My first trip to Bangkok was in 2007, during which time I visited just about all of the top tourist sites, in spite of the sometimes oppressive heat and humidity. On our most recent trip to the Thai capital, we were able to be more selective and only do things that truly interested us. My partner has traveled extensively throughout Thailand, but I have not so I knew that I had to get out of Bangkok for at least one day to see more of the country. A perfect opportunity for this exact kind of exploration arose with a day trip to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
I partnered on this tour with Viator travel, the international travel company that specializes in tours around the world. I not only thought it would be interesting to visit the market, but I wanted to remain true to the mission of our overall trip to discover the more luxurious side to traveling in Asia. Always one for the hard assignments, I wisely selected Viator’s private tour of the markets.
Whenever I hear the term ‘private’ bandied about in affiliation with an organized tour, I never actually believe it to be, you know, private. So imagine my surprise when a sedan pulled up in front of the hotel and out jumped a tour guide looking for Mr. Long. I couldn’t believe it, but the private tour wasn’t just a small group, it was completely private. It was just the guide, the driver and me.
I especially loved this style of tour because of the freedom and flexibility it allowed, features usually lacking from an organized trip. If I wanted to leave, we could leave and if I wanted to visit a different place, we could do that too. The choice was mine as we careened out of a noisy Bangkok morning rush hour into the countryside of Thailand.
The goal was the floating market, but other stops were included as well. If you’ve ever done a day trip in a foreign country then you can probably guess what these stops were; yup, opportunities to buy things. I understand why tours always stop at ‘local producers’ but after a while it can be tiresome. I didn’t mind (mostly) the stops on this tour though because they were somewhat interesting.
The first stop was at the home of a coconut processor of some sort, I never fully understood what they did there. But I watched as they toasted coconut shells, made candy and brittle and walked around a typical Thai house. I actually bought some of the coconut/peanut butter brittle, which was in fact delicious. With that formality out of the way, it was time for the main event – the floating market.
To get to the floating markets a jet boat was necessary, and my guide and I raced through the community lining the canals until we reached the very busy floating market. It was still early in the day, so while there were tourists milling about it wasn’t an absolute madhouse yet. I coordinated a boat ride through the floating market and sat back as boatloads of food and souvenirs paddled buy. Midway through I signaled to one of the boats and bought some fresh, very fresh, mango and just relaxed in the melee of floating hawkers.
Was it touristy? Absolutely, without a doubt. There was very little truly authentic to the experience. But was it fun? Without a doubt, it was a great way to spend a day and I was able to see what a floating market looks like and how the producers ply their wares in a most unusual way.
On the way back we stopped at a woodworking facility, but what interested me most was an unscheduled stop. We passed by large fields as people were raking in the salt crop for the year. I asked the driver to stop and spent some time chatted with the salt sellers, learning more about their work.
More than anything else that day proved to me that it’s possible to get closer to a culture even through touristy sites and comfortable sedans. In order to learn about a new culture these things don’t really matter, all that matters is that you want to learn. If that desire is there, then you will always have a remarkable travel experience.