I covered a couple floating hotels yesterday, and of the three I would have to say that the Thai floating hotel was my favorite. Why? Well, it all boils down to authenticity. The others were expensive and elaborate, but the Thai floating hotel follows the ancient Thai tradition of living on floating boathouses. They didn’t create that hotel chain along the river as a gimmick — they did it because that’s just how they roll (or should I say “swim?”).
So, I thought I’d expand on that a little bit today by diving into the legendary Thai floating market. I’m sure that most of you have been to an open-air market, and these floating markets are essentially the exact same thing. After all, if you’re going to live on a boat, then why shouldn’t you sell your wares out of a boat, too?
I should make a quick disclaimer: floating markets aren’t exclusive to Thailand. They’re also common in Indonesia and Vietnam, it’s just that Thailand is particularly famous for them. And Ratchaburi, a province along the southwest stretch of Thailand, has perhaps the most famous floating markets of them all, Damneon Saduak. The market is the largest of its kind and regularly attracts a huge number of tourists. In fact, if you’ve ever seen pictures of a floating market in a magazine or a Thai restaurant, there’s a fairly good chance that the photographer was floating along the Mae Klong river, snapping photos of the locals.
Thai boats are typically long and slender, which enables them to navigate through tightly-packed canals without clogging traffic. They also have the advantage of allowing the merchant to display his goods across the boat, in much the same way that a street-side vendor would display his wares on a cart.
With global warming and rising water levels, you might think that floating markets would be catching on, but actually the opposite is true. The spread of industrialization and capitalism are slowly choking the life out of these local markets. People are preferring roads and cars to rivers and boats, and supermarket chains are proving to be more convenient than paddling through town looking for somebody who sells coconuts. A few floating markets remain, however, and some local Thai governments are investing money in preserving or reviving floating markets. As an ancient part of Thai culture and a popular tourist attraction, floating markets have proven that, while slightly outdated, they can bring in foreign coin and stimulate the economy.
Speaking of tourism, if you ever step off a plane (or boat) and find yourself in Thailand, you may want to do a bit of research on the local floating markets before you load up your gear and spend the day visiting. Damneon Saduak is the most famous, but that’s both an advantage and a disadvantage. It’s deserving of all that fame, but that means that you’ll have to share elbow room with gobs of other tourists. If you’re looking for something (to channel hipsters for a moment) a little less mainstream, try Amphawa, which is a popular choice among Bangkok citizens looking to escape on weekends. You could also opt for small-town riverside communities. I’m certain that they would be quite accommodating to both you and your overburdened wallet. Whichever you chose, you’ll be in store for some truly fine Thai cuisine.