Thailand’s Floating Market in Rachaburri is a big draw card. If you haven’t been to the Floating Market, then you haven’t seen one of Thailand’s premier attractions, of a former age, when Thai’s use to live on the water ways.
Looking at old photos of Bangkok, you will notice the absence of roads. It was city of waterways, where commerce was conducted on boats. As was the case of Rachaburri, where the mighty Chao Praya River snakes around the city, which is one hour from Bangkok.
When you think of Thailand, a few images come to mind, but Rachaburri Floating market is foremost and is a favorite image for post cards on Amazing Thailand.
I had the chance to visit the famous Floating Market recently. Having traveled to Thailand many times over the past 17 years, this was one attraction I really couldn’t say I knew much about, other than what I had read on travel brochures.
I was living in Rachaburri, and thought why not give it a go. I always had reservations that this tourist attraction would be like most in the Kingdom, cliché and over commercialized. Well the Floating Market wasn’t any different. But with that in mind, there is no reason not to go along with the flow, and enjoy it for what it is.
I was pillion on the back of my Thai friend’s motorbike. The 20-kilometer ride to the Floating Market, on the back roads, was for me the highlight. Palm trees, rice paddies, and old stilted houses flooded the sense with photosynthesis green, a balm to the eyes that were accustomed to the grey concrete of the city.
I hired a long tail boat for 300 baht (US $10), and for that, you get one and half-hours chauffeuring around the waterways of the Floating Market. The starting point is a shallow, and narrow waterway that leads out to larger tributaries that wind its way around the Amphawa District waterways.
There is one stretch of the Floating Market, which is like the main back packing street of Khoa San, in Bangkok. But obviously, instead of strolling through it, you navigate through it by boat. Tourists were packed in their boats, and for a good ten minutes were caught in a boat jam. No traffic lights, only a first in first serve rule of law. I felt like a VIP traveler, with just the two of us traveling on the boat, while the other boats were packed with package tourists, and most likely paying a fortune for their crammed privilege.
The driver of our boat has all his designated stops. They are usually souvenir shops that sell all kinds of trinkets, from post cards, wooden carvings of Buddha. The world “cheesy’ comes to mind, and with inflated prices. But the locals need to make money, so I am all for it. And once they are done for the day, they return to the city to resume their terra firma lives.
To add a bit of mischief, every time my driver stopped the boat at a tourist stall, I would push the boat away, and say, “Me Cheap Charlie.” That got a laugh from the locals, who don’t see tight wads like me that often (lol)
We stopped at one boat that sold noodles; you will usually pay 20 percent more for anything sold on these touristy waterways, than you would on land. Bear that in mind. But the busloads of international tourists, are clueless on this, and go along with the illusion that the Floating market is an authentic experience. Along the waterways, there is all kind of amusements, from a sugar cane handicraft fair, to cultural dancers of a certain ethnic tribe. But the dancers looked 100 percent Thai to me. I dropped 100 baht in the donation, after a private dancing show.
We also stopped at a temple. And lit incense sticks, and paid our respects to Buddha. Away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists, a welcome respite.
Then on the homeward journey, we were out on the open waters, where real locals plying their trade can be seen paddling slowly and with intent. This is the real Floating Market. One old lady, she must have been 70 years old, was moving onward, and slowly, down the river. And I imagined this is what Bangkok was like, over a century ago, when it was called the Venice of the East; when the waterways were the Thai’s lifeblood.
When we got off the boat, at end’s journey, tables with souvenir plates, with our pictures on them were displayed on a table. I was wondering why a photographer at the beginning of our journey was so keen on getting our photos. A group of Indian tourists, who returned the same time as us, were endeared to seeing themselves on a plate, and with “Welcome to Floating Market” emblazoned on it. While I was just amused, “here we go again, another hidden cost!” But as I said earlier, the locals need to make money too, and I didn’t mind playing the dumb tourist for the day. It was fun!