Love them or hate them, the floating markets near Bangkok lure a steady stream of tourists for a day outside the city. Travel agents stay busy filling boats that jam and bump along the many rivers and khlongs (canals) surrounding Thailand’s capital.
Travelers are often surprised not to find the NatGeo, postcard-worthy experience advertised. Those photos of the most popular floating markets were taken over a decade ago when things were different. Try your best to forget what you've seen on food and travel shows to have the best experience at a floating market and be prepared for a lot of tourists. Fortunately, you can still discover and enjoy smaller, authentic floating markets around Bangkok — just choose wisely.
What to Buy
The biggest sellers at Bangkok's floating markets are food, fruit, flowers, and floppy or conical hats. Hats are a top-selling item, particularly for travelers stuck in boat traffic jams as the morning sun grows in intensity. Drinking the fresh coconuts helps, too. A popular, and unique, experience is getting boat-prepared noodles and then eating them in your own boat. Try to have your breakfast at the market and try some of the unusual fruits, like the delicious mangosteen.
Take enough Thai baht with you to cover the day and any surprise expenses. You do not want to be forced to exchange money near the market.
Tip: Don’t support the illegal pet trade by keeping it profitable. Avoid having your photo taken with snakes, slow lorises, and other creatures.
Booking a Tour
Any reception desk or travel agent in Bangkok will happily book your floating market tour. You should make reservations at least one day before. You can make your own way to some of the closer markets without the need of a guide or driver.
All packaged experiences include getting picked up early in the morning at your hotel then driven out to the market. To avoid potentially unpleasant surprises, iron out details with the agent to know what you’ll have to pay once you get there. Entrance and boat rental can be surprisingly expensive — over $100 or more. You may also be expected to tip the boat driver.
Travelers typically don’t get consolidated into boats, hence the traffic jams on water. Consider teaming up with other travelers to lower the expense a little. You can also negotiate the price of the boats.
Many of the floating markets near Bangkok are located away from tourist areas or far outside the city. Some travelers have reported being stuck after their tours. If that happens, you’ll be forced to pay a premium for getting a ride back to Bangkok.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
When people say they’re going to the floating market in Bangkok, they most likely mean one of the three markets at Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi, a district 1.5 hours west of the capital. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the most famous of floating markets, although it no longer resembles the experience offered there 15 years ago. The market canals were dug between 1866 and 1868.
Travelers are collected early in the morning, pooled together, and driven out. Expect to pay handsomely, by local standards, for an opportunity to join the throng of boats plying the tourist trap.
Even worse, the engine-powered longtail boats have unshielded exhaust pipes. The noise and smoke spewed from too many boats crammed in close proximity will have you wishing you were back at the hotel.
Amphawa Floating Market
The Amphawa Floating Market located 20 minutes downstream is an alternative to the Damnoen Saduak market. Although Amphawa is the second most popular floating market near Bangkok, it feels like less of a tourist trap than Damnoen Saduak.
Amphawa is structured differently than the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. You won’t be buying from boats as much as from vendors who set up shops in their wooden homes along the river. You will get in and out of the boat and can walk through much of the market.
The floating market at Amphawa is an afternoon to evening market, so be prepared for the heat!
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
Although the Khlong Lat Mayom market is a picturesque alternative to the tourist-oriented floating markets, don’t expect the jam of boats often photographed. Instead, it’s more of a market along water than a “floating market.” Food courts on the water's edge prevail. Since there aren’t many floating merchants, boat trips sometimes include a trip to a nearby orchid farm.
Khlong Lat Mayom offers a slightly more authentic experience. Even better, the market is just outside of Bangkok. You can take a taxi (for around $12) or public transportation without booking a tour and dealing with an early wake-up.
The Khlong Lat Mayom floating market is only open on Saturday and Sunday.
Taling Chan Floating Market
Like the market at Khlong Lat Mayom, the Taling Chan Floating Market is much smaller and closer to Bangkok. As long as you don’t expect the visual spectacle and chaos of Damnoen Saduak, you can have a nice time at Taling Chan and make your own way!
The market is located across the Chao Phraya River to the northwest of Bangkok. In theory, you can get there in under 30 minutes from the Khao San Road area.
Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market
Bang Nam Pheung is another small floating market near Bangkok. Interestingly, the market is located in a sharp bend of the Chao Phraya River affectionately called “Bangkok’s Green Lung.”
As with other smaller floating markets, there is more market on land than on the water, but the experience is arguably more authentic.
Expect only a few boats but a much more relaxed atmosphere than Damnoen Saduak. You can make your own way by taxi or Uber to the Bang Nam Pheung floating market (45 minutes). Alternatively, your guesthouse can help you hire a private driver who will wait and bring you back.
Tha Kha Floating Market
Of the travelers who were brave enough to try more than one floating market, Tha Kha (the h is silent) is often their favorite, despite the distance. It’s smaller, mostly peaceful, and generally more of a “local” experience. You’ll find less souvenirs but better food and friendly treatment.
The Tha Kha floating market is situated roughly between the Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa floating markets. Getting there from the city will take around 1.5 hours.
Bang Khla Floating Market
The Bang Khla Floating Market is a weekend market situated along the Bang Pakong River east of Bangkok. Bang Khla is smaller and quite local, although it does get busy with Thais on Saturdays. Western tourists hardly bother to come to Bang Khla because of the small size and driving distance (plan on 1.5-2 hours to get there).
The Bang Khla Floating Market definitely produces better food than the other more touristy floating markets. Plan to eat there!