The trip to at least one of the floating markets near Bangkok is listed as a must-see in every blog, guidebook or website. Just like with most of the popular attractions in Thailand, I found the markets over-hyped. It must have been very interesting place to visit back in the day but mass tourism spoiled it all. It might still be worth to make a one day trip to see those markets but don’t expect any authentic experience there. There are some less-known markets which I heard are much nicer but they are also significantly smaller and more difficult to get to.
CHOOSING THE MARKETS
The floating markets take place on the weekends. Having spent Saturday on Chatuchak market, we had no choice but to continue exploring weekend markets on Sunday, this time aiming for the iconic floating ones.
After an extensive research, I decided to chose Tha Ka: a lesser-known market located off-the-beaten track and Amphawa: a bigger but still supposedly not too crowded market in the vicinity and combine it with a super cool Maeklong railway market. As usual, I intended to do it independently but sadly the plan got pretty messed up.
A MESSY JOURNEY TO THE MARKETS
First of all, we didn’t wake up early enough (I’d think 4.30 am would be optimal). Secondly, we made a mistake of assuming there would be a bus stop somewhere near the National Museum, before the bridge on Chao Phraya river leading to Pinklao New South Bus Terminal. There wasn’t any. We should have walked to the Democracy Monument instead but rather than doing it we wasted ages for crossing the bridge and getting a bus on the other side of the river. We didn’t expect the Pinklao Bus Terminal to be that far (around 30 min ride from Banglampoo) either. There are in fact plenty of buses between the Democracy Monument and Pinklao (35,42,157,171,183).
I believe all of our mistakes could have still been rectified and we would be able to reach our chosen market on time. What actually destroyed our plan completely wasn’t our fault. The buses to the floating markets started running at 6 am. There were a few ticket stalls at the bus station (at the platform): some selling 90 baht tickets for a 966 minivan and some 70 baht tickets for a bus number 78.
Confusingly, the lady selling us the ticket told us the bus goes to Damnoen Saduak, the biggest floating market which due to mass tourism turned into parody of itself. However, she was holding a leaflet with the names of Amphawa (the second largest, evening market which we wanted to see) and Maeklong market (the railway market from which we were supposed to take a songthaew to the quiet Tha Kha market). We asked whether we could get to the railway market by this bus and we were assured that we would.
However, after a 2 hour drive we arrived at Damnoen Saduak where we were told to leave the bus. When I started arguing I was told the only way for me to get to my destination was to take a 20 baht songthaew to Maekhlong.
A SHORT GLANCE AT THE MOST FAMOUS MARKET
As we already ended up near that famous market and it was still morning (though a late one), we decided to give it a quick glance before moving on. Doing it quickly wasn’t possible, though as getting there involved walking for 2 km along, arguably, quite a nice canal.
The closer we were getting to the Damnoen Saduak market, the more boats with tourist we could see. The culminating point was a narrow entrance to an even more narrow canal where dozens of boats tried to push through simultaneously. It was an utter chaos!
It was already 11 am, the beginning of the end of that very early morning market yet the number of the people on the banks and especially on the water was insane. Without any exaggeration, the ratio of tourist to seller boats was 6:1. As you can imagine, the prices and the products alike were adjusted to tourists, too. As for Thai standards, the sellers were quite aggressive as well: one woman even grabbed me by the hand trying to stop me from walking away.
I really hated the place and didn’t spend there more than 15 minutes in total. Yet, by the time we got on the minivan and reached the railway market it was getting seriously late.
THE RAILWAY MARKET OFF PEAK
Maeklong market was another mega-popular destination. You might have seen the video of it on Youtube at some point of your life. The sellers have their stalls directly on the rails and when the train approaches, they quickly fold the entire stall, only to re-do it as soon as the train passes by.
I always thought that the railway market was just that little strip along the rails while in fact it turned out to be a large municipal market which just happened to be cut in half by the rails. As a result, it was still a working market for local people with only this little strip having a few tourist-oriented stalls. The rest of the vendors were selling mostly fruit, dried shrimp and fresh fish. I couldn’t resist walking through the market when there were just locals around. This obviously took us another 15-20 minutes.
TOO LATE FOR THA KA
It wasn’t difficult to find the songthaew stand was just in front of the market and the Thai military bank. It took us quite an effort to find the right songtheow, though due to communication problem. On top of that we were waiting for the songtheow for a very long time. When we heard it was scheduled to leave at 1.15 pm we gave up, knowing that it’d be a long 40 minute drive. The market we wanted to see was a morning market and though it officially finished at 2 pm, there probably wasn’t much going on after 12 pm. That’s how we missed on the authentic experience and spend a day following the crowds.
THE TRAIN PASSING THROUGH THE MARKET
Resigned to a revised itinerary, we had some nice market food and waited patiently for a 2.30 pm train. At 2 pm, a sleepy local market got suddenly invaded by hoards of tourists. The rails were so packed it was impossible to move. We took a spot right at the road crossing hoping naively it’d offer us a good view at the train and the stalls folding ahead of it. We were quite wrong.
First of all, nowadays train didn’t simply roll through. There was a policeman walking in front of it, blowing a whistle and forcing people to move to the sides which spoiled much of the show. Secondly, there were so many people sticking out their mobile and Go Pro sporting hands that all I could film was just this mass of electronic gadgets in the air.
Last but not least, it started raining heavily exactly when the train was about to pass by, further obstructing the view with hundreds of umbrellas and making filming the whole scene practically impossible. Having a train passing centimeters away from my face was an experience in itself but other than that it was vastly over-hyped attraction.
THE EVENING MARKET IN AMPHAWA
As soon as the downpour subsided, we rushed to a nearby bus station to catch a blue 333 bus to Amphawa market. As it was already 3 pm this evening market was slowly filling up with people.
Amphawa technically wasn’t a floating market. Apart from a few (not more than a dozen) boats where the seafood and fish was cooked (and served to the people sitting on the banks), it was actually a canal-side market, a decisively posh one on top of that. There were indeed some nice old wooden buildings along the canal, most of them serving as proper restaurants, cafes, boutiques and souvenir shops.
There weren’t that many street food stalls and the prices were rather hefty. It was local in a sense that quite a few Bangkokians turned up for a seafood meal but locals definitely didn’t buy anything there. We just sat a bit further away from the market, grabbed some snacks and rested, before heading back to Bangkok by a minivan. We were back home at 8 pm. It was a long and a very tiring day and sadly, not worth all that hassle and effort.
How to get there?
The shortest route from Banglampoo area is to take bus 124 or 127 from Wat Bowonniwet (near Khao San Rd) or buses 35,42,157,171,183 from the Democracy Monument to Pinklao New Southern Bus Terminal. It’s a 30 minutes ride.
The buses to the floating markets area from Pinklao Terminal start running at 6am. There is a choice between slightly cheaper bus no 78 and slightly more expensive minivan number 996. From our experience, they go only to Damnoen Saduak in the morning (regardless of what is promised).
However, we took 996 on our way back from Amphawa. The bus stop is unmissable- it’s just at the main entrance to the market. Be sure to check which station it goes to as apart from Pinklao, it might serve also other terminals in completely different parts of Bangkok. The journey takes around 2 hours.
There is a minivan running between Damnoen Saduok and Maeklong rail market. It starts right where the bus from Bangkok stops.
Blue songthaew number 333 runs between Maeklong market and Amphawa market. Just follow the crowd to a bus stand beyond the railway market, along the main road.
There is also a songthaew from Maeklong to Tha Ka market but this one goes quite rarely. The stand is in front of the market, near the Thai military bank where lots of songthaews are parked.
The cheapest route we heard about is taking an MRT to the last stop Wongwai Yai (20 baht), from there a train to Maha Chai (10 baht, 1 hour), crossing a river by a ferry (3 baht) and taking another train from Ban Laem to Maeklong (10 baht, 1 hour). In this case you’d actually be on the train when it goes through the market.
Be sure to check the updated train timings in Maeklong in advance if you want to see the train passing by as there are just a few services a day. In June 2018 it was:
ARRIVAL 8.30, 11.10, 14.30, 17.40
DEPARTURE 6.20, 9.00, 11.30, 15.30
PRICES [in Thai baht as of June 2018]:
70 THB minivan from Pinklao New Southern Bus Terminal to Damnoen Saduak
50 THB lunch at the railway market
20 THB songthaew from Damnoen Saduak to Maeklong market (20 km)
15 THB city bus fare
10 THB songhtaew from Maeklong market to Amphawa market (7 km)
10-15 THB songthaew from Maeklong to Tha Ka market (10 km)