Floating through Thailand's Cultural Past

Damnoem Saduak Floating Market
By Tanya Lakin
  |  Gorp.com
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It is three in the morning. Bleary-eyed farmers make their way through the pre-dawn darkness to their farms and orchards to collect the food that will be sold in the market today. The fruits and vegetables are cleaned, prepped and loaded onto the ruilla pai (long-tailed boats) that their wives row to market. Around 6 a.m., one hears the waters gently stir as Buddhist monks paddle their way down the canals to receive alms. Since the farmers are still in the fields, it is usually the grandparents who seek blessings for the household by participating in this daily Buddhist ritual. After the food is carefully placed into his boat—a monk cannot take food, only receive it—he paddles peacefully to the next house. By 8 a.m., the wives are already heading in their produce-laden boats to one of the three floating markets of Damnoen Saduak.

Of the three, Ton Khem, Hia Kui and Khum Phithak, Hia Kui is the most active with vendors and tourists. A hang yaaw (a motorized, long-tail boat) can be hired for 10 baht (approximately $.30) to take you zipping through the labyrinth of canals to Hia Kui. It's a small price to pay for a photogenic tour of the wooden, stilted houses that border both sides of the canals. As you approach Hia Kui, the roar of the motor is increasingly drowned out by the boisterousness of the market.

Thai women in their wide-brimmed straw hats, colorful, loose attire and big smiles catch up on the latest village gossip as they barter between boats. Some are shouting to claim plum spots alongside the pier of Hia Kui's souvenir shop where enchanted tourists are eager to purchase their goods. Mangosteen, rambutan, mangoes, star fruit, bananas, and tomatoes are just some of the fare to be enjoyed. Noodles and bananas fried in big, black woks on stove-equipped boats are equally appetizing. The beauty of the exotic produce and smell of freshly-fried Thai delicacies are so enticing that even the most prudent traveler will ignore guidebook warnings about eating food from "street" vendors.

The huge, floating souvenir shop has everything from Buddha statues to Gucci bags, all at prices inflated by tourism. Along its wharf are a few vendors with 1950s-style refrigerators selling much-needed bottles of water for 10 baht. Around 11 a.m., the women start heading back home to tend to household chores until it is time to come to the market the next day.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 5 Dec 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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