Damnoen saduak – the most famous floating market in Thailand
If you’ve been to Thailand, chances are you’ve visited Damnoen Saduak. Most likely you’ve seen a gazillion photos of this floating market and your expectations are high.
Damnoen Saduak is located in the Ratchaburi Province, about 100 kilometer from Bangkok. It’s mostly due to this convenient location that it’s become the tourist highlight which eventually led to the loss of the authentic character of the market.
Birth of the market
The Damnoen Saduak canal was dug by order of King Rama IV from 1866 till 1868. The idea was to dig the canals to connect the Mae Klong and Tha Chin rivers. Out of all those canals many floating markets came into being and the people who lived around the area dug some more canals as an extra addition.
At the time the most important floating market in the area was the Lad Plee market. Located near a buddhist temple it stayed active until 1967. In the meantime several roads where build around the previously important canals and people started using more and more road transport for their day to day needs. The canals became less important.
The same happened to the floating markets that slowly started to disappear around the 20th century.
In 1971 the Tourism Authority of Thailand (or TAT for short) decided that the Lad Plee market would be a tourist attraction. The market had boat sales men as before and lots of different small shops along the shores. In 1981 a new road was build towards the Ton Khem canal and the Damnoen Saduak floating market was officially born in that same year.
When we visited the market it was already famous (or infamous). If you heard about a floating market in Thailand, it was bound to be the Damnoen Saduak market. Despite the fact that I knew it would be touristic I did have high expectations.
Our group was divided over a few different boats and the guy in our boat went straight to the tourist shops. Hats mostly. We politely told him we weren’t interested in hats and that we just wanted to have a look around.
Either the guy was completely deaf or he chose to ignore our request. Most likely he would have missed a big commission if he would have skipped the shops. We were rather irritated as he kept going and stopping at endless rows of hats and other junk.
Despite the irritation we did have a good day out. There is plenty to see at the market and there is actual business being conducted there. If you want to buy something yourself better go to a local market as the prices at Damnoen Saduak are much higher than they should be.
Damnoen Saduak is without a doubt the biggest floating market we visited while in Thailand, but definitely not the best to go to. There are plenty of smaller and more authentic markets around. But if you happen to be in the area it doesn’t hurt to pay a visit. Keep in mind it will take about half a day.
Make sure to make clear arrangements with your boat guide. Don’t pay upfront and negotiate over the price. Paying upfront is asking for trouble.
They will be more inclined to do what you want if they know they still have to be paid. Good enough reason to listen to you.
The floating market consists of three markets: Ton Khem, Hia Kui and Khun Phitak. The first one is the largest market and is located on Khlong Damnoen Saduak. This is the market you will most likely arrive at. The second one runs paralel to the first and has mostly tourist shops. The third is least busy and located at 2 km from Hia Kui.
A nice thing to know is that the market has featured in many different movies. You can probably remember the canal chasing scene from The man with the golden gun or the movie Bangkok Dangerous with Nicolas Cage.
Damnoen Saduak is without a doubt a tourist trap. Does that mean you shouldn’t go? No, it’s a fun enough trip for half a day, but be aware of the downsides of this place.
Apparently an entrance fee is asked for these days. Make sure you are well informed and make good arrangements with your boatman. Or – probably the better choice – find a more local and smaller floating market.
I’m not sure what the current situation is with corona and if the market is even open or not. Best to check shortly before going.