Thailand is famous for the numerous floating markets throughout the country, with the majority of them surrounding the provinces around Bangkok. The visit to Bangkok’s Soi 3 in Baan Silom was my first glimpse at the beautiful meandering canals that can be found just about anywhere in Thailand, but when I escaped the metropolitan life of the country’s capital, I was lucky enough to stop off for a day at the country’s most famous floating market – Damnoen Saduak.Damnoen Saduak can be found about 100km southwest of Bangkok in the picturesque province of Ratchaburi. In 1866, King Rama IV of the Chakri Dynasty ordered the construction of the canals to help facilitate waterborne travels between the Ratchaburi and Samutsakhon Provinces, and work was completed two years later. The canals have helped simplify transportation to the area and have also provided local farmers with adequate irrigation for their crops. As the land around Ratchaburi is extremely fertile, the canals were a perfect setting for the growth of a variety of fruit and vegetables and gave birth to the famous floating markets we can see today. As the reputation of Damnoen Saduak has grown over the years since tourism opened up in Thailand from the mid-70s, it has become one of the most popular destinations in the country. Upon visiting the markets, you can see why it has become such a prevalent destination; however, in order to see the more traditional side of market life in Thailand, it’s best to visit Damnoen Saduak in the early hours of the morning before the huge crowds descend at around lunchtime.
I headed out of Bangkok from the South Bus Terminal on Borommarat Chachonnani Road at around 6am to try and get to the market as it opened; the plan then to move onto Kanchanaburi further West in the afternoon. Upon arrival, I hired a canal boat for around an hour and a half for a few baht. It was a beautifully cool start to the day, the morning sunshine providing a perfect backdrop to coasting around the canals taking in the surroundings.As I approached the main entrance to the floating market, I even had a chance to spot a local Monitor Lizard venturing out on a morning swim. The beautiful creature was about huge at around 2 metres long and was completely unfazed by our intrusion into its waters.
Moving on peacefully, I then had a chance to sit back and relax whilst we quietly cruised past the stunning housing that decorated the Damnoen Saduak banks. It gave me the opportunity to witness the early morning life of the locals – from hand-washing clothes in the canal and hanging them up to dry in the early morning sunshine, to the preparation of breakfast for the family. The dwellings on first glimpse was very basic, but as you took a closer look, the buildings were purpose built to withstand the strong elements, erected on very sturdy foundations, with the framework constructed out of strong bamboo and finely crafted wood. They were built to match the neighbouring environment, structures that blended perfectly into the beautiful natural surroundings. They also reflected the non-money oriented ways of traditional Thai people. The whole way of life in the area is completely focussed on agriculture and basic comfortable needs, totally absent of the material luxuries we may be used to in the West. Looking at the sturdiness and quality of the housing, this was not down to the lack of wealth, but simply by choice. The foundations of life they had built here were extraordinary, everything tailored for an easy, fit and healthy way of life.
At around 9am, we arrived at the main market canal areas, a perfect time to appreciate the initial buzz of the market sellers setting up for the day to come. It also gave me a chance to see the contrasting morning and afternoon life before the influx of tourists. Hundreds of canoes would be parked up or paddling around selling all kinds of fruits, vegetables, rice, spices and other produce from the local area – others would offer refreshing fruit drinks and snacks.
The colours on show were fantastic, reflected in the fresh produce that was on sale. Most of the canoes would be driven by Thai women wearing bamboo hats to protect them from the sunshine. Some would have their sons in tow to help them throughout the day. Most of what I saw being offered in the morning was to sell other locals, so I was fortunate enough to quietly witness the market bartering between them.
As I moved around, I could feel the atmosphere start to wake up as the morning matured into the day. The number of canoe boats increased significantly by mid-morning, just like the high street shops back home would start to open up. The vendors began coming out in their droves, fighting their way through any gaps they could find. The early morning calm would start to change as midday approached, replacing itself with a heightened clamour of chattering vendors. As I finished up on the canal boat and took to the pathways that intertwined the canals, the buzz of the market was at full throes as it started to welcome in the afternoon crowds. The canals that were previously filled with the locals were now bursting full of foreigners. The market changed from a peaceful scene into a theme park for tourists. Tours would start to intrude on the scene and the vendors would start bartering with the visitors, often holding strong on the prices they were offering. The whole market ethos transformed from the provision of basic necessities to locals to foreign economic opportunities. As the heat bore down on the market at lunchtime, the stuffiness of the situation made me glad that I had a chance to experience the markets at the crack of dawn. The glimmers of tradition in the early hours instantly lost its authenticity.
Further Reading on The Floating Markets of Damnoen Saduak
Bangkok Tourist Guide
More Photography :
“The Thailand Collection” by Antematters