Mak­ing Waves

may be less than you bar­gained for

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Reg­gie Ho

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?

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