Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When in Thailand, go to the floating market

When I embarked on a backpacking trip in Southeast Asia in 2008, I already knew that I have to go to Thailand and while there, I told myself that I have to see the floating market. The experience wasn't really spectacular but I should say it is a must-see, that I had to scold my folks for missing it when they went to Thailand two years after!

Despite the fact that I've put this in my two-day itinerary, I didn't really know how to get to the floating market. I even found out later on that there's not just one but a lot of floating markets in the country! Thanks to the reliable travel agents by the sidewalks of Bangkok, I managed to book a day trip to the floating market and surrounding areas.

I managed my expectations quite well. After a two-hour-or-so van ride, We were escorted to a short boat ride that would take us to the floating market. The waters were murky, there were lots of water lilies, and there were shanties along the river banks.
But I should say the trip to the floating market is a treat for the senses: the entire scene is a burst of colors coming from various merchandise; the pungent smells of cooked food and fruits on display fill the air; the noise of vendors and buyers tells every tourist how economically active this place is; the taste of Thai food excites palates; and for the sun worshipers, the tropical heat will be a delight to the skin.

The busy merchants at the floating market.

What's in it for me?
- Be sure to eat fruits from Thailand! I didn't bother to taste the fruits. Why would I when we also have the same back in the Philippines? But I was wrong! While we do have mangoes, papayas, star apples, watermelons and a whole slew of tropical fruits, those from Thailand taste much sweeter, I was told. Except for the mangoes, I guess, as Philippine mangoes can be really sweet that makers of mango wine don't want our mangoes!
- Ride the boat! While it's possible to check out the stores on foot through the bridges, I think it's the experience of being able to buy from vendors afloat that makes the whole thing different.
- Buy from the floating stores! Merchandise on floating stores varies from vegetables, to souvenir items, to hot coffee. As mentioned, it will be much more exciting to buy from these vendors from their boat to yours. You'll be thirsty, anyway, so why not buy refreshments from the floating stores? I'm pretty sure the water used for the juices being sold didn't come from the waters of the canals!
- Roam around and check out the non-floating stores! There are a lot of souvenir items being sold at these stores, be it your wooden frogs or rugs embossed with metal elephants.

Rugs, tapestries and pillow cases with Thai patterns and motifs for sale abound at the floating market.

- Go food tripping! Whether on the boat or on your toes, do check out the food sold at the area. Thai food has already established itself in the global culinary scene, and there's no better opportunity to sample authentic Thai food while on this excursion! There are delicacies such as Pad Thai and sticky mango rice sold around the area.

Long before the world "selfie" became popular, I've already mastered the craft. This is one of the many I took while on a two-week journey in Southeast Asia. If you're a solo traveler, better to hone your "selfie" skills!

Tip sheet:
- To get to the floating market, book a guided tour from tour desks around Bangkok. I got mine from one of those along Khao San Road. Tour rates can be somewhere between THB600-800 ($20-26). Bookings can be made the day before your intended trip.
- Whole day tours normally include other destinations close by, such as the tiger sanctuary. In most cases, lunch is served.
- The stuff that can be bought at the floating market can be a bit more expensive compared to the prices in Bangkok. I suggest if you're intending to buy your souvenirs, get them from Bangkok as you will see the same items there at cheaper prices.