Why I Don't Recommend Visiting the Bangkok Floating Markets: Ish Meets Thailand

First of all, before I get any violent reactions, I’m writing this as a person who lives in Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines. Keep in mind that the things that are interesting and exotic to me are entirely different from what people who live in other parts of the world would find interesting. Therefore, my opinions may vary greatly from yours so chill out.

A vendor offers a menu of his items for sale

My friends and I decided to take a tour of the Bangkok Floating Markets on one of our days in the city. I booked a private tour which would take us to Damnoen Saduak, the most famous of the five floating markets in the city.

The van was great and the guide arrived on time. He was a soft-spoken Thai man called Kiat. He had a pleasant personality but I had a hard time understanding his English at certain occasions. Nevertheless, he wasn’t really a very chatty character so it didn’t matter. He served more as a chaperone than guide so I’m not sure if we missed out on any interesting historical data or other informative tidbits during our tour.

After a pit stop at a roadside garage that features an orchid patch and palm sugar production stand that sells all kinds of souvenirs, we arrived at our destination.

Read More: Discovering Palm Sugar Production in Bangkok: Ish Meets Thailand

So, we started our tour by getting on a long-tail speedboat. This was kind of fun but the water was really murky. The “sights” were really just riverbanks with overgrown grass and rows of houses on stilts that look more dilapidated than quaint. That may be harsh, but again, if you come from a cosmopolitan city, rural scenes like this may be appealing to you. For me, not so much.

Here’s the description from the tour:

“Your expert guide will travel with you some 64 miles (104 kilometers) southwest of Bangkok, where you’ll board a long-tailed speedboat and take a thrilling ride through picturesque marshes dotted with traditional stilt houses en route to the markets.”

The famous long-tail speedboats

The view of the riverbanks from the speedboat
Power cables, dilapidated houses and murky water

I don’t know about “thrilling” but there were certainly (picturesque?)marshes to be seen. There was an occasional glimpse of a local paddling through the canals, which was a bit quaint. Not really something to drive almost 2 hours to see though.

Local paddling through the canals

As we approached the market, we started to see a few of the paddle boats with tourists on board. These boats were decorated with some fake flowers to make them look more festive. Some also had colorful umbrellas to protect against the scorching heat.

paddle boat bearing tourists

After a 10-15 minute boat ride through the river, we arrived at the actual market. While this is called a floating market, most of it is actually on dry land. By the river banks, there’s rows of shops similar to what you would see in a night market back in town.

Our guide quickly negotiated a private paddle boat for the three of us. We paid an extra THB1,600 (not included in the tour price) to get on the paddle boat so we could explore around the floating market. It was a 30-45 minute tour he said.

We started going around the canals and it was quickly clear to me that the items on sale were as touristy as they can get. Everything was also at least twice as expensive as they would be in a similar shop in the center of Bangkok.

Hats and drinks on sale for dehydrated and sun-burnt tourists
Native accessories and decorative items

Each of the merchants will try to hold on to your boat to get a chance to offer their wares. If you try to haggle, this will take up several minutes of your time and you’ll end up seeing only a few shops.

Hand crafted decorative items

A lot of the items are beautiful but they are hardly unique compared to elsewhere in Thailand.

Other than souvenir items, local spices, hats and refreshments, the floating market also offers a wide array of local food items. There’s pad thai, various grilled dishes, fresh fruits and sweet treats.

I would not really recommend buying some noodles to eat on the boat because there’s an option to grab a snack on stable ground after your boat trip. There’s really no need for the extra hassle of trying to eat on a moving boat with no table.

Pad Thai and other popular local dishes on offer.

We particularly liked an elderly woman who was selling local tamarind and other tropical fruits. Needless to say, the majority of our haul came from her boat.

Tamarind, Longan, Mangosteen and Rambutan on sale

Everyone on the paddle boats is a tourist so I wouldn’t really say that you’re immersed in local culture here. Also, the beautiful, vibrant photos in the postcards are misleading. while the items on display are beautifully colorful, the area is really mostly drab sheet metal roofing held up up by rotting wood and lots of tarpaulin signs.

Tourists on paddle boats navigating the canal

One thing that I really enjoyed here is seeing the locals making an (honest?) living by peddling various items. I know that most are over priced but hey, it’s a dog eat dog world and no one is forcing you to buy anything.

Local Woman selling hats
Vendor selling fresh coconut juice

The local snacks like coconut ice cream would probably be your best bet of buying something local, authentic, cheap and not cumbersome to purchase and eat while travelling in a small paddle boat.

Coconut Ice Cream for sale

The floating markets are famous for the photos of crowded canals where boats are floating side-by-side. This situation makes for some of the best pictures from the area. However, it’s not as much fun as it seems on the post cards.

First of all, our boat man tried to paddle back once we reached the crowded part of the market. He tried to say that our time was up and I almost threw a fit before he decided to give in and paddle into the heart of the market.

Entrance to the heart of the market

Once we were in the thick of things, it became evident why he wanted to avoid going in. The place was full of boats coming through in both directions. We were stuck for several minutes in traffic as other boats tried to make their way around us. Obviously, it was a lot of work for the boat man to navigate through the chaos without getting into arguments with the other boat men.

As passengers, we were stuck staring at the other tourists on the other boats who were suddenly sitting just inches from us. As we waited for our boat men to find our way through, there wasn’t really much of a chance to admire the goods on sale, much less haggle and try to purchase something.

Crowded waterway
Navigating through the traffic

My group and pretty much the rest of the tourists just amused ourselves by taking selfies and chatting.

Selfie time!

Once we were out of the chaos, we paddled through some of the more isolated parts of the canals. At this point, we were just enjoying the (finally moving) boat ride and were just taking in the colorful displays.

Once we were back on dry land, we asked our guide for some time to walk around the market. This was when we were actually able to properly look around to buy something. Since we didn’t really have much time to spend in the city, we ended up taking advantage of the time to shop for whatever souvenirs we might want, despite everything being slightly more expensive.

If you’re visiting the floating market, I would recommend visiting one of the markets in the city first so that you have an idea on how much things should cost. Nevertheless, I suppose the prices are still cheap if you’re coming from Western countries where the cost of living is higher. So, that’s all really up to you and what you’re comfortable spending.

Overall, I’m glad I found out what the fuss was all about. It’s interesting enough for one visit but I would not really recommend it or would probably choose somewhere else to go next time. The other floating markets in the area are smaller and are not much better so you will be better served just visiting temples and other sights.

Read More: Royal Grand Palace and Bangkok Temple Tour: Ish Meets Thailand

This tour was operated by Viator and booked through Trip Advisor.

Price: US $42.00 per person (group of 3 pax) +THB1,600 for the paddle boat

Here’s a link to the tour: Bangkok Floating Market Private Tour