One of the most common questions we get asked is, “Can we go to the floating market.” This is actually a great question! Markets are one of Bangkok (and Asia’s) quintessential experiences, as varied and photogenic as all get out. There’s just one thing – asking about “the floating market” in Bangkok is like asking to see “the mall” in Chicago.
Truth is, there are floating markets everywhere, and they vary greatly (greatly!) in size, scope, offerings, and authenticity. Indeed, the title of this post isn’t just hyperbole – some “floating markets” are actually on a cement pathway next to a shallow khlong with a few sad boats tied up; not exactly something to write home about.
The powers that be have cottoned on to the allure of the floating market and have gone to great lengths to promote them, and even create them out of thin air… er, water, to jump on the bandwagon. However, that’s not to say that newer markets don’t offer some great sights, but it’s also incorrect to say that all ‘official’ floating markets offer a really authentic experience. As with most things, it’s a little from column A, a little from column B, and a whole lot of knowing where and when to go for the particular type of adventure you’re looking for.
The big daddy of them all – the one that most people probably mean when they say ‘floating market’ – is Damnoen Saduak (pictured above). While undeniably large and impressive, it’s absolutely packed with people, as tour groups and amateur photographers wander every which way at all hours. It’s also about 100km outside of Bangkok, which not everyone is aware of.
That being said, it is famous for a reason, and we’ve spent countless hours there finding out where the best vantage points are, where the crowds aren’t, and the best time and place to get the best food. Unlike most other floating markets that are only open on weekends, Damnoen Saduak is open daily.
On the other end of the spectrum you have Tha Kha Floating Market, sort of the anti-Damnoen Saduak. While not as boisterous, colorful, or large, it’s still a lovely slice of traditional Thai culture as it was 100 years ago. Situated a 15 minute drive from Damnoen Saduak floating market, amid marshy coconut plantations veined by narrow canals, you won’t find many tour buses out this way.
Nearby Tha Kha is Amphawa, which has a floating market as well as a vibrant, almost boutique-y shopping culture. Undoubtedly the weekenders from Bangkok and local hipster artists have brought the crowds, but its still got loads of charm and plenty of places to relax and eat.
Another one of our favorites is the market at Wat Ta Khian. This is a relatively new “pop-up” floating market created to entice more locals to visit the fairly impressive Ta Khian temple (Wat). It does have a busy stretch of water full of traditional boats hawking traditional wares, that’s joined to a courtyard full of great food, the temple, a fruit and vegetable market, and – a must at any real floating market – bizarre statues of dogs playing cards and a giant mythical creature sporting Ray Bans and an iPhone.
Other popular stops are Lat Mayom and Taling Chan, both smaller places that, while advertised as ‘floating’ markets – actually have very little to see on the water, but make up for it with a fun and spirited market experience – and of course, plenty to eat. These “canalside” markets are popular due to their close proximity to downtown Bangkok and can be reached by private longtail boats from riverside hotels.
The bottom line is that not all floating markets are created equal. Due to their popularity, it’s sometimes common to see them being played up a bit, or sold as more (or different) to the reality. Lucky for you that we love hanging out at floating markets and can lead you to the exact experience you’re looking for. See some of our Bangkok day trip itineraries here.