Ten years ago if you came to Bangkok and wanted to visit a nearby floating market, the only possible suggestion was the floating market at Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi Province. Today, apart from Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is of course the best known and most photogenic of all time, there are so many to choose from. Don’t misunderstand that we’ve hurriedly built them recently for the sake of tourism. Actually they aren’t all new but a revival of the former local markets that had died down. The one that is no less popular among tourists and sure to be very crowded is Amphawa Floating Market in Amphawa District of Samut Songkhram Province. It’s only 1.30 hour drive from Bangkok. (For those who prefer a quieter place they are advised to go to Khlong Lat Mayom or Taling Chan Floating Markets in Taling Chan instead.) It is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12.00-20.00 hrs, but all shops, stalls and boat vendors will be set ready around 15.00 hrs.
Due to its short distance, Amphawa Floating Market is one of the most popular weekend getaways for the Bangkokians, especially for those who enjoy eating seafood. Among many good things of this market are that you won’t easily catch a glimpse of a foreigner and it’s more than a scene for holiday snaps. Thus Amphawa is a nice place to observe authentic Thais’ ways of life. Amphawa Floating Market was revived from the old market where fruit and vegetable growers used to trade their produce 50 years ago.
The market mainly consists of old wooden row houses lying along both sides of the Amphawa Canal covering a distance of about 800 m. These old style wooden houses have typically been transformed to shophouses selling all kinds of edible stuff, Amphawa T-shirts, souvenirs, decorative items, handmade products, works of art, etc. There is a wide range of souvenirs and gifts, and they are both chic and cheap.
You don’t need to get up at dawn to enjoy this floating market and still have plenty of time to stop at the interesting places along the route to Amphawa. A recommended place is King Rama II Memorial Park, which is located just next to the floating market. In the park, there are many places of interest, including King Rama II Museum – four buildings built in traditional Thai architectural style. The museum displays the ancient art objects and historical artifacts dating back to the early Rattanakosin era.
You should keep your stomach empty before arriving at the Amphawa Floating Market because there are plenty of delicious ready to eat food, desserts and beverages waiting for your taste. And as the topography of Amphawa is suitable for growing tropical fruits such as lychees, guavas, coconuts, pomeloes and mangoes, the lands in and around the district are mostly orchards. No wonder, these succulent fruits are put into a list of Amphawa’s must buy souvenirs.
The shady orchards, the peaceful ambience of the canal and the riverine ways of life are a magnet for visitors who want to get away from their busy life. When coming to Amphawa, some of them choose to stay overnight with the locals. There is a large selection of home-stay accommodations. Most houses are surrounded by the typical orchards with one side of the house facing the canal. The hosts always warmly welcome visitors like part of their family. Before daylight, it is common to see tourists, most of them city dwellers, wake up to offer food to Buddhist monks on paddling boats, which is something they rarely do at home. After the morning alms making, a hearty breakfast is normally provided for the guests. Then they can relax at their waterfront bungalows while enjoying the serene water and the lush greenery, or go out to explore the orchards and the neighbourhood.
If you arrive there early, you may hop into a boat and take a temple tour. There are several old Buddhist temples in this area which are interesting in terms of historical and artistic values. The two extraordinary ones are Wat Bang Kung and Wat Bangkhae Noi.
Wat Bang Kung is an ancient temple built in the Ayutthaya period, known for its archaeological site, a chapel entirely covered with the roots of a big banyan tree. Inside of it is enshrined a large principle Buddha image in the late Ayutthaya style and boasts the ancient mural paintings.
The tree-covered chapel at Wat Bang Kung
Wat Bangkhae Noi is famous for its sublime beauty. The teak wall panels and ceiling inside the main chapel are magnificently carved to depict the life and teachings of the Lord Buddha. Though from the outside this temple looks just like an ordinary temple, the interior is stunningly beautiful with great artistic significance.
Late afternoon tends to be a good time to go back to the canal market. Shops and stalls are fully open by now. All the paths are readily packed with stalls and the vendor boats are filling up the canal. At the evening, the canalside will be very crowded with flocks of tourists walking or sitting on small seats and enjoying their food. Wave after wave of diners find themselves empty spaces on the banks, order hot grilled fresh seafood served with spicy sauce from the boat, sit and eat, then leave for the next dishes. The air is permeated with the enticing aroma of freshly grilled seafood which lures the visitors to try them. Whether they are hungry or not, when smelling this aroma, everyone seems to try to find an empty space for themselves and then enjoy their food. There’re plenty to eat to gratify your appetite. The pleasant ambience together with the delightful folk songs make this place a true heaven for all foodies.
Another favourite activity in Amphawa is firefly watching at night. Boat tours for the firefly watching are available along both sides of the canal. When the sun goes down and darkness falls, the water surface will be calm and the cool breeze will blow gently. On the banks, you’ll see thousands of tiny lightening bugs partying all over the mangrove and sonneratia caseolaris trees (local name, lampu). This creates a very romantic ambience. Firefly watching can be done all year round, preferably the waning moon nights of the rainy season (May-October). The trip normally starts at 6.30 pm. and lasts about an hour and a half.