A mecca for Western backpackers, the urban sprawl of Bangkok plays host to a large proliferation of hidden shopping havens and bustling bazaars, yet you’ll find few as lively or rich in heritage as the fabled Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Situated just 100 km South of Bangkok in the leafy Central Ratchaburi province, this labyrinth of seguing khlongs (canals) and narrow lanes is one of the most easily accessible markets in Bangkok, served by both local tour operators and Aircon buses from Thonburi. With a footprint in excess of one kilometre square, it also happens to be one of the largest. Abuzz with the friendly cacophony of merchant calls and haggling tourists, you’d be wise to pack an extra suitcase if you plan on visiting Ratchaburi’s charismatic shopping hub!


Damnoen Saduak: An Economic and Cultural Relic

For many backpackers, Damnoen Saduak is as much a must-see tourist attraction as a place to stock up on quirky souvenirs – but it wasn’t always so. Prior to the 19th Century, this bustling backwater suburbia was little more than fertile farmland tended by peasants, and it wasn’t until the fourth monarch of Siam (King Rama IV) ascended the throne in 1804 that Ratchaburi was realised as a prime location for commercial development.

The primary canal (where you’ll find most of the established merchants moored) was the first in a series of ambitious developments to connect the Taachin River and Maklong Rivers in Samutsongkram Province. Flanked by wooden warehouses, shanty shacks and opulent wooden houses with carefully tended gardens, it’s without doubt the best way to see the contrast in living conditions compared to the 19th Century. The smaller waterways, dug throughout the mid 1800′s, are a constant reminder of King Rama IV’s legacy, as well as the determination of his people to bring hope and prosperity to a once poverty-stricken region. It’s among the arteries of Damnoen Saduak you’ll find merchants hawking the best bargains – particularly if you’ve a penchant for Siamese antiques and handwoven soft furnishings!


Things To See and Do

Movie buffs can’t fail to remember James Bond’s thrilling boat chase through Damnoen Saduak in the 1974 box office smash “The Man With The Golden Gun”, and for the most part, this bustling market stays true to that iconic stereotype. Located just beneath the bridge on the main thoroughfare is the “Cobra Show”, a fascinating snake-charming act that climaxes with a daring break dance among a carpet of yellow-striped serpents. Whilst there, be sure to duck into the Royal Thai Wood Carving Outlet, which showcases an abundance of awe-inspiring masterpieces depicting key figures and events in Siam history.

Those seeking respite from the madding crowds will find Madam Pauw’s Idyll Coffee Shop a great place to kick back and drink in the authentic atmosphere from afar. Famed for its ultra sweet cappuccinos, you’ll also find a welcome menu of traditional Siam light bites to sate your appetite. If you’re planning on spending a day at Damnoen Saduak, it’s best to get there early to avoid the midday boat congestion. Round off your morning with a visit to the beautiful tiered Phra Pathom Chedi, the largest pagoda in Southern Asia, or with an elephant tour of the rolling green hills encompassing Damnoen Saduak.


Know Before You Go

Much like the markets of Central Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market has garnered somewhat of a reputation for scams and con artists. The majority of vendors hawking their wares are legitimate, however, there are numerous chancers who will try to offload fake designer-wear and antiques for less than 50 Baht. Some hawkers may seem overbearing in their methods to get your attention, however its important to note that boat tugging and even boat blocking are standard tactics in Damnoen Saduak. Few boat tour operators take advantage of visiting tourists, however there are some who will try to increase the fare charge after agreeing to a set price. For this reason, it’s recommendable to reach an agreement on the fare charge prior to boarding, and where possible, pay up-front to avoid bartering later on.


Getting To Damnoen Saduak

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is situated just 104 km South West of Bangkok between Nakhon Pathom and Samut Songkhram – little over 2 ½ hours by car along the picturesque Phetchakasem Road (Highway 4). The market can also be reached via Aircon buses from the Southern terminal at Thonburi with routes 78 and 80B ferrying visitors right up to the land pier at Th Sukhaphiban 1. Expect to pay around 35 Baht for a single journey, and a further 65 – 300 Baht depending upon whether you opt for private boat hire, or a ferry tour offered by one of the many tour operators at Th Sukhaphiban. Damnoen Saduak can become severely congested during peak periods, so be sure to embark early to avoid traffic, and leave before 3 pm if you want to reach Bangkok before dusk.