In November 2021, tourism in Thailand was in the early stages of the Test & Go program for vaccinated travelers. The Thai capital, Bangkok, bustled with the activities of its 8 million inhabitants. For the most part, tourists were still as rare as hen’s teeth.
Some tours were operating and prices seemed reasonable. While there have been times when group tours have been fun and informative, I prefer walking tours, bike tours, and small groups or private tours. Large tours often involve mandatory shopping stops, and shopping is one of my least favorite activities.
On this trip, I departed from my usual modus operandi and booked a group tour to a floating market and a train market. In essence, I signed up for a group tour that was primarily devoted to shopping. 🤣
The tour picked me up at my hotel in a van that had room for about eight or nine tourists. The guide said we would transfer to a bus for the drive to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. It is located in Ratchaburi Province about 60 miles (100km) southwest of Bangkok.
The bus transfer never happened because there were only eight on the tour plus the guide and driver. Most of the drive to the market was on a multi-lane highway. Thai limited-access highways often have parallel roads on each side for local traffic and highway services like gas stations.
The stations have all of the things you might need on a road trip and they are right next to the highway.
The source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, provides a good description of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market:
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market consists of a maze of narrow khlongs (canals). Female traders, often wearing traditional mo hom apparel (blue farmers’ shirts) with wide-brimmed straw hats (ngob) use sampans (small wooden boats) to sell their wares, often produce. These boats are often full of vegetables and colorful fruits that are photogenic, and these images are used for tourism promotion. The market is often the busiest in the morning from 07:00 to 09:00 and is active until noon. A roof was built for the market so that it could be operated every day and all day.
The floating market is crowded with tourists and is considered a tourist trap. As such, the wares tend to be overpriced. Bargaining is a common practice, although the prices of souvenirs and food are generally fixed within a few baht. Canoe cooks can be found preparing and selling boat noodles. The floating market also has been noted to lack cultural authenticity, although it remains a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists. (Citations omitted)
I’d visited this floating market about 10 years ago. Just like in Phuket, there were few tourists. You may not recognize it because of the lack of tourists, but Damnoen Saduak Floating Market has been featured in several films. A canal chase scene in the Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) was filmed here, and the 2008 film Bangkok Dangerous starring Nicolas Cage includes a scene that takes place at the market.
Other areas were busy with women selling produce from boats.
Roofed souvenir stands and restaurants lined canals. Pre Covid, tourists would have been numerous here.
I bargained for a few knick-knacks at the souvenir stands. With few buyers, I thought merchants might give good discounts. Someone who knew how to shop and what to look for might have had a field day.
Touring the canals in a sampan was the part of the experience I most enjoyed. The small wooden boats held three or four tourists. A Thai lady paddled us along through the maze of canals. The only cost for the ride was a tip. I tipped generously for paddling us around for 20 minutes.
Vendors approached us on the canals. I bought a beer before the ice cream lady approached. Coconut ice cream would have been better on a warm day.
Outside the floating market, the canal cruise passed private homes, farms and businesses.
This floating market was much more impressive the first time I visited. Ten years ago, the market had many more sampans selling goods and long-tailed boats plying the canals. Throngs of tourists while being a hassle at times, also added to the experience. Even though Wikipedia calls it a tourist trap, I’d recommend a one-time visit to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market once tourism returns.
The primary reason I took this tour was to see the market that the train drives through. That will be the next post.