There’s not much that says ‘Thailand’ more than eating a steaming bowl of noodles while perusing homewares, clothing and tropical fruit piled high on longboat ‘shops’ crammed into a tiny canal. Bangkok’s floating markets should be at the top of every visitors to-do list.
It’s one of Thailand’s most sought-after scenes: longboats crammed into a tiny canal piled high with tropical fruits and vegetables, locals serving steaming bowls of noodles from waterborne cafes, market-goers perusing the wares of ramshackle shops lining the canal edges, and tourists haggling over coconut juice and naff toy elephants. Floating markets are a place where noise and colour knows no bounds, offering a unique glimpse into the lives of those who live on the river. They have deep roots in Thai cultural life, dating back to the early 1300s when most Thai communities were based around rivers, with daily life concentrated on the water.
Modern-day markets are as much a tourist spectacle as anything – and it is understandable with the unique and charming experience on offer. The most popular floating market in Bangkok is Damnoen Saduak, about one hour outside of the city centre. The narrow canals are crammed with boats guided by expert locals who are ready to stop and haggle at any given moment. Other favourites include the more traditional Taling Chan (head here for a seafood lunch) and Khlong Lat Mayom, where everything from fruit to clothes to toys to homewares are on sale.
Food is a key part of the floating market experience, so make sure you arrive with an empty stomach. Coconut juice is a specialty, as is traditional pancakes, ice cream sandwiches, noodles and curries and every tropical fruit imaginable – keep an eye out for papayas and mangoes. A large lunch is best followed by guided boat tour of the canals, a stroll through the charming wooden shops on the banks of the river, some serious haggling and perhaps a foot massage or some live entertainment by traditional musicians. Don’t leave home without your camera, and get your poker face on to ensure you grab some bargains!