It was something right off the pages of an adventure novel; a market in full swing, open-aired shop selling colorful wares, vendors wearing traditional hats hawking street food straight off the pot. It was a bedlam of people everywhere, locals mixing in with the tourists. It was everything you’d expect from a bustling mid-morning market scene in Asia. Except everything’s set on boats above water.
|OUR CHEERFUL DRIVER WHO DROPPED US AT THE BOAT STATION INSTEAD OF THE MARKET|
Our gang set off quite early from the Four Points Hotel in Bangkok, hoping to catch a mini-van from a park somewhere in the city to the Ayutthaya Historical Park. We hailed a cab, it was more economical since we were four in the group, and asked the driver to drop us there. Long story short, he convinced us that there was a rally going on and we’d be better off with him driving us all the way to Ayutthaya. After some mental computations, we agreed. 1,700 Baht (USD 52.00) is indeed cheaper, not to mention more convenient, than taking the mini-van.
A few minutes in and we saw a poster at his cab advertising the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. It was something all of us wanted to go to and our enthusiasm didn’t get past our cheery driver. He told us we can drop by the market before going to Ayutthaya. Deal!
|INTO THE CANALS OF DAMNOEN SADUAK DISTRICT|
An hour and half later and we were alighting on a gravel lot with a shed taking tourists on a longtail boat ride around the canals of Damnoen Saduak. How much, we asked; 1,500 Baht (46.00 USD) per person for two hours. What the frak! It was almost priced the same as our taxi ride!
|A FRUIT VENDOR LAZILY FLOATING ALONG ONE OF THE NARROW CANALS|
A little more research would’ve revealed that the floating market was just a kilometer away from the area. We could’ve just gone straight there, hire a boat for 300 Baht per hour and explore the canals and three more floating markets (Ton Khem, Hia Kui and Khun Phithak) for a cheaper price.
Apparently, taxi drivers in Bangkok usually take tourists here instead of hauling them straight to the market since they get a cut for every customer they bring. We should’ve smelled something fishy when our driver didn’t ask for an additional fee for bringing us to the Floating Market.
Gullible tourists that we were, we bought tickets for the overpriced boat ride and gingerly stepped on the wooden motorized boat.
|LONGTAIL BOATRIDE THROUGH THE CANALS|
The first part of the tour had us zipping through a narrow canal, passing through shrubberies and residential houses. Most of these houses have boats tethered along the water.
The Damnoen Saduak is actually a man-made canal built in 1868 thru the orders of King Rama IV. The purpose, to connect two provinces via the Taachin and Maeklong Rivers. It is 35 kilometers long and besides its use as a waterway (think of a highway, but everyone’s on a boat), it also acts as irrigation for the agricultural community.
|ONE OF THE MANY SOUVENIR STALLS ALONG THE CANAL|
|HANDICRAFT SOUVENIRS, CATS ANYONE?|
Soon, the houses transformed into souvenir shops, with our boatman slowing down on each one as our eyes ogled on the local wares being sold. We haven’t really checked out the local markets in Bangkok yet, but at the prices they were charging, we knew right then that they were too expensive.
|MORE SOUVENIR SHOPS|
Putt-putting ahead, our boat eventually berthed on another platform and told us we were at the Coconut Sugar Factory House. It was some sort of souvenir shop cum restaurant cum a-place-where-they-make-sugar-out-of-coconuts. We were all quite familiar with the process, as three of my companions hail from Cabangan in Zambales where they make a similar product. We took a quick look, snapped a couple of photos, bought a plastic of souvenirs and we were rockin’ the boat once more.
|KWAY TEOW NAM TOM YUM SOUP VENDOR|
We saw a couple of tourist boats pulling up near a man holding a ladle and pouring steaming soup on a pink plastic bowl. Wanna try that? Our boatman asked. We wanna! We immediately replied. With seemingly nonchalant grace, the vendor quickly made four bowls of kway teow nam tom yum soup complete with quail eggs, beef, shallots and an assortment of spices quicker than we can say, floatingmarketscam!
|WATERWAYS FOR STREETS|
|TOURISTS UNABLE TO BEAR THAILAND’S SUMMER HEAT|
Our tummies warm from the noodles, we sped on. It was curious to note that there were more tourists riding the canal than there were locals actually using it as a transport highway. Well, it might be that the route we were using were more for the tourists than the people living in the area.
|A FRUIT VENDOR AT THE DAMNOEN SADUAK FLOATING MARKET|
An hour into the ride and we finally arrived at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. This is the floating market of all the floating markets of Thailand. This is the most popular in the country. This is where it’s happening. And this is where all the tourists are.
The traffic became heavier as we plunged through the chaos of the market, slowly passing through all sort of things being hawked; fruits, vegetables, apparels, souvenirs, food. Food!
|THE UBIQUITOUS PAD THAI AT THE FLOATING MARKET|
We couldn’t help but order another plate of noodles from an old lady selling pad thai. A quick mix and jangle of ingredients later and we have four plates of Thailand’s most famous noodle dish on our hands. Our boat parked as we chopsticked our way through the delicious fare.
|COCONUT ICE CREAM, THE HIGHLIGHT OF OUR FLOATING MARKET TOUR|
With a just a teeny weeny space in our bellies, we debated on hailing a passing ice cream vendor. The ice cream won and we ordered scoops of coconut ice cream gloriously set on its shell and sprinkled with peanuts. It was the best decision we made that day. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the best ice cream I’ve tasted in my whole life.
I’ll say it again. This is the best ice cream I’ve tasted in my whole life.
Everything went downhill after our ice cream encounter. It really was the climax of our floating market trip. We visited a temple by the canal, Wat Chottayakaram, but it didn’t really look that interesting. Two of our companions went up while me and my buddy stayed in the boat, thinking loudly about buying another round of coconut ice cream.
|RIDING ELEPHANTS AT THE DAMNOEN SADUAK ELEPHANT VILLAGE|
We then went to the Damnoen Saduak Elephant Village, our travel mates were quite keen on riding them elephants. I have seen what these gentle giants go through for training when I visited Patong Beach the previous year. I don’t know how they do it here, but I passed on the ride. 600 Baht (18.00 USD) for 20 minutes is too expensive for me anyhoo.
|BACK AT SQUARE ONE|
And after almost exactly two hours, we looped back from exactly where we came from.
In hindsight, it was actually a pleasant, if somewhat very touristy, trip through the canals of Damnoen Saduak. We could’ve brought the price of the tour down if we actually did our assignments and researched before dealing with cab drivers. But oh well. The thing to do is to simply enjoy every expensive minute you bought your ticket for and not let the unpleasant aftertaste of a rotten scheme linger in your mouth. And oh, make sure you have enough baht to get back at your hotel too.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Address: Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi, Thailand
Entrance Fee: None
Full Loop Tour - 1,700 Baht per pax for two hours
Boats from the Market - 300 Baht per hour
Paddle Boats from the Pier - 150 Baht per person
GPS Coordinates Map: 13.520721, 99.958275