Thailandís famous floating market is exactly what it sounds like: vendors sell food and goods from small boats that drift along the crowded waterways of klongs, or canals. In the past, the country was famous for its intricate canal system, on which floating markets, shops, restaurants, and homes flourished. Traders sold rice, produce, coconut, cooking and farming implements, charcoal and seafood. With the development of modern transportation methods and more efficient roadways, however, the importance of waterways diminished and most of these floating businesses relocated to land.
As tourism has grown throughout Thailand, some floating markets have made a comeback, the most famous of which is Damnoen Saduak. Waterborne traders still sell everything from vegetables and seafood to cooking utensils. Although the market is a major tourist attraction, it is also an authentic trading center where locals go to shop. To experience the market at its most colorful and vibrant, it's best to arrive at the 8 a.m. opening when local trade is busiest, and before the tour buses arrive. Most of the vendors are older women clothed in moh hom -- collarless, long-sleeve shirts and trousers -- and wide-brimmed, flat-topped bamboo hats.
Their narrow, long-tail boats are loaded with fragrant cargo: tropical fruit such as mangosteens, durian, mangoes, pineapple, rambutan and coconuts, leafy green vegetables; piles of dried shrimp and curry pastes, and freshly caught, still-wriggling seafood. Most intriguing are the boats with small cooking stations set up on them, offering made-to-order "boat noodles," fried rice, and pad thai, or traditional breakfast items such as hot soy milk with sugar and tapioca pearls, served with a fried cruller similar to a churro.
As food and flower-laden boats gently crisscross the river, the air is filled with shrill shouts from the vendors, eager to sell their goods. The ambience is unlike any other you can imagine. The sights are something you won't forget.
Here, bargaining is a way of life. If you need to hire a boat for example, you can haggle with the owner, who charges by the hour. Buying other items whether on water or in the little shops requires more bargaining. Foreigners take delight in traversing wooden paths separating the shops from the water, entering the little stores and picking up souvenirs.
At high noon, tourists drinking coconut water straight from the fruit is common sight. For others the drink is a welcome respite from the exhaustion of sightseeing and haggling; for most they are just a break for further exploration ahead.
Tranquility only returns to the waterway in the afternoon when vendors head for home - their boats virtually empty - only to prepare for tomorrow's business.
And then, as the new dawn begins, the boats start heading on into the "Floating market" again. The riverine commerce starts. It is business as usual. If you want to visit the "Floating Market", leave your hotel at dawn. As the adage goes, "The early bird catches the worm."
HOW TO GET THERE
By Car: From Bangkok you can take Highway No. 4 (Phetchakasem Rd.) and turn left at Km. 80 for another 25 kms. along Bangpae-Damnoen Saduak Rd.
By Bus: There are public buses both air and non air-conditioned leaving from the Southern Bus Terminal on Pinklao-Nakhonchaisi Rd. for Damnoen Saduak every 40 minutes from 6 a.m. onwards.