on August 22, 2009
Irresistible NameDamnoen Saduak means "To travel (or move) comfortably." How can a traveler avoid a place with such a name? Digging KhlongsEighty kilometers southwest of Bangkok, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market provides many of the better known pictures of Thailand. Khlong Damnoen Saduak, the canal in which it is located, was ordered to be built by King Rama IV in 1866 to facilitate travels between Ratchaburi and Samut Sakhon by connecting the Tha Chin River with the Mae Klong River. Opened to the public in 1868, it provides unforgettable views of floating noodle soup stalls and Thai women wearing flat topped bamboo hats.In the 21st Century its transport and agricultural qualities are secondary to the tourism industry. The fertile adjacent fields provide the needed products to fill up the boats clogging the main canal and to serve tasty meals to the hordes standing by the piers. The traditional Thai boats and the time-honored garments of the sellers provide an exceptional view into the classical Thai culture. There is no better testimony to the authenticity of the sights than the fact that most visitors are Thais, and most of them have clearly arrived from the big city. Even the kitschy souvenirs sold from boats do not manage to spoil the experience.Floating ThereThe market is in the Ratchaburi Province. It can be comfortably reached with air conditioned buses from Bangkok’s Southern Terminal (is this the origin of the market’s name?). Please note that the terminal was moved in recent years further away from Thonburi’s center. It can be reached with bus 4 from the Victory Monument or with a taxi. The bus 4 trip to the terminal costs a staggering thirty baht as compared to the regular seven baht fare; to that, the transport to the Victory Monument should be added. The Skytrain has a station at the Victory Monument.TimingThis is a morning market, meaning it opens at 7 AM and closes before noon. Since the bus trip takes more than an hour, departing early is a must if willing to enjoy the visit.Tha KhaIf reaching Damnoen Saduak during a weekend, it is also possible to visit Tha Kha. This is another floating market located ten kilometers away and more local in spirit. It can be reached by taxi from Damnoen Saduak; however, before reaching it, make sure it is open. The items offered are similar to those in the bigger market, but without the video-filming crowds. LayoutThe main area of the market features a large central structure located next to the main canal and a long pier. Boats dock there and buyers can buy merchandise and food from them; nearby are benches were the food can be enjoyed. Smaller canals spin off the main one; also they are under occupation of floating stalls. Traditional Thai teakwood houses built on stilts can be seen in the area. Most of the canals feature piers; boats can be called from anywhere along them. Trust the boatmen to reach any free spot along the pier, regardless how narrow the available parking area seems to be.The boats are long, flat and narrow, characteristics that give them an awesome capability to maneuver amidst the plethora of competitors surrounding them. They would approach any customer signaling them to do so, even at places not designed for that. An interesting point is the boatmen attire. The women running boat-shops wear special hats, conical with flat tops; I have not seen similar ones in Thailand. PricesOn food, fruits, fruit juice and similar items the profit margin is low, prices are only slightly higher than in Bangkok. However, if attempting to buy souvenirs, bargaining is essential as the prices here are very inflated. Note that all these souvenirs – unlike the food – have been brought here from elsewhere.Don’t Run Away with the SoupEven noodle soup can be prepared on these boats; this is by far the most interesting item to purchase in the market since it demands a special equipped boat and high skills from the owner. The noodle soup boats provide unusual sights; the soup is prepared in a compact and smart designed apparatus, fit for a spaceship. The soup cooking pot is divided into tree compartments, each one containing a different part of the soup (one for the soup, the others for various additions that must be cooked separately). Surrounding it – and the cook – are baskets containing the fresh ingredients of the soup. Since the customers looks at the boat from above, the experience allows witnessing the event at angles impossible on regular shops. As in all similar establishments, the customer is allowed to choose among the add-ons.A thing to keep in mind is that these shops are intrinsically different from those on the shore: they move faster than their customers. Moreover, the soup is served outside the shop premises. Thus, the idea is to get the soup from the boat, eat it on a table nearby and then return the dishes to the owner as soon as possible. The next customer is waiting on a different pier.
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