I’ve been to Thailand several times over the years since 1974 and on each trip I’ve avoided the “Floating Markets” because I thought they’d be too touristy. On my latest trip this year in October I finally went and had a look at them.
The markets are about 110km (about a two-hour drive) from Bangkok by car. Many hotels in Bangkok sell tours to the floating markets and would have you believe that tours are the only way to see the markets as you can’t walk around there. That’s not true and you can catch buses there and you can walk along the canals (known locally as “khlongs”) in the main part of the markets if you want to. Having said all that, I’d say that it is worthwhile and much easier to get around if you hire a boat to see the markets from the water. Damnoen Saduak is basically a small town built on the edges of canals and the waterways are used like streets.
My wife and I hired a private car with a driver, as we wanted to relax and not have to deal with public mass transport or tour groups and then we hired a powered boat all to ourselves so we could go at our own pace and see what we wanted to see.
There are two types of boats that you can hire. The larger ones are propelled by an outboard powered with what looks like a small car motor
and the smaller boats closer to the markets are propelled by an oarsman. The powered boats move along at quite a clip and it’s nothing like a quiet punt down a stream.
Hiring a powered boat, came with the added advantage that we were taken through some of the side canals away from the markets, and we got to see some rural canal life.
If you go on a tour you’ll be packed into a boat with many others and you’ll be trundled from one little tourist nick-knack shop to the next without much chance of seeing anything else.
When one arrives at the actual markets the outboards are turned off and the boatmen paddle the boat along. Although we hired a boat for ourselves, we were still taken by our boatman to various little shops, but we were able to get him to move on without much trouble. It’s pretty obvious that the boatmen get some kind of kickback from the shop owners, which I don’t really mind as the wages in Thailand are very low. A word of warning though, the souvenir shops at the floating markets are about two to three times more expensive than the Lumpini night markets in Bangkok. The floating market range of goods tends to be the cheap nasty end of the scale as well.
Even though the floating markets are a tourist destination, they are still authentic markets
where the locals go to sell each other goods, and I’d highly recommend going there as I was quite surprised how interesting it all was, despite the fact it was crawling with tourists just like myself.