Love it or hate it, many tourist trap destinations are simply a must. There’s no sugarcoating it, tourist traps doesn’t usually make it as the highlight of a trip. Crowded with different types of visitors– from posh toursits to twenty-something backpackers, gap year travelers, and bucket list vacationers — it ruins the pure authenticity many of us are after. But we do it anyway. We go there simply because whatever valid charm that’s left of the place is still worth it. They didn’t become a tourist spot for no reason, after all.
Besides the elephant ride cliche, a floating market experience has been in every Thailand guidebook. Tourists from all over the world flock there, hoping for a legitimate experience. Located in Ratchaburi, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the biggest one and has been the most recognized in Thailand, and possibly all of Asia. You’ve seen the pictures. The boat traffic, the vendors selling goods, and locals wearing their rice hats. Oh, it was everything a tourist trap you imagined would be, alright. But despite that, I loved it.
The first time I was in Thailand, I didn’t really researched anything at all. It was a busy time for me, especially I was graduating the same month and I was finishing up many requirements (nursing school, am I right). Not only that, but all of us who went on the trip were basically rookie travelers. It was a vacation trip, I suppose, and all I had in mind was celebrating the bachelors degree that I worked so hard for. Needless to say, our expectation of a busy floating market was entirely a fail– we went to the Chao Phraya Floating Market, and there were pretty much just two boats selling nothing but souvenirs. No mango and sticky rice or dragon fruits. Just overpriced souvenirs.
So when I finally went back to Bangkok earlier this year with my husband and his family, I was able to experience what I missed out on the first time around. Not only did I read up articles and watched Anthony Bourdain Thailand episodes, but my husband’s aunt and uncle are expats in Thailand so everything was perfectly arranged for us. The market is only open until noon and it takes two hours to get there from Bangkok, so we left as early as we can at 7 in the morning. As soon as we got there, it was packed already. Tourists. Tourists everywhere. There might even be more tourists than locals.
Entering the vicinity, you’ll walk through a bunch of stores selling mostly souvenirs. There’s a small restaurant inside where you can expect twice the regular price for a can of beer. We boarded the traditional boat made of wood and off we went around the river. I spotted many local houses on the side of the river as we went along.
We didn’t hit traffic until we were by the market already. But this is a floating market with vendors and food everywhere. In the heart of Southeast Asia. It’s safe to say that this isn’t the type of traffic that I normally dread and get riled up at. I was actually having a good time. And why wouldn’t I? Just watching people, trying different types of food, window shopping, all at the same time at the comfort of my shaded boat. What’s not to love? After the market, the boat took us around the vicinity where we passed by a temple and a crocodile farm. The boat stopped at another souvenir shop, which I’m sure she gets commission from, since she was insisting that we go down. We politely told her we’d like to skip that.
After getting off the boat, our driver took us to his friend’s restaurant about 20 minutes away. It was next to the river and we had such a sumptuous lunch. You think the food in Bangkok is great? Wait until you try the local food in the provinces. I had no idea where we were at, but all I really had in mind was that I was eating the best curry I’ve ever had.
It turned to be a really fun day. Sure, I could have done without the abundance of the tourists, but that didn’t really matter. That is what I signed up for, anyway. It’s an experience that had to be done not necessarily to check off an item in my bucket list, but because being there and witnessing the local’s lifestyle up close and personal will never compare to just watching it in a documentary or hearing about it from someone who went. Will I go there again? Probably not. But I got what I came for (umpteenth mango sticky rice) and I have a pocketful of new memories, and that’s all I could really ask for.
FYI: Unfortunately, as everything was kindly arranged for us, I didn’t get the prices. A friend of mine who went a couple of months ago told me they paid $30 per person just for the boat ride, but I have a strong feeling that may not have been the actual price. There are many packaged tours offered especially around Khao San Road. Keep in mind that the water is not considered clean in the river and you may be splashed with water so consider this when picking what to wear (I wore white, don’t do it). Another thing, keep in mind that this has become a tourist spot so expect the prices to be higher. They do have beautiful products for sale, from different types of spices to beautiful art work, but you could probably get that those at Chatuchak market for half the price. The food experience, however, is not to be missed. I repeat, it is not to be missed.
Have you been to this floating market or anything similar? How was your experience?