In the past, particularly in Bangkok (once called “The Venice of the East”), Floating Markets were more common than markets on land. I had the chance to see a Floating Market when I visited Thailand in 2010. In order to get the best experience, we left our hotel in Bangkok early in the morning and took a taxi to Ratchaburi about 109 km (approximately 1 hour drive). You can also get there by joining a 6 a.m. tour or taking a bus from the Southern Bus Terminal on Borommarat Chachonnani Road.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one of the most popular tourist destinations for both Thais and non-Thais, worth visiting in Thailand. In Thai, this type of market is called Talaat Nahm, which literally means “water market.”
A floating market is a market where goods are sold from boats. Originating in times and places where water transport played an important role in daily life, most Floating Markets operating today mainly serve as tourist attractions. They are chiefly found in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Arriving at Damnoen Saduak, you can either walk on the passage along the canal on the right hand side or take a boat from the pier at the price of 10 Baht per person. Those who want to see all the three of the Floating Markets, Ton Khem, Hia Kui, Khun Phithak may hire a boat at the price of 300 Baht per hour. It’s recommended that the fare should be settled before starting off.
We choose the second option and we hop into a decorated long-tail boat that was waiting for us. I remember that the roar of the engine was disturbing the quiet as the boat glides down the narrow canals. Small wooden houses on stilts are fringing the banks, some with larger ponds than lawns. The boat driver was slowing down to let you appreciate the winding waterways and get a brief glimpse of those who live on the river. I saw how the merchants were loading their boats while their wives and children remains on the banks. In this part of Thailand the houses do not have fences, being surrounded by waters. From the boat driver, who was also our guide, we found out that the river provides the necessary water for cooking and washing. It also helps them to communicate with the rest of the world. But sometimes the river “swallows” their houses and they have to build new ones in the same places. Every household has its own plantations of bananas, mangoes and other exotic fruits. If you try talking with a Thai, it’s likely to receive some delicious sweets wrapped in banana leaves which are in high demand. When in Thailand, I recommend you to try Dorian, a fruit that “smells like hell but taste is heaven”.
Finally, after the race adrenaline on the canals, we arrived close to the stalls. The journey takes around 20 minutes and it’s great to enjoy the peace before the hectic pace of the market. It may feel overcrowded at first glance, but visitors and sellers bring noise and color to the area. The right word to describe the atmosphere is Spectacle!
The market is a dream for any photographer and a nightmare for any boater, because the old and noisy motor boats are surging the canal waters. If a boat would sink, I think the passengers would die intoxicated rather than drowned.
Once there, we sat patiently at the line to get another boat, rowing this time, in order to take us shopping. It’s true that the current Floating Market it’s a tourist and commercial spot, but still not fully lost its original charm and functionality. What could be more exciting than being boat near boat and buying fruits, ice cream or food from the floating merchants? The Bangkok crazy traffic is also transposed here on the canal waters. From the beginning of the journey, you are told not to let your elbows hanging out of the boat, if you still want to have them at the end of the ride.
At the Floating Market, you have all your chances to eat fresh food, prepared right in the boats, from fish to seafood and spicy chicken with fruits. Here you can always find fresh products, especially in the morning. It’s a very special world, a colorful painting, restless and full of oriental perfumes. For several hours, the water channels become completely overcrowded. The locals boats full of fruits, souvenirs and traditional dishes are strolling lazy from one end to another waiting their clients.
Damnoen Saduak is believed to be one of the well-known and attractive travelling sites.
Historically, Damnoen Saduak was actually the name of the canal dug in the region of King Rama IV by military men and the people of Rajburi, Samutsakorn and Samutsongkram Province directed by Phayarisuriyawong, the minister of Defence. In those days without rivers and canals, transportation was almost motionless. King Rama IV with his great concern over the country’s future economic growth, he finally had the canal dug to connect the Taachin River in the Samutsakorn Province and Maklong River in Samutsongkram Province, together.
Nowadays, Damnoen Saduak is one of the districts of Ratchaburi Province. Most people live densely along both sides of the canal from one end to another. The majority of this people are agriculturists. They grow several different kind of fruits and vegetables, like oranges, grapes, papayas, cabbages, bean, onion and others. The land is naturally very fertile.
Apart from providing transportation, the canal also provides farmers with the adequate water for agricultural purposes for the whole year around. More than 200 small canals were dug by local peasants to connect with it to get water to splatter their land.
Day by day from 8 to 11 a.m, the Floating Market is routinely crowded with hundreds of vendors and purchasers floating in their small rowing boats selling and buying or exchanging their goods. What they purchase are particularly food, fruits and vegetables which mostly are brought from their own orchards. They usually travel on their rowing boats with everything on boards expecting their clients to come. However, today the long-tailed boats pushing by engine are becoming very popular even for them. Anyhow because of shortage of fuel, today the long boats are quite unavailable compared to a few years ago.
In fact, I think this market now is alive only for tourists. I was amazed to see the parking lot full of buses and minibuses, but also the bunch of goods on display.
The more we get into the market it began to appear also the actors market – the traders….In general, they are selling exotic fruits, vegetables, meat, some of them even grill something on the boat. There are traders on the shore also, some boiling something in giant pots. The tourists are posing, some are buying small tasty bananas, litchy, huge pomelo, guavas … And how not to twist it, although they cost double than on Khao San Road!
I asked the driver to slow down the boat at every corner, being so curious and excited to see what they are selling. I discovered in their boats fruits that i haven’t seen before or knew existed. Thailand is called “The Kingdom of the Hundred Fruits”, because here are so plentiful, so diversified, so inexpensive and so delicious that they constitute an unexpected reward, a bonus (I will tell about their fruits in another post).
It is not simply because of its geographical position as a tropical country that Thailand produces so many good quality different kind of fruits. The tropical climate is certainly favorable to the growth of vegetation. But there are other factors that have contributed to the rich production – the fertile soil, the introduction of new species from foreign countries, the continued efforts to improve the quality of fruits by scientific methods and the comparative length of Thai territory. Thailand extends right into the subtropical zone, making it possible to grow fruits native to places of higher latitudes.
We couldn’t resist buying some Longans, brought into this country by Chinese immigrants hundreds of years ago. Their flesh is pinkish and thick and they are delightfully sweet. We also tried Mangosteen and Rambutan. The Mangosteen have the white juicy pulp divided into 5 to 8 segments, of which 1 to 3 contain a seed. Their sweet flesh has a delicate texture and will melt in your mouth. The Rambutan it looks beautiful in appearance, being bright red with yellowish or greenish hair. Their white flesh is firm, sweet and juicy.
Of course, I wanted to try for the first time a coconut water because I thought it was very good if everybody’s drinking it – it’s the clear liquid inside young green coconuts (fruits of the coconut palm). Bleah!… It was awful with no taste…I really don’t know how they drink this milky liquid!
One thing you can not avoid on the cruise is slowing down near the stalls, selling clothes and souvenirs. Floating Market is the perfect place to buy Thai souvenirs and crafts, all handmade. Here you can find paintings, decorative objects, plates and cups, key-changes, fridge magnets, toys, thousand of Buddha statues, wood carvings, Buddha masks, hats and clothes, fans, silver jewellery and more. But the market is also full of Chinese products. I noticed that most sellers are wearing some cute brimmed hats to protect against the sun’s heat. I was craving about something like this, so, we also stopped and buy some funny fan-hats and many souvenirs. I couldn’t leave without buying a pink traditional Chinese dress. I told you already about my Shopping addiction! I’m always buying something to remember the places I’ve been around the world – a dress or a hat or something specific from each country. I found out later that the dress it was actually more cheaper.
So, be aware that the prices at the market are mostly exorbitant, two to three times (or more) than elsewhere. If you still want something, you have to bargain with traders for the right prices!
So if you see something you like: bargain!!
How you bargain? If you are close enough to the boat seller, you approach and first analyze the products. Then you begin to negotiate with the seller, because he will tell you from the start a much higher price than the products worth. Because you can not communicate in the same language he will type digits on a hand calculator. He shows you how much he wants for his product. Maybe you will start to gesticulate, pointing your finger more farther, but if the desire meets the opportunity, ladies and gentlemen, we have a completed sale! So, you must give him the money and take your goods. If you are not close to the boat and you want to buy without negotiation, the seller has a long stick with a hook at the top, where they catch a glass to put the money and the products.
You Must know that Thailand is a polite society where a smile is valued above all! So, don’t let bargaining become tense and confrontational. The bad feelings are not worth the few cents you’ll save!
I also discovered, here, that the symbol of Thailand is the Elephant, bringing luck if it’s trunk up! So, you cannot leave the country without buying anything with an elephant. You can find them printed on fabric, carved into wood, crafted into jewelry, appliqued onto hand-bags and in a hundred other ways. And here’s a twist on the idea: How about a painting made not of an elephant, but by one? At the Elephant Stay program in Ayutthaya, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of complex of ruined temples outside Bangkok, elephants are coached to “paint” pictures by their mahouts, and the results are surprising. They can be bought as souvenirs also.
At the Floating Markets there are more “fans” than sellers, hawkers stalls more than boat sailors, more tourists than locals. But nevertheless, the Floating Market is a unique experience and a perfect setting for a dynamic photo. I did a lot of pictures there and, for sure, the photo camera is the last thing you must never forget when you visit Damnoen Saduak Floating Market!