Seeking an Authentic Cultural Experience at Thailand’s Floating Markets

Seeking an Authentic Cultural Experience at Thailand’s Floating Markets
Seeking an Authentic Cultural Experience at Thailand’s Floating Markets

A new floating market is about to be set up in Klong Bang Sue near the Or Tor Kor Market in the Chatuchak area of Bangkok. Building this floating market aims to attract more tourists to the location by also offering tourists a floating market experience when they visit Or Tor Kor.

Traditionally, Thais lived by waterways. Their lives relied so much on water; commuting by boat, catching seafood in rivers and canals and living on the water such as those living on rafts. In those days markets may be on land and set up at designated times. People would travel by boat to the location and sell their wares on land, as well as buying things they needed.

Floating markets were the second type of market. They were also set up at an agreedupon date and time. People paddled to the floating market to buy and sell as they floated along waterways. Over 70 years ago, Wat Sai Floating Market in Klong Bang Khunthian was most famous. It was the first floating market known to foreigners. The floating market could only be reached by boat. Other well-known floating markets are in Samut Songkhram and in the Damnoen Saduak area of Ratchaburi Province. These neighborhoods were large farming areas, where people grew a variety of plants, including chilli, pomelo, coconut and other types of fruits and garden vegetables.

The floating market in Klong Amphawa of Samut Songkhram was once a community where merchant boats gathered to trade. While the local residents of Amphawa sold fruits and garden vegetables, there were also boats from areas such as Phetchaburi selling salt, salted fish and mangrove charcoal to local farmers. There were also boats selling rice, handicrafts and farming tools, clothes, meat and stewed duck, which looked like mobile grocery stores selling every household item. Noodles, curries and sweets were also available for sale on boats.

How and when a floating market was set up depended on multiple environmental and societal factors. They would typically be located near communities so that travel wouldn’t be a burden. Floating markets would not be organised on the same day as dates would be according to the lunar calendar. Each floating market would be set up for around seven days to allow people enough time to exhaust their purchases before the next market started. Usually floating markets would begin at dawn and conclude around 9-10 am before the high heat of midday.

Houses were often built along the riverside. However ways of living and working changed as waterways were replaced by roads as the main transport routes. Other changes followed when tourism opportunities were realised and moves made to change existing floating markets so that they operated on Saturday and Sunday. The Damnoen Saduak, Klong Amphawa and Tha Kha Floating Market have all been moved to weekends. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market was also expanded to three nearby locations when it became famous and crowded.

A roof was built for the market so that it could be operated every day and all day. The idea of gearing floating markets for tourism spread to other cities such as Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Pattaya and Hua Hin. People invested in digging or remodeling a large pond and turning it into a floating market. Merchant boats were set up with sellers being asked to wear mo hom (traditional indigo dyed) shirts and farmer’s hats as an attempt to replicate the traditional ‘look’.

In Hua Hin there were two floating markets set up near soi 112 within a few kilometres of each other earlier this decade. Now only the Sam Phan Nam Floating Market remains. This is a market where visitors walk past many market stalls along boardwalks surrounding a lake with boat or miniature railway rides available. This market appears on many website lists as a ‘must see’ Hua Hin attraction, however reviews on sites such as Trip Advisor are often far from complimentary. Much express disappointment about a lack of authenticity and that the name ‘floating market’ may be misleading.

They also object to paying entry fees and recommend the multiple night markets in town for the real Thai market experience. The proposed floating market on Klong Bang Sue near the Bangkok Or Tor Kor Market is likely to be similar to other man made venues. Boats will be on hand with people paddling around and walkways will be built so that tourists can stroll and buy what’s on offer. Whether this becomes something akin to the real Thai floating market experience remains to be seen.