may be less than you bargained for
A floating market tour may be less than you bargained for, but Bangkok’s eateries more than make up for it
Despite the many trips I’ve made to Bangkok, it was only last month that I finally decided to go for the quintessential tourist experience of visiting a floating market. I had decided to stay for the weekend, and a friend of mine flew in from Macau so we decided to sign up for a tour. Finding an agency wasn’t difficult – all the sois around the hotel were peppered with tour operators – but figuring out the difference between a THB550 ($17) offer and another costing twice the price was. The itineraries all looked the same, so in the end we chose a tour to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market for THB600 ($18.50) per person.
The market is located about 60 miles southwest of Bangkok in Ratchaburi Province, and it takes 90 minutes by car to reach. We were told by the concierge that we could have hired our own taxi to get there for THB1,400 ($43) but we thought joining a tour might be a more social experience.
It wasn’t. By the time we met our pickup at 7:30 AM, the vehicle was already full of fellow tourists who were in a somewhat comatose state, some having toured half of Bangkok while the driver picked everyone up from different hotels. We had to squeeze into the back of the van, but we were glad we hadn’t been the first ones to get in.
We arrived at Damnoen Saduak at around 10:00 AM. The tour guide gathered everyone around and quickly told us“the plan.” There would be a long-tail boat tour for us to visit farms, she said, but before that we had 45 minutes to go shopping, either on foot along the riverbank or by boat with a group of eight for an extra cost of THB150 ($5) per person. An Italian couple in the same group approached us to share a boat for THB300 ($10) apiece instead, for more room to maneuver, and we went for it.
We sailed off, and I quickly realized that, in an attempt to avoid the shopping malls in town, I had ventured into a shopping mall of another type. I was hoping for boats selling fresh food and fruit, but there were actually only a handful of these – and none of what was on display seemed more exotic than what I would get on Bangkok’s streets. The boatwoman proceeded to dock at riverside stalls, one after another, all selling Buddha statues, embroidered curtains, cushion covers and the like.
Everyone knows that you have to bargain in a place like this, but most of the time the asking price was so exorbitant that I didn’t even bother to try. Our fellow passengers went for a medium-sized wooden Buddha statue for THB2,000 ($62), beating the price down from THB5,500 ($170). The truth is they would have got a better deal at Chatuchak Market, but I couldn’t tell them as the vendors would hear me and I didn’t want to get into an argument while sitting in a precarious boat.
After 20 minutes I was bored enough to start bargaining, just to pass the time. I kept offering prices that I was confident they would never go for. A curtain embroidered with an elephant motif for THB3,500 ($108)? How about THB300 ($10) for two? And how about cutting the price of that puppet from THB6,500 ($200) to THB500 ($15)?“No, I lose money! Come, come, give me a better price,”they all said, handing me a calculator. Unsurprisingly, no deals were done.
Finally, we left the stalls and sailed into the residential part of the river. It was an enjoyable ride, and the part that was actually worth the THB300 fee. Back at the pier for our long-tail boat ride, I sank a beer at a whopping THB150 ($5) a bottle – but I needed it.
Our long-tail boat ride, as it turned out, was a hasty journey of 15 minutes. We hardly saw a bush, let alone farms. We were finally taken to a“resort,”where our wholeday tour counterparts would have lunch and wait for a snake show while we were stuffed into a van again to go home.
Meeting a few Bangkok residents that evening for dinner, I shared my experience and was told that authentic floating markets do exist – it’s just mine was not one of them. It seems that I can’t cross out “floating market”from my to-do list just yet – next time, I just need better information and a private taxi.
Above and below: Authentic action, or teeming tourist trap?