Chao Phraya: Searching for the Floating Market    

The lunch cart
It is possible to go to Bangkok and not pay much attention to Chao Praya-- the canal which the city is built on. After all-- super highways bring the tourist from airport to the center of the city and skyscrapers and tall modern buildings often hide it from view. However, it is the artery which gave the old city life and still serves as part of the daily life of many people of Bangkok.

Modern Bangkok along the Chao Phraya
We boarded the Chao Phraya Express ferry (13 baht) with the goal of a cheapskate sight seeing tour. Once on the canal, we saw buildings ranging from palaces and wats to the humblest of old wooden shacks on stilts-- some falling into ruin.

Old wooden house
It reminded me of a smaller, less wealthy and less trafficked Bosphorus-- it is a living waterway. People sit on piers fishing. There are luxury hotels and houses that have probably been in the same family for ages-- seemingly unconscious of the price of waterfront property but conscious of a precarious existence on stilts above a canal.

Houses along the river
We passed a covered docking area housing ornate old barges-- reminiscent of Turkish caiques. I guess the other similarity with Istanbul is in Turkey the Ottomans filled the city with gorgeous mosques and palaces while in Thailand we see the Siamese Royal aesthetic. Both seemed very luxurious and strong patrons of the arts.

Wat on the river
The boat moved along quickly (it is a commuter boat after all) and soon we came to the last stop, Nonthaburi. At the station there was a boat tout. His fliers mentioned a floating market at Bang Koo Wieng somewhere on the Om canal. We wanted to visit a floating market but the main one is far and requires an overnight to be there in the morning. The one on the flier seemed like it might be accessible by bus.

We took a boat across the canal in the hope of visiting some of the interesting looking wats we'd seen as we went by. As we were searching for a street leading to the area along the canal we saw some lovely birdhouses made from coconut husks with a stick for a perch added in front. They were suspended by wires from a store front. Sparrows flew in and out or sat on their perches.

Coconut bird houses
Since we couldn't find an easy street to get to the wats, Rowshan asked someone how to get to the Bang Koo Wieng market. Fortunately we had taken a photo of the boat tour flier and were able to point to the photo of the floating market. The people we asked understood this a lot better than other previous attempts at asking how to get to the area with the wats. They told us to catch bus 1002 which was waiting on the street a block from where we were.

It was amazing how different the area became. Though not completely rural, there were areas of marsh, palms, and it seemed worlds away from the shiny cosmopolitan center of Bangkok.

The bus dropped us off at the last stop and the conductor said Bang Ko Wieng was near the bridge. We walked to the bridge which along with the edges of the canal was decorated with street lights each with a boat with seller inside. It looked like it was the intersection of 3 canals (as stated on the brochure) but we didn't see any floating market.

Street lights
The area was beautiful. The canals were peaceful with lotuses growing near the edges. Wooden houses lined the river and in the distance, we could see gold spires of a wat. We walked over a bridge and visited Wat Ratprakongthou. It was very new... so new they were still working on it. A huge reclining Buddha rested covered with a protective cloak as a pavilion was being built around him.

Wat Ratprakongthou
We walked back to the canals and decided to eat at a floating restaurant. There was a floating pier with tables and chairs. The cooks all were in little wooden boats around the edges. They served soups, fried rice, phad thai, chicken sate and other dishes. Each boat specialized in a couple dishes.

Making phad thai
Occasionally delivery boats would paddle up selling ingredients to the restaurant cooks. Other times a customer would paddle up. Huge fish leapt from the water. The prices were regular street food prices. Our phad thai was 25 baht-- less than $1 and included shrimp. Then we succumbed to an order of 15 banana fritters for 20 baht. These were from small firm bananas fried golden and crunchy with sesame seeds and (I think) honey in the batter. They were the best banana fritters I'd had and we easily consumed the 15.

Fruit seller

Fish are jumping

Yummy banana fritters
Next we went to a dock and asked where the floating market is. The people we asked didn't know English and looked blankly when I dug out the word for market “talaad”. Rowshan pulled out the camera and showed the photo. “Ahh talaad NAM!” they exclaimed (nam=water). Then there were some confusing gestures which seemed to say it was here but not here. We thought it just wasn't on Saturdays so we began reading the days of the week. But they shook their heads and answered there was no market on any day.

We gave up, thanked them, and left. Then we saw some tourists and a guide. We asked them. The guide said, “I've worked as a guide for 20 years but there has never been a floating market.”

“You mean the people selling boat tours to the floating market don't actually take you there?” I asked. He said he didn't know.

We contented ourselves with a walk along the canal. There were peaceful wooden houses and we did see a couple women in boats-- one I think, docked by a construction site to sell curries to workers. Others seemed to sell to houses along the canal. We saw a floating mini-mart full of soda bottles and chips.

Floating mini-mart
Even though there was no floating market, we were glad we'd made the trip to the area. It was such an escape from Bangkok. Across the canal was a beautiful teak house. “That must be one of the traditional teak houses,” I told Rowshan.

Pretty wooden house
We returned to the bridge and walked up the other side of the canal. The path ended at the beautiful house. A man and women were leaving. “Are you tourists?” she asked. We replied, “Yes.” She asked, “How did you come here?”

We explained we had been searching for the floating market. She asked us how we liked the area and we responded we liked it a lot. She had just moved here and finished her house but was hoping to rent a room of it out to someone like an expat doing research (who needed a quiet place to read and study).

She told us there was a plan to start a floating market along the canal but right now they had just opened the floating restaurant we'd been to.

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