There are many floating markets to be found in Bangkok, with Damnoen Saduak being the most popular among tourists.
I had planned on visiting the slightly more authentic one located at Amphawa instead, but unfortunately this is only open on weekends and our visit fell during the week.
I arranged this trip through the website WithLocals, which I love. It’s a site where you can browse and book a whole bunch of different tours, activities and dining experiences for your next trip, all of which are hosted by people who know the city best – the locals.
Our tour was with a lovely lady named Piyaporn, who picked us up from our riverside hotel at 8am. After about an hour and a half of driving (and sitting in traffic – this is Bangkok, after all), we arrived at the market a little after it opened and boarded a boat.
Damnoen Saduak floating market
One of the first things you’ll notice as soon as you land in Bangkok is the crazy traffic, and this is no different at Damnoen Saduak, albeit at a much slower pace and with boats. There are no rules of the water, as everyone pushes their way through the canal, bumping into others who are heading in the opposite direction and crossing to either sides of the market at free will. Make sure you’re not holding onto the edge, because you’ll get your fingers caught when your boat clashes with another!
The market is heavily catered towards tourists and is filled with souvenir stalls selling scarves, handbags, ornaments, spices, and the like – the prices of which are higher than back on land. We didn’t buy any keepsakes, but what I couldn’t resist having was some of the food. There are no stalls for this, only vendors on boats who coast up and down the market, cooking and selling their dishes directly from their boat to yours. We had some mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream (served in a coconut!), but I also spotted pad thai, noodles and marinated pork skewers up for grabs, to name a few.
If you come to Damnoen Saduak expecting to find an authentic local market, you’ll probably leave feeling quite disappointed – you’re better off heading to one of the smaller ones located elsewhere in the city. But if you’re in Bangkok during the week like we were, and want to experience the hustle and bustle of a marketplace that’s based on the water, you’ll have a great time. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.
With full stomachs, we leave the market and take a short 10-mins drive further along the canal, and swap to a motorised long-tail boat to visit the surrounding neighbourhood.
As the younger generation flock to the bustling inner city, this area is now populated mainly with retirees who live in the quaint houses which line each side of the canal. Instead of cars or bikes, most residents have their own boat which they use to commute in and out of central Bangkok.
We sail slowly through the narrow points in the canal, but the boat runs like a jet ski through the straight wide openings. Slowing down to a stop, we pull up alongside a house where an elderly man appears with a pot attached to the end of a long, wooden pole. He extends the pot to the driver of our boat who places some money into it, in exchange for two bags of fish food.
Piyaporn explains that we’re now in the temple area of the neighbourhood, meaning you can only give, not take. In other words, fishing is not allowed, but feeding them is. You can’t see them through the calm opaque water at first, but as soon as we throw in the first handful of food they appear in their dozens, jumping and splashing excitedly out of the canal.
Wat Bang Kung
Located in the Amphawa district, we pay a visit to Wat Bang Kung next, an ancient temple built at the foot of a banyan tree that has nearly been completely engulfed by the roots.
Following the second defeat of Ayutthaya to the Burmese, a navy base named Bang Kung Camp was set up in this area by King Taksin in 1767. It was from here that he led his troops to successfully reclaim the city a year later, and a memorial site now stands in remembrance of his achievements nearby. The temple was once the spiritual and physical centre of the camp and is visited by both tourists and locals today, who still use the site as a place of worship.
After a full morning of sightseeing, we stop for some lunch at a small local restaurant located in Mae Klong. Piyaporn orders for all of us – a bowl of fresh egg noodles in a delicious fragrant broth, served with sliced beef and wontons.
Over lunch, she tells us a bit more about herself and her country, like how they have three different seasons (hot, hotter, and hottest), the places she’s travelled to so far, how lots of tourists are coming to Bangkok now to reenact the route from the Hangover 2, and about the annual Songkran water festival, a three-day water fight which takes place during the Thai new year.
Having a tour guide is great for learning more about landmarks and attractions, but travelling with locals means you get closer to both the city and its people.
Maeklong Railway Market
The restaurant we’re at is just around the corner from Maeklong Station, which is where we’re going next. Although I hadn’t heard of it before, there’s a very famous market here which has been around for generations.
Most commonly known as the ‘Maeklong Railway Market’ or the ‘train market’, this is a place like no other, as it’s set on a railway track where a train service still operates to this day.
Stalls are set out along either side of the track, with fresh produce displayed under specially made awnings that shield vendors from the sun. When a train approaches, traders spring into action, moving their goods out of the away just enough for the carriages to pass before returning everything back to its place.
Unfortunately, the trains weren’t running during our visit, but you can see a video of it here:
This is a very unique place for travellers like us, but it doesn’t seem all that convenient for the locals. I asked Piyaporn why they’re still here, and she explained that the market was actually set up here first, and the train tracks were built through it. The stallholders decided they weren’t going to be pushed out of their spot, so they stayed put and kept trading, even after the station was opened.
Although it’s rare, there have been some accidents at the market in the past, but never once involving the locals. So if you’re planning a visit when the train service is running, make sure to stand well back.
Overall, we had a great time on our last day in Bangkok, and I can’t wait to travel again WithLocals.
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