When planning my trip to Thailand, I knew that I wanted to visit a floating market. I wanted to hang out with locals while they ate lunch and did their daily shopping. I definitely wanted to take those great postcard pictures of Thai vendors in straw hats cooking and selling food from boats. And um, I wanted to eat! Where else but Southeast Asia can you see people selling so many things from boats?!
Taling Chan Floating Market is utilized by locals and frequented by less tourists than a few of the more famous markets near Bangkok (like Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa). Also, it’s closer to central Bangkok and does not require hiring a driver or devoting a full day to the trip (aka it’s cheap). You can also take public transportation all the way there. And as it’s mostly a food market, rather than catering to the sale of souvenirs and other junk to tourists, I had to go.
I filtered through a ton of TripAdvisor reviews and searched the Internet for a floating market that wouldn’t be incredibly crowded with Westerners and require a two hour drive from the city. Also, let’s be real, I just wanted a place that served lots of legit food… especially after, much to my dismay, I found out that those cool framed bugs, beetles, and butterflies I saw sold at other floating markets likely wouldn’t be allowed to come home with me (thanks a lot United States Customs). Taling Chan seemed to be perfect, especially when I found out that we could get there via the Skytrain and a public bus ride.
Yeah, not so fast. As Charlie and I waited around the area where the bus was supposed to stop, we were approached by a friendly, smiley, pudgy Thai woman. I can still see her fake quilted Chanel bag. She told us that she was part of the Tourist Police, which is a real organization I’d read about, designed to keep tourists safe from scams. She even grinned and showed us her “badge.” Already uncertain and thinking that maybe we were waiting in the wrong place for the bus, we were caught a little off-guard. She waved and, using a notepad to help translate her words, asked us where we were going, even though she definitely already knew. She told us that Taling Chan Floating Market was going to be incredibly too crowded… wait for it… because the king was going to be there today! I should have remembered the advice I’d read previously: if someone actually approaches you and goes out of their way to “help” you, it’s probably a scam.
Now, the king in Thailand is a BIG deal. There are pictures of him everywhere around the city. He is so highly revered that in all Thai movie theaters they play the royal anthem at the beginning of the movie and you are expected to stand for it. Reportedly, you can be punished if you fail to do so. Anyway, already flustered and thinking that, hey, the Tourist Police are a real thing and she’s trying to help us, we believed the woman. In retrospect, this was so dumb. Think about it, if I wanted to go check out Eastern Market in DC (or any landmark for that matter) and some stranger approached and told me, no, that I shouldn’t go today because Barack Obama was going to be there, would I have believed it? Hell no! Gosh, we were idiots.
Our new friend then tells us we should go shopping. Oh, not at the huge mall that is literally steps away… but to buy a suit. Jesus. Now we know it’s getting scammy, but Charlie did want to get some custom clothes while we were here. And the tuk tuk she’s offering us is only 20 Baht.. wait, that’s super cheap (60 cents), why not?!
Yes, we were fools. We were forcefully but lovingly ushered into a nearby tuk tuk and then speedily driven to some not-so-nice neighborhoods where I thought for sure we would never be heard from again. We knew at this point we were being taken for a ride, yes, literally. When we got out at the tailor shop (at which our chubby friend and the tuk tuk driver obviously stood to make some commission), we were greeted by an overzealous owner who held his door open for us. Then we politely excused ourselves to go “get a coffee.”
While simultaneously trying to get away, hide, and actually buy a coffee, we walked into the strangest, creepiest coffee place I’ve ever seen. The walls were painted blue and “decorated” with dusty computers that were many, many years old and other broken electronic equipment scattered all over. This was straight out of a serial killer’s home. Granted, the iced Thai coffees that the very young girl made us were delicious, but we got out of there as quickly as possible. Once the tuk tuk guy became absorbed in his newspaper, we made a getaway and with our coffees in hand, hailed a cab. Only then did we discover that “Taling Chan Floating Market” sounds a hell of a lot like “Mo Chit” Bus Station to a Thai taxi driver who speaks no English.
Excellent. I love hanging out at bus stations in other countries on the outskirts of town.
After a minor freak out by yours truly, I decided that all of my carefully researched plans had been ruined and that Charlie should take control if he’s so smart. After no help from the bus station attendants, we found a younger cab driver that we prayed spoke some English. Tip for those visiting Thailand: Have your desired destination written in Thai lettering. I had previously heard this, but I didn’t heed the advice. Saying, yelling, and pointing to the words “Taling Chan” written in English on a map will not help your situation.
Charlie spoke to the taxi driver to no avail, but wait, he had a friend that spoke English! The driver called his friend on his Blackberry and handed Charlie the phone to explain where we wanted to go. We really must have looked desperate. The English-speaking friend told Charlie more than once “Taling Chan, that’s not the good floating market,” and exasperated, I had to respond “Yes, yes, I know that! But it’s the one we want to go to!” The taxi driver chatted with his friend on the phone, seemed confident enough, and we got into the car. Several U-turns, nearly an hour ride, and one gas station stop later (seriously, have you ever been to get gas with your cab driver?), we made it to the floating market. I was overjoyed when I saw the welcome sign and a foreign-looking blonde girl that confirmed we had reached our destination.
I was so giddy and relieved to see all of the sights, vendors (and for once, other people!) when we finally arrived at the market. At last, my plan for the day was actually coming to fruition. I’d really thought for a moment that the day would be a total loss. Charlie was nothing if not incredibly hungry.
At the entrance to the market, vendors sell an array of plants and outdoor decorations. They have everything you could want to start your new garden in Bangkok proper. If only…
Once through the plant section, you continue on through many vendors who have their wares and foods spread out on tables that line both sides of the walkway leading up to the actual floating part of the market. There are desserts, fresh fish, snacks on sticks, snacks on hot grills, quail eggs (a common street food), and something mysterious that Charlie chose as his first treat for the day. Along with beers and, of course, fresh fruit.
Once you reach the floating market, you have a plethora of freshly cooked dishes to choose from. The good news is that each dish is cheap and pretty small so you can try and share a ton of food. The first real meal we chose was from a few girls who were grilling seafood. They had huge shrimp, crabs, cockles, and salt crusted sea bass with a mouth stuffed full of lemongrass (the fish, not the girls). We ordered the sea bass, and then took our shoes off and had a seat cross-legged at the low tables of the floating market. That fish was one of our best meals in Thailand.
Hooray! We made it! Totally worth the wasted 2-3 hours and extra $15 US dollars. That’s the only thing about getting lost, scammed, or ripped off in Thailand; at least you don’t lose that much money once you take the exchange rate into account.
There was also a little booth selling boat rides to different areas which we periodically checked with to see if a boat would be leaving soon. They need a small crowd to sign up in order to fill the boat, and the boats only departed at certain times. Luckily, however, a young French couple came up to us and asked if we wanted to join them and some others on their boat ride since they needed two more people. [As a side note, they had (smartly) found the public bus that we had been waiting on (before chaos ensued) and they made it to the floating market cheaply without a hitch, so it’s doable.]
I’m sure these friendly strangers instantly regretted their decision to invite us on their boat when we excitedly accepted and went to buy liters of beer to take on the journey. We also got the best seat on the boat, the one in the very front… and directly in front of them. Hey, thanks guys!
The boat ride was very cool and we got to see the homes of local Thais, with their shrines and temples in the yard as common as bird feeders in the US. Many people were hanging out on their porches, waving and smiling to us as we passed. We saw men fishing and visited some different floating markets in the area. The trip lasted about an hour and was excellent.
When we returned to the market we decided (well, I decided) to get our first massages in Thailand (but definitely not our last). Loads of ladies dressed in pink collared shirts were offering up foot, back, head, or fully body massages. There were comfortable chairs for the foot massages that we chose, Charlie barely being able to sit still in his since he’s so ticklish. There were also mattresses and sheets on the floor if you wanted the total body package. These massages were super cheap, something like $3 each or less for 30 minutes. And these ladies were stronnng.
After that, we went back for round two on the food. I got some of the best pad thai of my life for 35 Baht ($1.17) cooked right in front of me in a wok by a friendly woman on her boat. We picked up some dessert to go and red bull (way better in Thailand, not carbonated) for the journey ahead. We had some chicken satay and then browsed and photographed the rest of the selection. This place was like my ultimate food dream.
And then we watched some other visitors feed the fish which were whipped into an absolute frenzy by these multicolored fish food puffs. But I’m pretty sure they’d eat anything.
In addition to all the food you can buy, there are also live baby turtles, eels, and fish that you can purchase. Contrary to my initial horrific thoughts, they are not for cooking or eating. They are for the purchaser to set free and gain merit in accordance with Buddhist teachings.
Our afternoon at Taling Chan Floating Market was one of my favorite things we did while we were in Thailand. Despite the ordeal that was getting there, we had a great time trying everything that struck our fancy, getting massages, and taking a boat ride around the area’s canals. It was like a Thai food court from heaven! And on the way back, in case you’re curious, we did manage to catch the same bus back that we were originally looking for… even though we did miss the first one that passed because we totally forgot that they drove on the left side of the road. Still, a totally successful Thai outing that I highly recommend!
To get to Taling Chan Floating Market, head to the Siam BTS Station. Then catch Bus 79 which is under the station and across the street from the Siam Paragon Shopping Center (a huge mall). Ignore the tuk tuk drivers and any people that approach “trying to help.” Tell the conductor or fare collector “Taling Chan” and pay (about 17 Baht). You will get a tiny piece of paper as your ticket. The bus should stop in front of the market entrance but you can ask the fare collector where to get off too. Take the same bus back into the city. Remember to wait for it on the left side of the road! Word on the street is that you can take a taxi from the Wongwian Yai BTS Station for about 150 Baht if you’re not that into public transit. The market is only open Saturdays and Sundays from 7 am until 4 pm. Head there early because it will get hot and crowded. Check out this blog for more great info and pictures! Also, this site contains images of the name Taling Chan written in Thai for your cab driver.