It was our last day in Thailand and I hadn’t visited a floating market. Determined not to miss out on such an iconic outing I had spent our penultimate day in the country scrolling through Trip Advisor, reading blog posts and flicking through our Rough Guide in search of the best floating market in Bangkok.
As such an important Thai cultural institution it should have come as no surprise that there would be many markets to choose from, but it all became a bit daunting. How far could we travel in just a day? What was the best time to go? What kind of stuff do they sell? Deciding on a market to visit was tricky – the best-sounding ones were too far away and the closest ones sounded tacky and touristy – the last thing I wanted!
In the end we settled on Amphawa Floating Market. I had read that it was where residents of Bangkok headed at the weekend, shunning the commercialised waterways of Damnoen Market, preferring to leave them for unwitting tourists. Amphawa is a two-hour bus journey from Bangkok so we got up early and made our way to the station. We jumped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the Southern bus terminal but it turned out our driver had other ideas…
Reluctant to take us to where we wanted to go, he instead insisted that he drive us to Damnoen Market, wait all day for us and take us back to the Bangkok – all for the same price as a bus ticket to Amphawa… Lucky us! Convinced this was a scam I made it clear I was not impressed and after an increasingly heated exchange he conceded and dropped us rather ignominiously at the bus station.
Bangkok has the largest bus network in the world so getting out of the city was a long-winded affair but after a couple of hours in a too-hot mini-bus we had reached Amphawa. It was almost midday and the market was only just waking up: the wooden walkways creaked underfoot and the smell of grilled seafood wafted through the air. The mood was languid; sauntering along the boardwalks we followed the mercenary waterway upstream, crossed its steeply arched bridges and perused the many small shops lining its banks.
With so much food on offer it was hard to choose what to have for lunch – I veered away from the deep-fried insects and opted instead for a plate of grilled prawns straight from one of the boats. The young waitresses informed me that I was missing out on the best bit: the head juices… Too polite to say I’d rather give them a miss I duly followed their technique and squeezed out the apparently delicious brown stuff I had so ignorantly been throwing away.
As the heat of the day intensified, so did the crowds. The market really gets going in the evening but the afternoon saw Thai families, young couples and a few more tourists fill the narrow walkways; by 4pm it was positively bustling and the tranquil morning seemed like a distant memory. Jostling our way through the stream of people wasn’t easy but we managed to escape the throng and reach a bridge. Standing in the middle we looked out over the boats passing underneath and as the light of the day began to fade twinkling fairy lights illuminated the scene – it was quite magical. I would have loved to have stayed longer and seen the market at night but we had to catch our flight home, a place that felt a million miles away in that moment.