We visited the floating marking in the Damnoen Saduak District of Ratchaburi Province on the last day of 2011. Arguably the most famous floating market in Thailand, it is located off Highway 325 about 110 kilometers southwest of Bangkok. To get there, turn off the Rama II Highway at the city of Samut Songkhram and follow Highway 325 north for 15 kilometers.
The floating market runs daily from morning until about 3 p.m., when most merchants close up shop. The best time to visit is in the morning when the market is most active. Its footprint covers about one square kilometer and includes several open air markets that line a network of narrow canals (khlong, in Thai).
Some shops are accessible by foot via narrow walkways that follow the canals, although most vendors sell food and souvenirs from boats or shops on shore that tourists can only visit by boat. Madam Pauw’s businesses occupy the most real estate. She runs a large store, café, coffee shop, and boat tour along the main canal. A friendly lady, you can meet her at the cash register in the main store.
Sources indicated that the canals in Damnoen Saduak District have been in existence since 1866, when the Thai King Rama IV commissioned a 32-kilometer long canal system fed by the nearby Mae Klong River. The market is a more recent development but has been in existence since at least the 1960s, when the canal scene in The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed there. James Bond floated down the Damnoen Saduak floating market in the 1970 film. The 2008 Nicolas Cage film Bangkok Dangerous also featured the market. Many local vendors operate shops out of their homes and live behind or above their stores. A network of trails and footbridges limited to residents gives them access to the highway. The rural area beyond the market features a mixture of houses and fields where farmers grow rice, Malacca grape, pomelos, mangoes, bananas, and coconuts that are available to purchase at the floating market.
The Thai architecture and vendors in wooden boats with colorful dress and flattop Asian straw hats are major draws for throngs of tourists who want a taste of traditional Thailand. Tourists can explore the market in motorized or hand-rowed boats that cost between 300 Thai baht (US$10) for 30-40 minutes or 600 baht ($20) for an hour. There are several boat operators in the market who will likely solicit you for a ride; shop around for a better deal. We went with the first operator who approached us and found out that another one would have charged the same amount for a longer ride.
Many vendors sell Thai dishes cooked right on their boat that are cheap and delicious. We ate a hearty meal of chicken satay (spicy peanut sauce) skewers, white rice, and bowls of noodle soup for 180 baht (about US$7). The Thai iced tea (sweet tea with milk) cost 30 baht (US$1). Of course, for those who are less adventurous, there are several coffee shops and a 7-11 convenience store in the market that sell packaged western food.
Not far from the floating market lie a couple other tourist attractions. The Rose Garden is a popular stop to smell the roses after the market. We did not visit the garden but heard that it is beautiful. Tourists can also meet Asian elephants at the market at certain times of the day and go on an elephant trek through the canals.
Damnoen Saduak is a great daytrip as long as you go when traffic is light. The morning and evening rush hour commutes and holiday traffic can make the trip a longer one than it needs to be. The trip is faster if you travel during off-peak times during weekdays and on weekends.