The tradition that stays afloat

Khlong Chak Phra Canal / Photo: by avlxyz

Khlong Chak Phra Canal / Photo: by avlxyz

In danger of getting too slick even for tourists, Central Thailand’s floating markets are boasting renewed appeal

It’s a scenario familiar to everyone in Thailand, if not the foreign tourists: floating market thrives in simpler, quainter times; declines with the advent of the automobile; is revived as a tourist attraction; becomes so commercial that all the old charm is lost forever.

The market at Damneun Saduek is a case in point – still popular and photogenic, but hyped beyond recognition of its original appeal.

Elsewhere, though, the story’s not so dismaying. Amphawa, Bang Nam Phueng and other floating markets are flourishing in the central region, and their ties to the farming community remain strong.

Bangkok’s Taling Chan Market, perched on the Khlong Chak Phra Canal and fresh with fruit trees and orchids, is still the area’s main destination for farm produce. The choice is bountiful on both sides of the streets and on the boats that punt and putter about.

The market itself is smaller than many, making it perfect for short strolls and careful browsing. You can taste a lot of the food on your way to the canal, where the tour really begins.

All of Taling Chan district waits to be discovered by boat, and it’s an interesting, relaxing sightseeing excursion among the old houses, orchid gardens, fruit farms and temples.

The Taling Chan weekend market was the first to be established in suburban Bangkok. The district office and local farmers set it up in 1987, using five large bamboo rafts. A dozen years later there were 11 rafts, by then made of steel rather than bamboo.

These days the market is open at 8.30am and keeps going through the afternoon. Getting there early is best so that you can have a look around the district and visit other markets that have popped up more recently.

The same district has the Khlong Lad Mayom floating market, just three years old but already quite popular among weekenders and families. Its founder was farmer Chuen Choochan, known as Uncle Chuen.

“As the city expanded I could see the farm landscape and the environment declining day by day,” Chuen recalls. “I thought, with the market, at least I could introduce a new direction in the development, something more desirable.”

He began by cleaning out the canal, paddling along and collecting trash. Then he recruited his fellow farmers to open a small weekend market. They brought in their produce and set up stalls on the canal bank.

As well as extra income for them, the market has boosted citizens’ appreciation of their own neighbourhood – visitors have been full of praise for its charm and serenity.

As at any other market, the food is the big draw. You can keep munching all the way along, sampling fresh fruit and vegetables and finger snacks between purchases of crafts, souvenirs and other goods, or sit down for a plate of grilled prawns in a spicy dip.

At one end of the market is Suan Jiem Ton, a small farm that welcomes visitors. You can see how things are done on a real farm.

And not far from Khlong Lad Mayom is yet another new floating market, at Wat Saphan. From small beginnings in the grounds of the 200 yearold temple, it’s grown into an appealing destination of its own, crowding along a bank of the Bang Noi Canal.

Basically a small gathering of boatstalls in a square “marina” in front of the temple, it’s a great reminder of the good old days when the neighbourhood wat was the centre of life.

The hungry locals mill in with the visiting curious at lunchtime and stroll around in search of their favourite meals. Once they’ve ordered a dish, they find a spot in the shade and wait for it to be prepared.

The Wat Saphan market was established purely for tourists, to bolster the local income and liven things up. Merit making is popular with visitors. After filling their stomachs, they enter the temple hall, pay respect to the big Buddha images and donate some money.

So here’s a weekend getaway that not only involves a soothing, nostalgic trip to the suburbs but a chance to get inside a temple, if you haven’t been in a while.

A little spiritual succour certainly won’t hurt, before you head back to that big concrete zoo. THE NATION