Having not planned anything before I landed in Bangkok, and, to be honest, being pretty clueless about the majority of things to do whilst there – I decided an excursion might be a good idea, so as to make sure I actually got out and learnt something.
Sure, they can be hit and miss, but in general, I’m a fan of organised day trips – as a solo traveller, they’re a great way of seeing somewhere new. You get the benefit of having a knowledgeable guide, the ease of hotel pickups, and they’re also great ways to meet new people. Shop around, check out reviews, speak to your hotel or hostel to avoid getting ripped off and to find the best trip for you.
There were hundreds of excursions in and around Bangkok; walking tours, cycling tours, food tours, temple tours… I figured I could do the majority of them by myself, so I opted for something further afield – a floating market about an hour outside of the city, based on a recommendation from a friend and some good online reviews.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is more than 100 years old, and is the most famous of the many floating markets in Thailand. Made up from a network of canals dug during the reign of King Rama IV, it’s now one of Bangkok’s, or the ‘Venice of the East’s’ most popular attractions (read crazy busy and full of tourists). History lesson over.
We arrived at the pier, and took a longtail boat through the canals, dotted with the occasional stilted house, to the centre of the market, where there was the opportunity to pile onto little paddle boats, captained by women in traditional bamboo hats, and float down into the hubbub of the market.
We were visiting on a fruit day, so the canals were bustling with boats laden with coconuts, bananas, citrus fruits, papayas, jackfruits, women selling coconut ice cream, and cooking dumplings on tiny stoves.
Along the edges of the canals were stalls selling souvenirs (Lonely Planet describe Damnoen Saduak as ‘a floating souvenir stand filled with package tourists’ – and it very much is) – Buddha figurines, hats, endless rows of the same, pretty, shiny, mass-produced stuff.
Still, as cynical as I am, I did quite enjoy it. It was nice to gently float along the quieter parts of the canals, and I found the buzz of the vibrant central area exciting – so many sounds and smells, so much to look at and take in – if not a bit crammed (we were stuck in traffic jams at times, and I nearly had my eye taken out by a selfie stick on a couple of occasions). But the novelty of being in a traditional paddle boat was fun, plus, if you ignore the fact that everything is now geared towards us tourists, it is entirely possible to imagine how the market would have been 100 years ago.
It definitely wasn’t off the beaten track, and perhaps not a fully authentic insight into ‘real’ Thailand, but hey, what was I expecting?
If you’ve got a few days in Bangkok, I’d recommend a visit to Damnoen Saduak. It makes for a fun day out of the city, and you’ll experience one of the oldest, most famous floating markets in Thailand, which is pretty cool really. Leave your skepticism on the coach (you’re a tourist too), bring your camera, an empty stomach, and prepare to barter, and you’ll have an experience you’re unlikely to forget.
Scroll down to see some of my pictures of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.