Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
“After a few days in the Untongo Jungle I really began to look forward to my evening meal of dung beetle stew.” Harriet, First Lady of the Adventurer ‘s Club 1937
During our stay in Bangkok we wanted to visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets, with most of the canals now turned to roads the idea of the vendors selling their wares on the water seemed quintessentially Thai to me. Although I’m not really a Guided Tour kind of girl, after doing some research it seemed like joining a tour was the only way to get to the floating market. The tour desk at our hotel offered us what seemed like a pretty good deal and we were told that there would be less than 10 people on our tour with a possibility that it may just be the two of us. In comparison to how much we spent on everything else in Bangkok that day turned out to exceptionally expensive.
We got up at about 5am to meet our tour guide. There was at least 15 people squeezed into our tiny mini bus, most of which was one big family .So much for our private tour. We thought the tour may have provided us with the opportunity to meet other travellers but it was clear from the get go that no one else was looking to make friends.
After about an hour, the bus stopped by the river. I got out and quickly used the bathroom. When I walked out I was being called to get onto a long boat. I quickly stumbled on and sat next to Dan. I was sanitising my hands, when I heard “ma’am, ma’am” and looked up to see a man I didn’t know with a massive camera flashing in my face. “Wow…that pictures a keeper” I said. The boat ride took about 15 minutes and it was quite exciting racing down the canals, watching the people we got a passing glance at going about their daily business on the river banks. When we docked I seen that the pictures of people getting into the boats were being put on commemorative plates and seemed to be bizarrely popular with the other tourists. I decided to pass on my plate. I don’t need a plate to remind me of that magical time when I sanitised my hands while getting on to a boat *sigh*. I close my eyes and I am right there. RIGHT THERE.
We went from the first long boat to the floating market and were taken directly to a ticket desk where we had to pay for another boat as this was not included in our original ticket price. We were told that being on a boat was the only way to experience the market and we felt we had no choice but to buy a ticket. We took our seats in the second row of the boat. We got to see the various vendors and their wares both in boats and on the sides of the river. I was surprised to see that some of the stalls had “We Accept Credit Cards” signs. The pictures I had seen of the floating market, like the one on the cover of my guidebook, showed boats filled with beautiful fresh flowers and exotic fruit with smiling vendors in traditional dress. In reality the overwhelming majority of boats and stalls sell tacky souvenirs that can be bought anywhere, with the minority selling food and drinks, mainly of the canned beer than the Pad Thai variety. The most pushed item was a hat that was also a fan. Practical? Yes, but really why would anyone buy that? The boats float along the river then the vendors hook the boat and drag you to their stall. You are a captive audience and for a few minutes you get the hard sell. I was very happy to be in the second row as the pair in front of us got the full treatment at every stop. One particularly overzealous vendor harassed the woman in-front until she was at the point of tears and had no choice but to purchase a delightful hat/ fan. Listening to the vendor pleading with the women to, “Gimme it”, while trying to charge her an astronomical amount was uncomfortable to watch. We were lucky to have got to the river very early. As the morning progressed it got extremely busy and the canal began to resemble a Bangkok traffic jam. The only thing I bought at the market was some delicious banana with caramel sauce that had been barbecued on one of the boats. Once you have seen the boats and stalls there is really not much else to do but wander about and take photographs. There are men with big snakes and lizards who you can pose with for pictures but unless I was the one getting paid I would not let a creature like that near me. At one particularly sought after photograph taking spot I watched a lady selling Tiger Balm rub it all over a German Man’s face much to his obvious dismay. Our tour guide told us the market was just in the morning as the vendors go and work in their farms during the day. Unless their fields grow Damnoen Saduak Floating Market magnets, I don’t think this is particularly accurate.
Our tour guide stressed over and over that the floating market was the tourist market, that locals go elsewhere and as a result the prices were very high. She repeated it constantly until I felt completely uncultured. The only people who were there were tourists. I felt like the locals were putting on a show, pretending that things were like the old days for the sake of the tourists who were taking pictures of something idealistic that possibly never even existed. The whole scenario reminded me of a picture I had hanging on my living room wall. It is a sepia print of the canals of Venice. I always looked at the picture and in particular at one women in a boat. You could only see the back of her and I imagined she was a 19th century aristocrat heading to church or to meet her forbidden lover. One day on closer examination I realised that this “women” was actually a man in a baseball hat wielding his camera. He was very much of this era. Everyone else in the picture were tourists just like him except for the denim wearing boat steers. My heart sank. I felt cheated, yet I still loved the print and all it represented even if just to me. This is kind of the feeling I had while at the floating market. I so desperately wanted it to be something more than it was that I could almost convince myself that I was in my fantasy version rather than the slightly sad reality.
We had a couple of hours at the floating market before we were sardined back into the bus and headed off to our next destination.