One of the most popular places to go on a day trip from Bangkok is the Damnoen Saduak floating markets in Amphoe district of nearby Ratchaburi province. Although this is a really touristy place, it’s also a lot of fun and something you really do want to experience for yourself. If you’re a movie buff, you might remember a scene in a James Bond movie where Bond raced along a narrow canal in Asia … that was the Khlong Damnoen Saduak in this very area. If you take a canal boat to the markets, you’ll get to right that very same piece of water.
You can experience floating markets in Thonburi without leaving Bangkok – see the Bangkok travel guide for more details – but they are more functional and domestically oriented, while those at Damnoen Saduak are more showy and an event in their own right.
Private tours of the floating markets at Damnoen Saduak start at around US$75 per person, but you can join a group tour to the floating markets starting from around US$45 per person.
If you are with a tour group, you will typically leave your vehicle a few kilometres from the floating markets and have a fast long-tail boat ride up the Khlong Damnoen Saduak, passing canal-side homes where life looks like it probably hasn’t changed much in centuries. When you get to the floating market itself, you have to transfer to a non-powered sampan because they say no long-tail boats are allowed through the market (though that rule seems to be broken quite regularly). It’s very crowded inside the market, so make sure to keep your hands inside the boat or you might lose some fingers as another boat grinds past.
If you go to Damnoen Saduak Floating Markets on your own (outside of a tour group), be aware that you might get ripped off. It’s not uncommon to get there and find people trying to charge you several thousand Baht (US$100 or more) for a motorised canal boat ride. Don’t pay it! At most it should be 500-1000 Bt depending on how hard you bargain and how many people you ask. If there’s a group of you, it should come to about 100-150 Baht per person for a shared boat. The motorised boats are great fun, but you also have an option of a non-motorised boat which is more peaceful and offers more opportunity to see the lifestyle along the river … and it only costs about 100 Bt!
The market itself is very colorful and offers a reasonable range of craft and souvenirs, but at very inflated prices. All you have to do it point to something on a market stall and it will be handed down to your boat to look at. Prices are negotiable but I have to say the quality is likely to be disappointing, even if you can negotiate a reasonable price.
One of the nice things about this place is that when you get out of your sampan you usually have a bit of free time to explore the static market up above the waterway. Here you will find better prices but also some of the most delicious spring rolls anywhere in Thailand. They are plentiful, cheap and the dipping sauce is divine. There are also some nice snacks and drinks to buy from the passing market boats, if you get the chance. The Thai Iced Coffee is said to be worth trying, as is the Mango Sticky Rice, but we didn’t get to try either of these.
An interesting sight once your landside again is watching the locals buying things from the stalls on the other side of the canal. They shout to the vendor, who puts their purchase into a bucket that’s hoisted across the canal on a kind of flying-fox cable. The money goes into the bucket which is then hauled back to the vendor.
The downside of going to Damnoen Saduak in a group tour is that for some stupid reason most of the tour groups arrive and leave at about the same time of the day (around mid-morning), so the place tends to be wall to wall tourists during those periods. If you can organise a private tour of some kind you will get a much “kinder” view of the place. Try to get there so you’re in and out before 9.30 AM for the best experience.
If you can’t stump up for a private car, taxi or tuk tuk to get you there early, you can always jump on the bus from the Southern Bus Terminal (Borommarat Chachonnani Road) in Pin Klao. This service runs every 20 minutes or so from 6.30 AM and costs about 50Bt. The travel time is around two hours on the bus, so you should aim to get a very early bus there. You can also stay locally so you can venture out and explore the markets soon after sunrise – the best time of the day.
It’s usually pretty hot at Damnoen Saduak, so don’t forget sunscreen and bottled water.