Bangkok is an enormous city. If you are not familiar with the city’s geography, I highly encourage you to use a local guide to help you plan out your day to avoid long waits, heavy traffic, and complicated logistics. I also encourage you to be opened minded about taking public transportation or even a tuk-tuk when it is recommended; sometimes that can save you a whole lot of time and headache! And, if you have any Bangkok restaurants on your wish list for dinners, you must take them into consideration when choosing your hotel. If you want to get to a restaurant on the other side of the city, you may need to give yourself upwards of 2 hours for time in a taxi to get there! I recommend planning to eat dinners near your hotel and venturing further away for lunch; this may also help you take advantage of some excellent lunchtime special menus, but I will cover that in another blog. For more on the value of a tour guide, read David’s blog.
On my recent trip, I did some bucket-list tours like seeing the Grand Palace and I got a little adventurous and ventured out to see Bangkok after-hours. But, my top favorite tour was seeing the floating markets of Damnoen Saduak, which is a little over an hour outside of the city. This old-style marketplace is set in a small klong (canal) network where floating vendors sell their wares from canoe-style boats. Our tour began with a long boat that had a makeshift motor that looked like it belonged in a monster truck and we sped through the larger canals looking at the local homes and getting a behind the scenes view of life on the canals. Then, we transferred to a smaller boat that was almost like a gondola and we navigated the crowded market where floating fruit sellers and souvenir shops mixed with little old ladies cooking noodle soups right in their boats.
Our guide, Sue, from Abercrombie & Kent, has been introducing travelers to this market and others like it and she said she could count on one hand the number of times her guests have actually tried the food. My husband, who lived in China after college, is an adventurous eater and loves anything spicy, so he was not scared off. And, it all smelled so good that we decided to dig in! I am so glad we did! We each got a spicy noodle soup and some fried bananas and sat down along the edge of the canal for one of the most enjoyable meals I had on the entire trip.
In addition to the floating market, our tour also included a stop to a more modern food market where stalls showcased everything from fresh fish to exotic spices. It was so much fun to be a part of the hustle and bustle of daily life. We walked among the stalls watching families shop for their dinner. I admit, though, I was feeling less adventurous and defined to try the strange looking (and smelling) specialties from the sellers. This market has train tracks running through it and, while rents can be high for the coveted stalls inside the market, it is free to set up shop along and on the tracks. But, you have to be ready and willing to pack up shop any time the train rolls through. We didn’t do it on this tour, but you can have the guide take you to the train station a few stops down and ride the train into the market; It is a great way to see the landscape outside of Bangkok and make a “grand entrance” to the market.
As Chef Jose Andres says, ““It often takes a meal to penetrate a culture and see how similar we all are. Food, how we cook it and eat it, connects us…” and touring a food market is the best way to get to the heart of a destination’s food culture. I have a better understanding and appreciation of Thai food and daily life in Thailand after this tour.
David also recently toured the floating markets on a separate trip to Bangkok and, as always, had a different opinion on the experience! You can read his report on the Travel Horizons blog.
See more picture from our trips to Bangkok on the Ourisman Travel Flickr page.