The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one of those places.
Now, that’s not an entirely bad thing. The views are beautiful, there is a “real market” feel in some places, and it is one of those “distinct” places in Thailand that everybody at home will recognize. That being said, the people there know that it’s a place everybody will recognize. It’s the Thai equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once you’ve seen it, there isn’t that much to do and you want to move on to the next location.
So let’s get there!
The market is a two hour drive outside of Bangkok and, much like any day trip, it’s easily bookable from Bangkok tour agents. There is a do-it-yourself option to get there, and apparently it’s the better one if you want to get to the market before it gets crowded, but we didn’t quite have the time.
Upon arriving, everybody gets shuttled on to a variety of boats and the tourism begins. It’s a fine balance that ends up getting struck, as you’re presented with these dynamic views of people selling their wares in traditional hats and clothes, only to hear a tout selling statues or postcards on the other side of you. You get off the boat to climb a bridge for some great shots, manage to zoom in on a typical Thai family selling fruit, and the next boat that enters the frame is a bunch of tourists floating on by. It can be hard to tell what, if anything, is legitimate and if those massive piles of lychee and dragonfruit sitting in a boat are going to be sold here at the end of the day, or sent to a grocery store someplace else.
All the tourism doesn’t make it a bad experience, mind you. It’s just one of those places where the authentic and the photo-op get blurred.
Sitting on the boat, being shuttled around, was actually my least favourite part of the experience. More rewarding was when Laird and I (Daina sat this one out with a stomach bug) got off and actually wandered through the market, made our way down some side streets, and found some more “typical” scenes of Thai life. People just going about their business without trying to sell you anything, even if that business was taking a nap.
We had the option to wander around the market a bit more, but after having heard from various vendors about the miracles of ginseng and Tiger Balm (two things they just don’t have here in Canada, no they do not), we went for the second option.
Authentic Thailand? Nope. Put on for us? Yup. Was it worth it to sit down and watch men handle snakes for a little under an hour, faking throwing them into the crowd and frightening people? Well, yeah. Facing the facts, I couldn’t handle a live snake. I’m sure I could train myself to do that, but why in the heck would I want to?
We did get to see the first stages of a Cobra vs Mongoose fight, which was ended when the mongoose appeared to be winning. He was fed an already dead cobra, presumably from another time. Maybe yesterday.
There’s a lot about Thailand that’s odd.
Overall, we went to the floating market hoping to get some pictures. Mission accomplished. Was it a massive, culturally rewarding experience? Not really. Would I recommend you go if you’re ever in the area? Absolutely.
You’re going to get some nice pictures.