Haggling for Mango Sticky Rice in Bangkok’s Floating Market

If there’s only one thing I took away from my trip to Thailand, it would be that my love it’s cuisine knows no bounds. I was a fan of Thai food before visiting the Southeast Asian country, but it wasn’t until I experienced the beautiful beaches, limestone islands, and temples galore that I really fell in love. Thai cuisine is very different depending on the region you visit, but it traditionally combines some of my most favorite flavors. Kaffir lime, garlic, spicy chilis, mangoes, coconut, and basil are just a few staple ingredients in Thai cuisine. One of my favorite ways to explore a country’s food culture is to visit its markets, and Thai markets do not disappoint. But as amazing as roaming through a farmer’s market in Thailand is, nothing tops exploring them in none other than a…canoe.

I had heard about the floating markets in Bangkok before traveling to Thailand but it sounded like a tourist trap. I absolutely loathe crowds and do most anything to avoid them, but the more I spoke with fellow travelers the more I felt the floating markets were something that couldn’t be missed. We heard through the concierge grapevine that arriving early in the morning helped to beat crowds and sought out a tour company that used an ulterior route to avoid boat traffic jams.

Traveler tip: When abroad, always ask fellow travelers you meet about their experiences. Many times they will have tips that a concierge will not divulge (because theyโ€™re being paid by the tour companies!).

The travel time to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market was about one hour by car from our hotel in central Bangkok. The drive itself was interesting, as the market is located in a rural area outside of the city; it was an experience to see the fields of rice, houses, and villages outside of the smog-filled city. The market canals were originally built in the late 1800s to irrigate surrounding farmlands, and over time small villages began to populate along the water. The typical way to travel or hawk your wares was by boat, and that tradition is still going strong 150 years later.

After boarding our motorized Thai gondola, we cruised along what looked like residential areas that weren’t attracting tourists. We saw women hanging laundry, children playing with dogs, and people cooking on outside grills along the shores. We even spotted a few political posters for upcoming elections.

Our first stop on the tour was at a local coconut farm, nestled along the shores of the canal. We hopped off our boat and walked into a small exhibition area showing how coconuts are turned into sugar. It was a haphazard exhibit to say the least; the small area had an interesting display of coconuts roasting and coconut water steaming to dissolve to sugar, but otherwise it was packed with sugary snacks and random bits of tourist memorabilia. What was interesting to me was seeing acres and acres of farmland devoted to palm trees, and I couldn’t help but remember the controversy of the palm oil industry and how it is wreaking havoc on the jungles of Southeast Asian countries.

After our coconut pit stop we were on our way and finally reach the gates of the market. We arrived around 8am and the vendors were already open for business, yelling for your attention from every direction. If you are one that is easily swayed by knick knacks and general plastic clutter, the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market will be your kryptonite.

Bangkok was our last stop in Thailand and by the end of our trip I was immune to the endless supply of Buddha statues and harem pants. But this fanny pack clad woman with a bluetooth earpiece reeled me in and I tested my haggling skills for a bracelet. We went back and forth four or five times before I acted like I was ready to leave, and then suddenly the price came down.

My favorite part of the trip was during a boat traffic jam moving at a snails pace; I turned to see that the boat beside me was manned by an older woman with a canoe full of mangoes! After my attempt to haggle was quickly shot down, I caved to her demands and she whipped up this container of mango sticky rice and we were on our way. I have to say, it was one of the best desserts of our trip!

After braving the craziness of the market, our Thai gondola guide took us on a tour of the nearby houses and fields. Some of the houses were built on the banks of the canals, while others were simply hovering above the water on (very unsturdy looking) stilts).

We ended our trip with a final stop at a nearby temple complete with gold trimmed, flower covered Buddhas. We finally docked at around 10am and were back in Bangkok for lunch. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market was an easy, half day trip that was definitely worth the hype!

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Kristina Todini, RDN of Fork in the Road cutting vegetables in an outdoor kitchen.

Author: Kristina Todini, RDN

I'm a registered dietitian who believes that food should be good for you AND good for the planet. Join me in taking the "fork in the road" to eat green and live sustainably.

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