It’s a bit like shopping at Walmart, only imagine that Walmart is floating on a river and you’re making your purchases from a boat. Okay, so it’s nothing like shopping at Walmart but a visit to one of Thailand’s floating markets is so novel that it just has to be included in your travel plans.
Although they are found in many countries over Asia including Indonesia, Vietnam and Sri Lanka to name a few, Thailand really is the home of the floating market. It boasts the largest one in the world and has successfully marketed this shopping experience as a bucket list activity.
Before you clamber into one of those long-tail canal boats, back up one second. This article will tell you everything you need to know about visiting a floating market in Thailand, including the history behind them, the best ones to visit and tips for getting your money’s worth!
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History of Thailand’s Floating Markets
Since the dawn of time, civilisations have sprung up around rivers. This is because readily available access to water was essential to survive. Riverside locations are also convenient for transportation and as a result, bring with them economic possibilities.
As such, many of Thailand’s oldest communities are based along rivers. Boats have long been used to bring in trade and the locals would barter for goods directly from the floating vendors. There were many of these communities based along parts of the Chao Phraya River (which runs through Bangkok) and as a result, floating markets began to pop up everywhere.
Did you know? Due to the abundance of canals in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok used to be nicknamed ‘Venice of the East’.
For a long time, floating markets were an essential part of Thai life. People were able to travel along the waterways to find work and trade with their neighbours. However, as the major cities like Bangkok began to be urbanised, many vendors began to bring their goods to the streets instead. Lots of floating markets moved on land, whilst others were closed completely.
To ensure the survival of the floating market and its heritage, in 1971, The Tourism Authority of Thailand decided to promote the most famous floating market, Damnoen Saduak, as a tourist attraction to foreigners. From there, the rest is history.
Wait a second… does that mean that the floating markets in Thailand are just a tourist trap?
Tourist Trap or Authentic Experience?
There is not a simple answer to this question. It is true that many of the most famous floating markets in Thailand are peddled specifically to tourists. It is also true that many of the goods in these markets are much more expensive than you would find in one of Thailand’s land-based markets. So arguably yes, they are a bit of a tourist trap.
But how many times do you get to buy your lunch on a boat at a floating market? The novelty factor is reason enough to want to experience one of these markets in our opinion!
It is also worth noting that the locals do still use many of these floating markets themselves, however, they usually visit at different times. Some markets are also more ‘authentic’ than others. To help you choose what market you should visit, we’ve listed a few below.
7 Best Floating Markets in Thailand
Despite what the locals and tuk tuk drivers might tell you, the floating markets in Thailand can be visited independently. You simply turn up at the location and then arrange for somebody to take you around the market by boat. This is a great option for backpackers on a budget!
If you’re less confident about the idea of travelling independently, you can also visit some of Thailand’s floating markets via an organised tour. These are particularly easy to arrange if you are staying in one of Bangkok’s hostels. To give you an idea of price, the tours to Damnoen Saduak floating market tend to start at around $15USD for a half-day trip.
1. Damnoen Saduak, Bangkok
Arguably the most famous of all Thailand’s floating markets, Damnoen Saduak is located in Ratchaburi, just outside of Bangkok. It takes around an hour and a half to get to the floating market from Thailand’s capital and public buses travel there daily.
Scam Warning! Be aware that public transport or taxis may drop you at the side of the canal and not at the market centre. This is a scam to get you to hire a more expensive boat. If this happens to you, politely decline any offers from the vendors (who are known for being quite pushy) and walk the rest of the way. We recommend downloading one of our favourite backpacking apps, maps.me ahead of time so you can find your way.
The majority of floating market tours visit Damnoen Saduak. As a result, you’re likely to see more tourists than locals here. As soon as the tour buses arrive, the waterways are filled with western faces. Being overcharged here is commonplace so make sure you shop around if you’re going to stand any chance at avoiding being ripped off.
One reader Joris said, “Damnoen Saduak floating market is definitely 100% tourist trap. 99% is just souvenir shops”.
Opening times: Daily from 7am-5pm.
2. Khlong Lat Mayom, Bangkok
Travellers looking for a more authentic experience at one of Thailand’s floating markets should head to Khlong Lat Mayom. Located around 15km outside of Bangkok, a taxi ride here will cost you around 100THB ($3.50USD).
Although there are some floating vendors at Khlong Lat Mayom, the vast majority of the market is located on the riverside. The waterway here is narrow so only a few boats can fit. However, unlike at other floating markets, you are likely to be one of the only tourists around. If this market isn’t quite floating enough for you, combine it with a visit to nearby Taling Chan (below) for the best of both worlds.
Opening times: Weekends and public holidays only from 9am-5pm.
3. Taling Chan, Bangkok
One of the easiest floating markets to get to from the centre of Bangkok is Taling Chan. Much like Khlong Lat Mayom, it offers more of an authentic Thai experience. As well as selling the usual trinkets, there is also a range of flowers and snacks for sale here. The market is particularly renowned for its seafood – don’t miss the opportunity to try some!
A huge plus of visiting Taling Chan is the accessibility to the small canals (known as khlongs). A longtail boat ride around these small waterways costs just 100THB ($3.50USD) and really reveals a different side of Bangkok
One of our readers said of Taling Chan, “We loved this market for its authenticity”.
Opening times: Weekends from 9am-5pm.
4. Four Regions Market, Pattaya
Pattaya Floating Market, also known as the Four Regions Market, is the city’s only floating market. At 100 square metres wide, it is the largest man-made floating market in the country and as such, has become a major tourist attraction in the area.
The market is divided into four regions: north, northwest, south and central. Each area sells products representing that part of Thailand. Everything is sold on this market so whether you’re looking for souvenirs or tasty street food, you’re bound to find it here.
The Four Regions Market is also unique in the fact that it offers more than just a shopping experience. It also hosts regular performances and demonstrations, aimed to teach visitors about Thai traditions and culture. For more information about current shows, check out the official website.
For Thai nationals, the floating market in Pattaya is free to enter. However, international visitors are usually charged 200THB ($7USD per person).
Opening times: Daily from 9am-8pm.
5. Amphawa, Bangkok
Amphawa is Bangkok’s second most popular floating market after Damnoen Saduak. It’s located in Samut Songkhram Province, around 90km from Thailand’s capital. Although it is a popular choice for international tourists, many locals favour this market too.
It is most famous for its fresh seafood but sells a whole manner of Thai goods, including clothing, trinkets and hand-made crafts.
For a ticket onboard one of the shared boats, you should expect to pay around 50THB ($2USD) per person – don’t be fooled into paying extra for the private boat!
From here, don’t miss the opportunity to grab a local boat to Wat Bang Kung Temple, an ancient Buddhist temple which nature has reclaimed. It’s a little bit reminiscent of Ta Phrom, one of Angkor Wat’s most unmissable temples! In the evening, there are also boat tours out onto the Maeklong River to see the fireflies.
Opening times: Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday from 11am-9.30pm.
6. Bang Namphueng, Bangkok
This is another of Bangkok’s floating markets which is located in Bang Kachao. This area is also known as the city’s ‘Green Lung’ because of its beautiful natural setting, often enjoyed by bicycle. Bang Namphueng is another floating market which is only open on weekends and as such, tends to be quieter than some of the others.
It is a small floating market but really packs a punch when it comes to food. This is the perfect place to try some traditional Thai dishes such as hoi thot (Thai-style fried mussel pancakes) or some delicious Asian fruit.
Opening times: Weekends only from 8am-2pm.
7. Khlong Hae, Hat Yai
Situated in Hat Yai, Khlong Hae is the only floating market located in the south of Thailand. It is very unusual when compared to Thailand’s other floating markets, partly because of the lack of western tourists but also because of eco-conscious ethos. Instead of using single-use plastic for food products, instead they favour bamboo tubes, clay pots and coconut shells.
The influence of the different cultures in the area can also be seen on this floating market. As well as serving traditional Thai food, Muslim dishes, popular in Southern Thailand, are also sold. Aside from Thais, the market is most popular with Malaysians and Singaporeans who are visiting Thailand on holiday.
Opening times: Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 3pm-9pm.
Tips for Visiting a Floating Market in Thailand:
If you’re heading to one of the floating markets in Thailand and want to get the most out of your visit, heed the following advice!
- Arrive early
If you can, aim to arrive at the floating market early. This is when the locals tend to do their shopping and you will usually beat the crowds. If you’re visiting Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, you can expect to tour buses to turn up around 9am/10am.
- Keep your valuables secure
As with visiting any market, always make sure your belongings are secured. A travel money belt is a good idea to keep valuables safely out of sight. Don’t flash your cash or draw unwanted attention to your valuables.
- Bring water
- Shop around
Bear in mind that many of the goods sold to you on floating markets will be overpriced. If you really want something, it is advisable to shop around so you have an idea of the going price.
Bartering is expected at any kind of Thai market and floating markets are no different. To make sure everybody finishes the transaction happy, check out this guide to haggling in Southeast Asia.
- Visit with a local (if possible)
If you have a local friend you can bring along to your floating market visit, that really helps. Having a friend who can speak some of the language will help you to get a good deal on the stuff you buy. They can also show you the more ‘offbeat’ parts of the market that many tourists will be unlikely to experience!
- Apply suncream
It doesn’t take long in the glare of the sun to turn into a lobster!
Have you visited one of the floating markets in Thailand? What was your experience? Let us know in our South East Asia Backpacker Facebook community!