Floating Market shopping and dining, a sit-in affair!

Vendor offering his wares nicely displayed in his boat and above, behind him

If you ever find yourself in Bangkok, Thailand, with a day to spare, one unique experience you might want to add to your ‘to do’ list, is to try shopping while in motion, not by a river, or near a river, but IN a river canal (while in a boat)!

It will require travelling out of the huge and populous city, for about 100km in a South-westerly direction, to get to Damnoen Saduak District. Here you’ll find your way to the maze of canals along which traders sit in boats and sell all sorts of wares set up wooden displays or shelfs, to create the largest and most famous Floating Market in the world!

And it’s booming business for the community. They’ve built their floating shops along the banks of a river canal, to make it convenient for both seller and buyer to haggle and trade, in comfort.

The locals were the main target market years ago, but now it’s inundated almost entirely by tourists.

You’ll need to get into a small wooden boat that can fit 5-8 people, in addition to the guide who’ll steer you along. What’s intriguing is that due to stiff competition amongst sellers, some of them are carrying out their business on the move in their boats, their wares spread around them for company and balance. They drift alongside customer boats to get a little closer to the target market, interfering with access for their competitors who are more or less stationery, in boats moored on the side next to their displays.

Top of the range for items on offer are a variety of souvenirs (of course) in form of colourful shawls, T-shirts or blouses, straw hats, cloth bags, etc. Each stall is well organized with small items like little carvings or trinkets neatly arranged beside the seller (also sitting in), while the tops, hats and larger items like bags are hung securely on hooks for better display, as well as for easier reach or viewing for shoppers passing by in their boats.

There are also kiosks and vendors in boats selling food. Some offering local cuisines like seafood, rice, chicken or fish (served hot), or a variety of fruits, while others sell cool fizzy drinks, fresh juice or ice-cream.

The fun is in the actual purchase process. Once you spot an item of interest, you motion for it and the attentive boat guide will bring it to a stop nearer to the vendor boat, so you can buy. You then point out the particular shawl or curving or whatever you desire and the seller passes it on to you. As soon as it’s in your hands, or you’ve confirmed your item of interest, then haggling is sure to begin.

It often starts when you ask how much the item costs. The seller proposes a price with the expectation that you’ll give a counter offer. If you try to return it, then he/she offers another price (slightly lower) or asks how much you are willing to pay. This goes on until you reach an agreement. It isn’t easy for them to accept it back, until you are firm in your resolve not to buy. The good thing is that if the boat has other passengers, someone is likely to buy something. Eventually you’ll depart, drifting on in peace whether you buy or not.

For the blouses or shirts that need a fit-check, it’ll have to be done in the sitting position, because standing is precarious for both you and passengers and everyone nearby. The boats are small so any shift of weight may cause imbalance and it could tip over. (No, swimming or rescues isn’t in the plan for anyone here)!

Then there are vendors calling out an offer of hot food or cold drinks in boats gliding past yours, at a much slower pace for your benefit. The buffet is arranged in an attractive display of dishes of different colour, with the aroma calling on you to succumb, if only just for a taste. Woe unto you if someone else has bought some and it’s served while you watch, you’ll soon be next.

It’s a fascinating spectacle for you the visitor, as it’s a peculiar experience to do things differently. Yet for the Thai people, this has become a lifestyle built on practicalities of the environment.

What an effective way to harness the water channels as a livelihood that serves everyone, those living in the vicinity as well as those passing by.

This day out was part of an exciting dream trip of a lifetime in Thailand. I went along with my sister and don’t even remember what we bought (maybe a shawl or fridge magnet). The experience of haggling over an item with the different vendors made us feel so at home, it was more memorable than the actual purchase!

There are other activities to do out there in Damnoen Saduak such as visiting the Tiger Zoo, Elephant village, handicrafts market or see a Cobra show amongst many other options. So if you don’t like shopping, try the floating market for the experience, then move on to sample one or more of the other activities or sites to see, to make the most of your day out of Bangkok.

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