If you could imagine shopping for a day’s worth of food, praying to Buddha where brilliant colors surround you, eating anything your Thai heart desires, along with a new outfit and maybe some household splendors . . . Then I would say, I have summed up the experience of a lifetime all within the confines of a wooden boat. Did I mention sipping a beer as someone coasts you along the canal of lush greens and coconut plantations? Because, there’s that too.
The floating market of Thailand. Damnoen Saduak. My highlight of Thailand. About seventy-five kilometers South of Bangkok, we arrive to a canal where a group of men sit and watch television by the waterside with a large fan blowing hot air amongst them under a coverpot of dried palms. Shortly after arrival, we aboard a long wooden boat with pleasant scented flowers that drapped over the edge to loosely land on a platform to lead us in our direction. This charming and comfortably narrow boat was canopied, along with three padded wooden bench seats, and a motor on the back with a long trolling prop of about eight feet.
As we dipped into the boat and flushed into the canal banks lushing with beautiful green foliage and trolling by mazes of roots that drank from the warm claylike water, senses of relaxation and excitement flooded over me. The first shop we saw was built off the canal side, extending over the water by a couple feet, supported on stilts that were worn down and discolored by the wear of the water. Soft wood that stood strong. A woman sitting on the floor paneling waiting for a customer to by some of her lovely trinkets and souvenirs. Gorgeous wood carved candle holders, wooden statues of Buddha, woven wall decors of elephants. All waiting to be owned and housed. The brilliant fact that you don’t even need to step outside the boat to shop for your favorite items. I chose not to buy anything assuming there to be many opportunities to do so.
We furthered our travel down waterway and came across another lonesome stand offering many same items along with wall tapestries and knockoff purses. Again I bought nothing. We continued on our way, slowly banking around corners and being consumed by river foliage, palms, and alley ways of boat ports and stilted housing.
Breaching deeper into the canal we begin to pass other boats, some empty, some with tourists. Until we bank to a canal that literally stammered my breathing. Stilted shop after stilted shop. Women ready to jockey you to dock and bargain at a moment’s notice. If choosen not to purchase you are left with a smile and they are left to wait for their next wallet in hopes to sell. Men and women in paddle boats experienced to maneuver and provide the optional fruits, Thai dishes, straw hats, or perhaps a Singha local beer. Their flat boats loaded with a grill or perhaps a kettle of broth and sorted ingredients; prepared fruit to snack on whilst winding in the waterways; or simply piled with freshly gathered coconuts.
Little did I know at the time that we hadn’t even reached the “big” market yet!
Bank after bank after bank. Speckled with housing and Buddhist shrines. Laboring families, bathing women, dish washing men. Platform after platform. Art, light fixtures, dress wear, food, Buddha, elephants, knives, Tuk-Tuk models, hammocks, you name it.
Amongst all this visual stimulation there was the art of Captain skillmanship if you may. Weaving inbetween boats and avoiding collision. Sneaking past boats in an array of simple cluster. Coasting the corners and never offbalancing another. A simple form of travel in a one-of-a-kind environment full of color, barter, and trades. Simply, magnificent.
With all this excitement and my senses filled with vibrancy, I became hungry. I advised my driver that I wanted some noodles. I believe his name was Mei. We had very little communication as I do not speak Thai and he knows only a few choice words in English. Mei took us to his favorite noodle place about five minutes down lapping waterways. I noticed Mei was quite popular among the shops and canals. Laughing with other vendors as we drifted by and being called to for simple conversation for a few split seconds. Receiving smiles and waves and exchanging pleasantries. Maybe joking about us since we weren’t the big spenders!
We slid up to a boatsman and Mei ordered us a bowl of soup. Incredible. Believe it or not, our first spicy dish! Filled with bean sprouts, broth, thin rice noodles, two balls of white mystery meat, and scallions. My oh my this wash delicious. You may think hot soup in hot and humid Thailand along the waterway wouldn’t be such a comfortable idea . . . but who wants comfortable when you have an open mind and heart and wish to have a taste of Thai culture from the oldest floating market of today’s time? Not I, Not I. A simple looking soup blasting my mouth with flavours and satisfaction with a little cough now and then from the spice.
Continuing along our way down canal with bowls in hand we began to enter the “big market.” Where your driver could drop you off and you could walk along stairways and platforms to more spacious areas that provided more street-food like type carts, men with pythons wrapped around them, and any good you wish to buy. It was impressive! Boat after boat filled the width of the canal. Patience and a “nevermind” attitude was key to getting through.
The smells were extraordinary. The scent of the water mixed with lush land, wood, and food. Coasting through trails of flowers that decorated the boats. So many exquisite scents just from the various foods and fruits waiting to be consumed. Floating on, passing the remnants of used coconut in the water, we exit the big market and head wayward to our surprise . . . a Buddhist temple!
After basking in the intricacy of mosaics and beauty we carried on to our next stop . . . the elephant rides! Rob was more than excited to ride the elephants, as was I. We bought a basket full of plantains under the impression we could feed the elephant ourselves while riding them. To our dismay . . . the Thais were tricky!
This once in a lifetime experience was truly a treasure and shall be treasured always. I will never forget the colors, the atmosphere, the friendly people, the sights and the brilliancy of all the beauty.