There is nothing better than getting lost in local markets while traveling in Asia. The aromas of the regional foods, the unique produce, and the local people always mesmerize me. I only had one day in Bangkok, so I began to research the “must-see” markets. While perusing my search log, I stumbled upon some sites mentioning floating markets. I have always been eager to visit a floating market ever since seeing Anthony Bourdain sampling local delicacies at Vietnam’s Cia Rang Floating Market. I remember watching him order a boat-side breakfast, and since then, I have been dreaming of having such an experience.
There are several floating markets to choose from around Bangkok. The most famous, but also the most touristy, is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. If you are interested in a more local market without all the tourists maybe check out Bang Khu Wiang or Khlong Lat Mayom . For more information on these markets, visit this website. While researching all the different markets in the area. I was having a little bit of trouble choosing which one was the best or easiest to get to. Luckily I discovered a great website that had private tours and made everything really simple and easy. Also the tour featured a stop at the Damnoen Tiger Zoo, where we could feed baby tigers!
I proposed this idea to my friends, and they both agreed that this sounded like a must see adventure. We were traveling during the peak tourist season, however there was no issue booking the tour just a few days in advance. The cost was 2,800THB per person and the trip included a tour guide, a driver, boat transportation, and a ticket to feed and take pictures with baby tigers. On the website, it mentioned visiting a Palm Sugar Factory, however that was not included or mentioned during the trip. Our driver picked us up from Lub’d hostel around 7:00am. Since it was a private tour, he gave us a few minutes to finish our breakfasts and get ourselves together. The car was very clean and comfortable, and the drive took about 90 minutes, with a brief stop for coffee. As we drove along, our guide gave us many suggestions and information about what to see and do around Bangkok. His advice was very helpful, and talking to him made the drive go by rather quickly.
Our first stop was to the boat pier. As soon as we arrived, a long-tail boat was ready for us, and we were able to get moving right away. The boat ride itself was fantastic! Being able to see the fruit plantations and local homes was a captivating experience. I really enjoyed watching the local Thai people start their day as they gave us friendly waves from their porches.
The stilted homes were quite beautiful, and they were not as shabby as a I expected them to be. I have visited the countryside of Bangkok once before, and many homes looked like they would blow over with just a slight breeze. These homes were sturdy and vibrantly painted, yet they still had a rustic charm. Many of the porches were covered in lush and vibrantly colored flowers, while flags, wind-chimes, and statues decorated the outside. I thoroughly enjoyed having a back-door perspective before entering the busy and bustling market.
I also took pleasure in catching brief glimpses of the spirit homes that were tucked into the corners of the fruit groves. Throughout Thailand,visitors will often see statues of ornate, miniature houses that seem like a shrine. These small structures are actually dwelling places for certain spirits. It is believed that they are there to protect people and to bring them good luck and health. As we cruised through the canals I admired the spirit houses that decorated the waterfront and fruit plantations. I enjoyed how they added to the already remarkable scenery.
As we began to approach the market. I started noticing wooden signs with frightening-looking snakes. These signs were advertising Cobra shows, which apparently are popular all over Thailand. In these shows, handlers hypnotize a King Cobra, taunt some kind of jumping snake, and instigate a fight between a King Cobra and a mongoose. Visitors can take pictures with some of the snakes and also visit a mini-zoo with various reptilian creatures. Reptiles are not really my thing, so I was glad that we were visiting the Tiger zoo instead.
The canals suddenly started to become congested with boat traffic as we approached the entrance to the market. A buddhist monk gracefully glided down the waterway in a rickety wooden canoe. It looked like his boat could easily tip over if he made any sudden movement. However, he paddled along gracefully with perfect balance, using only one hand to paddle. I was mesmerized with his peaceful stillness, amidst the bustling water market.
Vibrantly colored fruits were displayed on the bows of the canoes, as the vendors busily advertised their produce. Other boats were set up with a full kitchen, equipped with fryers, spices, and utensils that were serving up delicious Thai dishes. The aroma of the food filled the air, and made my stomach rumble. I was amazed at how the boats were perfectly organized to make serving food quick and efficient. Each ingredient had a specific location that was easily in reach of the busy chef. It was a fascinating site. I suddenly was filled with excitement, and I was very eager to start exploring.
The boat took us to a dock, and our guide directed us to follow him. I thought that we were going to explore the market more by boat, however he told us that is is better to just walk along the waterside. At first I was a little disappointed, because I was enjoying the boat so much, but after seeing the thick congestion of traffic in the canal, I realized walking around was definitely the best choice. We set off at a rather quick pace, as the guide showed us where the best parts of the market were. At the entrance, there was a spot to take a photo with a very large snake. I had some extra change to spare, so I decided to take the opportunity for the photo.
After the over-priced photo-op, we set off again. Next, the guide led us to some food vendors. He pointed out one particular noodle seller who had a large line of people hovering by. The menu had only three items: Some kind of Spicy Soup, Pork Noodle Soup, or Pork Noodles without soup. Our guide told us that this was one of the most popular food spots where you are sure to find an hour-long queue at any given time. I wish we had the time to wait around for the delicious noodles, because the smell was intoxicating. However, if we wanted time to walk around, these “Boat Noodles” could not be on our agenda. After the boat noodle tease, we continued to walk by a variety of other food vendors. There were grilled squids, chicken satay, dried fish, fried spring rolls, and mango sticky rice all for sale out of boats docked along the landing. I was in Thai food heaven! Matthew and I had been on a hunt for Mango Sticky rice since we arrived in Thailand, so we decided to order that as our snack. For some reason, Mango Sticky Rice is a rarity in Krabi, so we were excited to finally find this delicacy. The chef chose to color the rice green and blue to make the presentation of the dish more vibrant. For those of you who are wondering what is Mango Sticky Rice, it is actually quite simple. The mangos are sliced fresh, then paired with sticky rice (glutinous rice) that is covered in a sauce made from coconut milk, sugar, and a pinch of salt.
After grabbing our delicious treat, our guide designated a meeting spot, then let us go off on our own for about an hour. I was happy about this, because I was ready to slow down the pace, so I could practice some photography. Also Lana and Matthew wanted to check out some of the souvenir shops. Most of the food is sold boat-side, while the souvenir shops are located on the adjacent landings. Some people complain about how the authenticity of Damnoen Saduak is compromised due to the touristy nature, however I felt that the market was instead in an evolutionary phase. I was happy to see that the Thai people had lucrative businesses, and were able to do well in this unique environment. I was not there to buy a bunch of produce to prepare a fresh meal as a local might do. Instead, I was seeking to observe a different way of life that is rare, particularly to the Western eye. I am glad that places like this have found ways to sustain themselves in a modern world.
The prices of goods were comparable to those on the Ao Nang strip in Krabi or the famous Kao San Road in Bangkok. The prices are not listed on signs, and their are no price tags, so you have the choice of haggling or taking the price you get offered. Occasionally, I haggle just for the fun of it, but I do it respectfully, and generally I am aiming to buy the item regardless of what the deal is. However, I don’t really mind supporting the locals by paying the asking price. Sometimes the haggling-style shopping can get a bit annoying. I find it a bit obnoxious when I see westerners get in a huff over 50cents. Honestly if you can afford the plane ticket, the iphone, and that large DSLR camera hanging around your neck, I think you can afford something that is 1-2 dollars over the normal asking price.
One part of the market that I really enjoyed was a section with handcrafts and local artists. I enjoyed observing a young girl meticulously carving a piece of wax into a beautiful Lotus flower. There were also artists painting in their outdoor galleries along the riverfront. The paintings were vibrant, and displayed images of Buddha, elephants, and Thai landscapes. I hope that many people will look beyond the tacky souvenir shops, and check these people out. If I had brought more money, I would have definitely considered buying some of their work.
As I got to the edge of the market, some of the items became a bit risqué. I guess in order for the market to have it all, you can’t leave the sexy items out. At first glance, I thought it was just another table of wooden Buddhas and elephants, but as I got closer I realized it was like a scene from the book of Kama Sutra. It was a bit odd seeing these provocative statues adjacent to the serene looking buddhas, nevertheless it was amusing.
Furthermore, there are also massage booths set up if you would like to get rubbed down while watching the boats pass by. Personally, I prefer a more quite atmosphere for a massage, but its also nice to relax after too much shopping.
We finally ended our market journey by stopping at the restaurant boats. Basically, a bunch of plastic chairs and tables are set up directly next to the boats, so people can eat their food easily. Menus are set up on large banners, and servers bring your order to the boat. Each boat cooks up different menu items, though all seemed equally popular. The soup noodles looked amazing, but I went with the Pad Thai, since it is easier to eat quickly. I was lucky enough to get a seat right next to the boats so I could watch and photograph the food making process closely.
Again, the restaurant boat’s efficiency was just astounding. Each ingredient had its place in separate containers. Long ladles allowed the cooks to reach and pour piping hot broth over the noodles. Then finally, the chef would add the necessary spices to give the dish its final touches. Finally, my Pad Thai noodles arrived. Generally one adds spice to their noodles using the condiments on the table, but I was a little hesitant because it seemed that the spices had been sitting out a while. I was not looking to get sick, so I just left my food as it was. Though I enjoy the spicy nature of Thai food, these noodles still hit the spot!
Our floating market adventure was now over. We met with our guide, and hopped back into the car. Now it was time to go play with tigers! The Damnoen Tiger Zoo was only a few minutes drive from the floating market. During the drive our guide gave us a little background knowledge about the zoo. Apparently the owner, actually keeps one of the tigers as a pet in his home! When we arrived, our guide purchased the feeding milk option for us. I was impressed with how the tigers seemed quite healthy and lively. I was also glad to see them roaming freely rather than being chained or in cramped cages. I was a bit worried that this might be one of those places where the Tigers are mistreated. Though their space to roam was a bit cramped, the facility otherwise seemed decent.
When we arrived to the baby tiger cages, we were requested to take off our shoes and leave our bags outside. The zookeeper guided the tiger towards us, and we each took turns feeding it milk. Lana went first so I could set up my camera. The tiger was very calm, but also eager to drink the milk. When it was my turn, it used its paws to grasp my arm. At first I was scared that I was about to get scratched, but it did not fully extend its claws. It was very well trained and followed the instructions of the trainer. After feeding it milk, the tiger went to sleep. This is when I figured out that they must have drugged the tiger through the milk. I was a little uneasy about the ethics of the situation at this point. Though the tigers seemed healthy and well-kept, I know there is a lot of controversy about sedating them. We were allowed about 30 minutes with the tigers, which gave us plenty of time to get lots of pictures plus feed it. Afterwards we walked around and observed some of the adult tigers. Many of the adults would come very close to the cage, hoping to be fed some meat. It was pretty amazing to see such wild beasts from such a close distance. We were able to get back to our hostel by about 1:30pm which gave us plenty of time to continue exploring. The Best Bangkok Travel group did an amazing job with this tour, and I would highly recommend them for any of your travel needs. If you have any comments or suggestions please leave them below! Thanks for reading!