Last month, I made a spontaneous decision to go explore the markets in Amphawa and Samut Songkhram, both located just an hour drive from Bangkok (100 km). I had made a quick pitstop here while on the way to Hua-Hin some weeks back, and decided that these markets deserved another visit, and a bit more of my time.
After doing some quick research on a Friday night, and booking a homestay at Baan Thai Damnoen Canal House, I was out of the house by 9am the following day. There were 3 markets I set my sites on for the weekend:
- The Maeklong Railway Station
- The Amphawa Floating Market
- Damneon Saduak Floating Market
The Maeklong Railway Market
The Maeklong Railway Market, also known as “Talad Rom Hoop” by the locals, directly refers to the act of the shop keepers closing their stall umbrellas to make way for the train to pass by. I arrived at the chaotic entrance of the railway market at 12:45pm, knowing that the train would be arriving at 1:45pm and departing again at 2:30pm. As soon as I stepped into the market, I immediately started to question how a train can pass through all of this. There was barely one meter space between the stalls set up on either side, and majority of the fruits and vegetable stalls overlapped the railway tracks. There were probably 300 – 400 people within this confined space, and I really had to ask myself, where all the people were going to hide when the train came.
I spent a bit over an hour exploring the railway market, and also helped a vendor sell some fruits and vegetables while he took his nap, albeit without much luck considering I was his only customer. After feeling slightly claustrophobic and nauseous from all the smell, I decided to walk about 500 metre further along the tracks and eventually found myself amongst local dwellings. There was no smell, barely any people, and not much noise; a big change from what I had just witnessed, and quite worth the “trek”, especially in that amount of heat.
At 1:45pm, I made my way back to the deep end of the market and sat on some wooden blanks at the side of the market, waiting for the train to arrive. It was 1:50pm, the train was late, I assumed. But another 10 minutes past and no train in sight. I asked a vendor if a train was expected to be arriving at this time, and to my disappointment, she said that the train tracks renovations were still in progress, and the tracks were set to open end of March, early April. Oops! I guess no trains to be witnessed on this day for me. Ah well, I guess I’ll make my way back here another time (and with better research)!
Tips for Visiting Maeklong Railway Market
- Bring a large bottle of water, or two.
- Walk past the busy markets ad explore the quite local dwellings of the tracks.
- Immerse yourself into the market, and help a shop keeper out.
- Visit this market in April 2016 or later to catch site of the trains going through the market. The trains pass by 6 times per day, but this can constantly change. So do your research on the train schedule before making the trip.
Amphawa Floating Market
If you’re looking for a truly local experience, then the Amphawa floating market is the place you’ll find it. Usually overshadowed by it’s busy counterpart, the Damnoen Saduak floating market, the Amphawa market does not receive the typical touristic crowd.
I arrived at Amphawa around 3pm, directly from Maeklong Railway market, and decided to take a boat trip through the canals. The cost for a public boat ride is 50 THB per person. I opted to have an entire boat to myself, mainly because I wanted to explore the canals and temples tailored to my liking. To have your own boat costs 500 THB, and if they try and ask you for more, then you’re getting ripped off! Of course if you go with friends, having your own boat becomes a lot cheaper.
The boat ride was extremely relaxing and just want I needed after all the driving and walking through markets. I made 2 pit stops during the 1 hour ride:
- Wat Bang Kung: A temple that I highly recommend visiting, simply because of the fact that it stands tall today, solely due to the fact that nature is holding it up. The trees and roots are intertwined into the temple, and it is a breath-taking site.
- Along the Canal: I asked the boat driver to make a short stop along the way. I got off and explored the local dwellings at the riverside. One of the ladies invited me into her village area and showed me around. I spent about 15 – 20 minutes walking through the riverside villages. The atmosphere and surroundings reminded me of Bang Krachao, the Green Lungs of Bangkok.
After the boat ride was over, I was ready to eat again. This time I decided I would eat my way through the market. There was so much food variety, that it would have been a shame to sit at one restaurant and order one dish. I ended up snacking my way along the riverfront for a good kilometer, until I found a lovely spot to sit and relax by the riverside with some beers and a sunset view.
Tips for Visiting Amphawa Floating Marketing
- Come with a healthy appetite, and make your own local food tour
- Take a boat trip through the river and canals, and make a pit stop at Wat Bang Kung
- Find a comfortable spot to enjoy the sunset
- Although weekends are crowded, it is the best time to come as all the shops are open, and the market is at it’s busiest.
Also, this completely slipped my mind, but probably the most innovative idea I saw at the Amphawa floating market, a sunset foot-massage river cruise! YES! Thailand’s done it again with it’s impeccable customer-satisfaction mentality. I love this country when I see things like these. Definitely a must try, considering its only 350 THB per person! What a steal.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
This is by far the most touristic floating market that I’ve been to. After talking with the locals, I was told that compared to other days, it was not even that busy the day I was there, as it was Chinese New Years and most of the boat vendors and shop owners had taken the day off.
I’m glad that I arrived at 6:30am to this market, just in time for the sunrise, and to watch all the shops open up at 7am. I hired a wooden rowboat for the hour, and was taken around the floating market. Instead of dining from the side streets with the vendors serving you from their boat (which most floating markets have now become), I got a chance to experience the true tradition of fresh food shopping while on the river with my boat. All boat vendors are floating in the river, and if you want to buy something, all you have to do is stop your boat beside their’s, order what you like, and they’ll prepare it in front of you, and pass it along for you to eat on your boat as you continue this outrageous food shopping adventure! The enter river was one giant barter trade with money and local eats! Regardless of how touristic it might have been, it was such a great experience that I otherwise would not have gotten at any other floating market. Here’s a quick preview of what you can expect!
Any river boat you hire will make a mandatory pitstop at a particular souvenir store, but don’t worry, you don’t have to buy anything. Instead, look out for two men working away to make palm sugar at the corner of the store! If you’re lucky enough, they’ll even let you help them create the palm sugar biscuits. They also offer free palm sugar drink tasting, which I highly recommend. Additionally, if you have the time for it, spend the latter part of your afternoon renting a bicycle, and cycling through the coconut groves just 1 – 2 kilometers away from the floating market and souvenir store. I ended up arriving at the coconut groves by chance, and because of the fact that I love to discover new places by bicycle.
Tips for Visiting Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
- Come as: in time to watch the sunrise as well as the shops and boat vendors to open up!
- Hire a private wooden boat, not a motorized one. This will set you back 250 THB.
- Make sure to hire a boat between 8 or 9am, otherwise you’re waiting in a long queue.
- Enjoy your breakfast on your wooden boat.
- Spend some time bicycling through the coconut groves. The scenery is breathtaking.
Any other markets you know of that I should visit around Bangkok? Feel free to leave me suggestions and tips in the comments below!