Floating markets around Bangkok

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First published 27th October, 2013

Stumpy bananas, rose apples, coconuts and spices sit piled on thin wooden sampans rowed by farmers in bamboo hats. Old teak wood houses seem to bend over the calm water of countryside canals. Local chatter and the mouth-watering scent of whole fishes on the grill fills festive air. Perhaps nothing in Thailand captivates travellers' imaginations more than a floating market.


Before the mid 20th century, rivers and canals were the main way to travel in Thailand. As the sun rose on the days of full and new moons, farmers would haul their goods by boat to trade with other farmers and merchants from the cities. In an era when many learned to row before they could walk, the floating market was a natural extension of an agricultural lifestyle centred around the waterways.

Your Thailand adventure isn't complete without a floating market trip.
Your Thailand adventure isn't complete without a floating market trip.

When roads and tyres took the place of rivers and oars, floating markets nearly died out. They've seen a resurgence over the past couple of decades, and especially in the last five years, though they typically function today as tourist attractions and community meeting places rather than vital aspects of local farming economies. That's not to say that you should strike them off your itinerary; many floating markets in the greater Bangkok area remain vibrant places brimming with scrumptious food.

Some of the markets mentioned here are not quite accurately termed "floating markets" but to be fair, the Thai term talaat nam literally translates as "water market". Some don't even have vendors on boats, but all are centred around a river or canal, and it's possible to arrange a boat trip at any of them. Keep in mind that many of these places require a one- to two-hour drive outside of Bangkok; click on the name of each for an in depth review with instructions on getting there.

Thaling Chan: a good all-round choice.
Thaling Chan: a good all-round choice.

Thaling Chan
A quick taxi ride from central Bangkok, Thaling Chan is the most convenient floating market to reach on your own, which also means it's one of the most touristy. Get here early if you want a seat on the floating platform where floating vendors will deliver a decent mix of food straight to your table. Opened in the late 1980s, this was among the first 'new age' floating markets to be set up explicitly for tourism.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Down to business at Khlong Lat Mayom.
Down to business at Khlong Lat Mayom.

Khlong Lat Mayom
Also on the Thonburi side within Bangkok city limits, Khlong Lat Mayom was launched five years ago as a place for locals to meet and share food on weekends. Though it's become popular with Thai tourists, few foreigners make it here. The market is set along a narrow canal with a handful of boat vendors, but most of the fabulous food is found amid tightly packed walkways on land. Apart from eating, activities include a petting zoo and an arts and crafts station for the kids.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Inside a floating restaurant at Kwan Riam.
Inside a floating restaurant at Kwan Riam.

Kwan Riam
Opened in 2012 on the San Saeb canal in Bangkok's eastern reaches, Kwan Riam doesn't hide the fact that it's a modern floating market. That's not necessarily a bad thing -- the spacious confines include cool mist sprayers, full-on restaurants in funky covered boats and even electronic toilets in sparkling clean bathrooms. Though the location off Ramkamhaeng Road is easy to reach by taxi, Kwan Riam has yet to catch on among foreign travellers.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Surprises around every corner at Bang Nam Phueng.
Surprises around every corner at Bang Nam Phueng.

Bang Nam Phueng
This relatively new market is a focal point in the lives of villagers from Phra Phradaeng (aka Bang Kachao), an unlikely pocket of countryside reachable via a quick ferry hop from Sukhumvit Road. If we could choose just one weekend market in the immediate Bangkok vicinity, Bang Nam Phueng would be it. The vendors are friendly, the food is outstanding and the walkways that snake past canals dripping in tropical foliage make for a memorable atmosphere. After stuffing yourself with food that often comes from local gardens, lie down for a massage, pick up locally made health products or see how your karaoke skills stand up to Thai country tunes.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Another well-fed customer at Lam Phaya.
Another well-fed customer at Lam Phaya.

Lam Phaya
Set in an enchanting village on the Tha Jeen river to the west of Bangkok, Lam Phaya ticks all of the floating market boxes. It boasts a wealth of food; the atmosphere is more 'local' than touristy; it's spacious with plenty of room for sit-down lunches; many vendors prepare food on rowboats so you won't miss out on those quintessential floating market snaps; it's set around a historic temple with a great museum; and it offers boat trips that allow you to soak up the slow-paced riverside lifestyle. Lam Phaya is worth every bit of the substantial effort it takes to get there.
Open 07:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Smiling ducks at Don Wai.
Smiling ducks at Don Wai.

Don Wai
It's true that this century-old market along the Tha Jeen doesn't have vendors on boats, and its narrow walkways can get painfully packed, but it's still worth the trip for one of the most incredible spreads of food we've found anywhere in Thailand. Once your hands are full of roast duck, pickled fruits and hard-to-find curries, take respite from the crowds on a lunch cruise to a local temple. Arrive on a weekday or early on a weekend to avoid the crowds.
Open 06:00 to 16:00, every day.

Getting hungry at Khlong Suan.
Getting hungry at Khlong Suan.

Khlong Suan
Another boat-free market beside a waterway, Khlong Suan is also worthwhile for its unforgettable food and old school ambiance. With dumplings, steamed curry cakes and fried pork belly in your belly, peruse vintage artefacts in a dusty museum, try out a locally made broom or get a trim at a 100 year-old barber shop. Despite it being so old, Khlong Suan is quite spacious, and it's an excellent choice if you're keen on experiencing a classic canal-side Thai market. And hey, if you really want to see rowboat vendors, Bang Khla can be visited on the same day.
Open 07:00 to 16:00, every day.

Keeping it rustic in Bang Khla.
Keeping it rustic in Bang Khla.

Bang Khla
Nestled along the Bang Pakong river in Chachoengsao province east of Bangkok, the small but charming Bang Khla consists of a floating dining area surrounded by vendors who prepare food from the comfort of their rowboats. The eats are good, but the relaxed setting and lack of tourists are the real draws. Be sure to leave room for the luscious yellow mangoes that this area is famous for.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Fried flowers: a Ko Kret specialty.
Fried flowers: a Ko Kret specialty.

Ko Kret
Mainly a land market set along the coast of this green island that sits within the Chao Phraya river north of Bangkok, Ko Kret is the place in Thailand to sample authentic Mon food. When you're full of Mon specialties, shop for earthen clay Mon pottery, take a spin around the island on a bicycle, or hop in a boat for a cruise to a canal flanked by houses where you'll find some of the best Thai style sweets in Thailand.
Open 08:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Floating souvenirs and beer at Damnoen Saduak.
Floating souvenirs and beer at Damnoen Saduak.

Damnoen Saduak
If you book "the floating market tour" from just about any run-of-the-mill Bangkok travel agency, chances are you'll end up here. Those arriving just after sunrise are treated to the photogenic scenes of boats filled with brightly coloured produce that put floating markets on the tourist trail in the first place. Arrive later in the morning and you'll be swept into a sweaty traffic jam of boat engine exhaust and one-time farmers who now sell trinkets and beer to the tourist hordes.
Open 05:00 to 12:00, every day.

Amphawa: it does get busy.
Amphawa: it does get busy.

Amphawa
Set around a canal rimmed by well-preserved teak wood homes, Amphawa has become the floating market of choice for many weekending Bangkokians. Though some farmers sell produce in the early morning, most boat vendors sell prepared foods, including the mackerel and other seafood that Samut Songkhram province is famous for. Boat trips to nearby attractions are a popular pastime -- perhaps too popular as the canal can feel like a boat parking lot at times. If Amphawa is too crowded for you, nearby Bang Noi and Bang Nok Khwaek host smaller, more laid back floating markets.
Open 07:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday only.

Keeping it real at Tha Kha.
Keeping it real at Tha Kha.

Tha Kha
Locals have been trading goods by boat in this sleepy farm community for centuries, and early morning at Tha Kha remains the best bet to experience a traditional Thai floating market. You can't beat Tha Kha's 'authentic' scenes of weathered farmers rowing boats that brim with tropical fruits, dried chillies, fresh caught fish and prepared foods. Be sure to take a rowboat cruise through canals squished between low-hanging palms and wild flowers en route to farms where sugar is rendered from coconut sap.
Open 05:00 to 12:00, Saturday, Sunday and full/new moon days only.


About the author:
Usually found exploring Bangkok's side streets or south Thailand's islands, David Luekens is an American freelance writer & photographer who finds everyday life in Asia to be extraordinary. You can follow his travails here.


Read 1 comment(s)

  • Love your story about the floating markets. I've been roaming around Thailand for a month and since I'm currently in Bangkok I think I'll visit a floating Market. I'm staying in the Silcom district and would recommend a night market called "Asiatique". Its loaded with nice resturants and various stalls selling everything from watches to clothing. It also has a ferris wheel that's lights up the night sky. We plan on going there for New years eve 2014! Its a great place to have a drink, dine, shop and people watch.

    Posted by CarolSue on 27th December, 2013

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