The Thais love their canals: until the 20th century, the rivers and khlong (canals) that crisscrossed the capital were Bangkok’s primary transportation system and the reason the city was nicknamed the “Venice of the Far East.”
Most of the khlong have since been paved over, and most commuters have since switched over to the capital’s highways and railways. But locals haven’t completely let go of the canal life: commuters still travel on the Chao Phraya Express and other boat services on surviving Bangkok khlong, and floating markets like Damnoen Saduak retain a spirited following.
Established on its namesake khlong linking the Mae Klong and Tha Chin rivers, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is a Thai tourist institution that does business (almost) entirely on the water: vendors on boats sell produce, dry goods, souvenirs and street food to their clientele, which these days are mainly tourists instead of locals.
The market is located some 60 miles west of Bangkok, and operates only in the morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., making it a scenic daytime stop that many tourists put on their Thailand bucket list.
What to Do at the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
You’ll want to get up early for a visit to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market; many tourists leave their Bangkok hotel before 6 a.m. to make the hour-long trip to the khlong.
You can arrange a pre-packaged, organized tour of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, courtesy of the many travel agencies operating around Thailand. Alternatively, you can also book a waiting boat at the wharf and go on your own, though that presents its own problems: you may be charged upward of 2,000 baht (around $60) for a two-hour tour that also includes a stop at one of the nearby temples.
You’ll ride a small, wooden boat that seats an average of four (not including the pilot); the visit will include a visit to the floating market proper, also known as Ton Khem, and the parallel floating market called Talaat Hia Kui, where land-based stalls sell a selection of kitschy souvenirs for sale.
- Shopping: Sellers wearing indigo work clothes and flat-topped straw hats hawk produce like local herbs and spices; fruits like durian and mangosteen; and assorted made-in-China souvenirs—either from their own boats or from one of the land-based stalls along the river. You’ll want to haggle the prices down, as the original prices are inflated for tourists.
- Eating: Old ladies cook food right on their boats, and hand dishes to you to eat. Pad Thai, spring rolls, fried rice, and Chinese-style dumplings are all on the menu—experienced travelers wait till they get in the boat to fill up for breakfast. The dishes may range in price from 10 to 70 baht (30 cents and up) per order.
- Other nearby experiences: Close to the Floating Market, you may be cajoled by the boat pilot into visiting a few other detours nearby. Foodies will enjoy the nearby coconut sugar farm where they can get hands-on in the process of making sugar out of coconut palm sap, and Wat Rat Charoen Tham temple introduces culturally curious tourists with the local religious practice, down to meeting local Buddhist monks.
Tips for Visiting the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The Damnoen Saduak experience can be an assault on the senses, with the twisty passages between boats and the jumble of watercraft all demanding your attention as your boat picks its way through the canal, the rising heat of the day (especially if you visit later in the morning), and the smell of the cooking food clashing with the damp odor of the canal water.
Make the most out of your visit by following these tips:
- Don’t believe the touts. Some touts will have you believe that you can’t walk from the van stop to the market and that instead, you’ll have to hire a boat to get to the market, as soon as you get down. This is not true: you’ll need to take a 10-minute walk to the market site.
- Take your time. The boat will go quite slowly through the crowds, especially if it’s peak tourist season. Bring sunscreen or a wide-brimmed hat, as you’ll be exposed to the sun for a fair bit through the ride. Expect to be splashed by dirty khlong water, too.
- Avoid buying clothes. The prices for clothes at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market are extortionate, sometimes going for four times as much as the same merchandise you can buy at Chatuchak Weekend Market or one of Bangkok’s night markets.
- Choose food carefully. Eat food that is cooked right in front of you, avoid food that looks like it’s been out for a while. The fruits—once peeled—are safe, and worth diving into.
- Ask about exploring the back alleys. This is applicable for tourists who haven’t booked a package tour—you can ask your boat pilot to take you to the residential part of the local khlongs, so you can see how the Thai live and work by the water.
- Watch your fingers. Don’t grip the boat with your fingers over the side, as you’ll risk injuring them in case another boat bumps yours.
Getting to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Assuming you’re not taking a package tour of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, you’ll want to take public transportation to the site.
Start at the Southern Bus Terminal in Bangkok or Sai Tai Mai. From here, catch Bus 78 to get to Damnoen Saduak. The trip takes about an hour and a half to complete.
The bus stop is next to a boat pier, but riding a boat is not necessary as soon as you disembark from the bus (no matter what the persistent local touts say). Walk to the actual Damnoen Saduak khlong and you can ride a boat there.
To get back to Bangkok, walk back to the bus drop-off and catch bus 78 heading back.
Alternatives to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Let’s face it, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market isn’t exactly authentic. It’s touristy, true, but the experience here only barely reflects the daily life of your average Thai—in fact, it can feel more like a money grab than a meaningful immersion into local living.
If you'd like to see a floating market experience that more closely reflects the lived experience of Thai locals, visit Amphawa floating market instead. Unlike Damnoen Saduak, Amphawa operates only on weekend nights. The wares sold at Amphawa reflect the local way of life more than that of the tourists—think more produce, fruit, and ethically-sourced traditional crafts.