Whether you’re into shopping, or just want to experience some of Thailand’s traditions of old, visiting a floating market is often high on the list of things for people to do in Thailand.
Floating markets were an essential way of life in Thailand in the past, allowing people to come together to buy and sell a range of goods. The country’s rivers and canals once formed the backbone of many communities in Central Thailand, with people living alongside the waters and using the waterways for transportation. Vendors would load up their boats with produce and make their way to the "marketplace". Some sellers would set up stalls on dry land next to the waterways. Buyers would also access the markets by boat, with some people also wandering along the banks of the rivers and canals.
With improved road transportation links, Thailand’s floating markets eventually began to die out. The floating markets that remain today are largely for tourism purposes and to preserve a part of Thailand’s heritage.
Do note that some markets classed as floating markets are perhaps more like riverside markets today, with few vendors actually selling from inside their boats. Visitors can often, however, hop into a boat to drift along from stall to stall.
Experience a different way of shopping, and enjoy some floating retail therapy, at one of these Thai floating markets:
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Ratchaburi
Perhaps the most famous of Thailand’s floating markets, the floating market at Damnoen Saduak is easy to reach on a day trip from Bangkok. It operates every day between around 6.00 am and midday. You will probably see vibrant images of this market on postcards, paintings, and book covers, with boats heavily-laden with colourful fresh produce and vendors keeping cool under large wicker hats. If this is what you want to see, get here early! By about 8.00 am the majority of boats are filled with tourists.
That’s not to say it’s not worth visiting. There is a huge land market selling a dazzling assortment of souvenirs, handicrafts, traditional items, clothing, and more. You’ll find Buddha statues in all postures and sizes, made from diverse materials including wood, bronze, stone, and silver, beautiful and fragrant hand-made soaps, woven baskets, t-shirts aplenty, and knick-knacks like fridge magnets, key rings, and bottle openers. Do be aware, however, that the prices are grossly inflated … you can expect to pay around three times as much here than in other, not so touristy, markets.
Some vendors cook a tempting array of dishes from inside their moored boats, with the traditional boat noodles a common sight. You can also join the masses and take a (slow and packed!) boat ride. Prices vary as to the type of boat (rowing boat or motor boat), number of people, and whether you want to tour the surrounding neighbourhoods as well.
Amphawa Floating Market, Samut Songkhram
Also within easy reach from Bangkok, Amphawa Floating Market operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between around 2.00 pm and 8.00 pm. Perhaps more popular with Thai tourists, it is seeing more and more international visitors who are seeking somewhere a little more traditional than the market at nearby Damnoen Saduak. Despite being in different provinces, these two markets are only around 25 kilometres (15 miles) apart.
Amphawa Floating Market is a great option for foodies, with meals and snacks available from boat vendors and from within stalls alongside the canal. Pad Thai (a popular noodle dish), som tam (spicy papaya salad), fried rice, khanom chin / jeen (thin rice noodles), and fried quail’s eggs are some of the dishes you are likely to spot.
Traditional wooden houses on stilts sit alongside the canal, and the market has a lively atmosphere.
Another draw of this market is the abundance of fireflies that can sometimes be seen with a boat trip along the canal. Although they are said to be most prevalent during the rainy season (May to November), at the time of visit (in August) we only saw three fireflies! It is perhaps down to luck.
Pattaya Floating Market, Chon Buri
Built as a tourist attraction, Pattaya’s floating market is better described as a market alongside water, with a few boats. Stroll the wooden walkways and see a wide selection of goods, such as clothing, accessories, ornaments, and souvenirs. Several small restaurants serve traditional Thai fare, and boats are available if you want to take a trip on the water. Pattaya Floating Market operates during the daytimes and evenings, between 9.00 am and 8.00 pm.
Ayothaya Floating Market, Ayutthaya
Another waterside market with wooden walkways, Ayothaya Floating Market is a pleasant place for a wander. It is built around, and over, a pond with a small island in the middle. Although set up as a tourist attraction, it attracts mainly Thai tourists. Small shops edge the walkways, selling the usual assortment of souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing, and snacks. Prices are pretty reasonable; it’s a great place to stock up on gifts and keepsakes.
If you’re there in the late afternoon, don’t be alarmed if you hear booming cannon fire and ringing gunshots – there are daily shows that tell the tale of Ayutthaya’s past, including how the ancient capital was ransacked by Burmese invaders. You can watch some of the action for free from the walkways and bridges. There is a small theatre, where some of the scenes are played out, and admission costs around 100 THB (2.80 USD). It isn’t really worth paying to watch the show, unless you are into graphic battle scenes, as all the dialogue is in Thai.
Other floating markets around Thailand
The weekend riverside market at Banmai Market in Chachoengsao is a picturesque and charming old market with lots of history. Wooden buildings line the covered paths and you can sample lots of tasty Thai fare. Bangkok’s Taling Chan Floating Market is probably the most traditional floating market around the country’s capital.
Other floating, or waterside, markets include Bang Phli and Bang Namphueng Markets in Samut Prakan, Kwangchow Floating Market in Petchaburi, Khlong Lat Mayom in Bangkok, Ban Phaeo Floating Market in Samut Sakhon, Don Manora Floating Market in Samut Songkram, Khlong Sam Floating Market in Pathum Thani, and the markets at Don Wai and Wat Lamphaya in Nakhon Pathom.
Book your trip to Thailand and add on a visit to a floating market for a different kind of shopping experience.