose apples for along the way! Have you ever had this fruit? Tastes like a hybrid between an apple and a pear, not overly sweet and incredibly juicy and hydrating (best part? no seed/core)
We did not stay back for the train that was scheduled to arrive in the next 45 min/hr (schedule is often subject to change), and we wanted to maximize our time at the floating market!
3. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
There are a couple of ways to get to the market itself. We chose to take a traditional long tail boat to whisk us down the canal (khlong) to the market.
The riverside scenery gives you a glimpse of the lives of locals who have made their homes by the river; traditional stilted wooden homes decorated with colorful culture and potted plants…
The boat brought us right up to the market, where we got off for a quick breakfast and some coffee.
The sight and smells of spicy and delicious food being cooked on floating kitchens was just perfect timing for our breakfast break!
Alright, so after a bit of eating it was time to take a boat through the canals of the market. Our traditional “manual” boat offered us beautiful views at a slow pace, so we could eat (yes, again!) and take pictures along the way.
Tip: Please take the slow tail boat and not the large motorized long speed boats. The traditional boats only cost a little extra and you will be greeted with smiles and get a great view. The large motorized boats are NOT good for these narrow canals and emit a lot of diesel-fumes for both the locals and yourself; an absolutely awful experience for everyone alike!
You need to make quick decisions about eating here!
Because sometimes, you
want need grilled bananas, but the boat moves forward, and the plates change hands, then the money changes boats…as you drift away with a plate of bananas topped with sweet syrup and a grin across your face! An experience for sure 🙂
After walking around some more and having our fill of wonderful fruits – guavas for the hubs! It was finally time to head back…an end to an incredible day filled with full bellies and lasting memories 🙂
Thanks for reading! xo
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