Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

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.

Damnoen Saduak

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).

Damnoen Saduak (2)

Damnoen Saduak (70)

Damnoen Saduak (47)

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.

Damnoen Saduak (22)

Damnoen Saduak (29)

Damnoen Saduak (45)

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.

Damnoen Saduak (63)

Damnoen Saduak (36)

Damnoen Saduak (84)

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.

Damnoen Saduak (40)

Damnoen Saduak (26)

Damnoen Saduak (14)

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.

Damnoen Saduak (7)

Damnoen Saduak (50)

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 (37)

Damnoen Saduak (93)

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.

Video clip of the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market


Map picture

Resolve to Make 2012 A Great Year

Happy New Year! How did you enjoy ringing in the new year? Did you wake up feeling great or with a literal or proverbial hangover? Now that the celebrating has subsided, are you ready for 2012?

This year may be a momentous one with some major milestones on the calendar, from the Chinese Year of the Dragon to the end of the Mayan calendar. Some dates are already set, such as the Expo in Yeosu, South Korea (May 12-August 12), the Summer Olympics in London (July 27-August 12), not to mention the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars in August, and, barring a new framework agreement, the end of the Kyoto Protocol on December 31. Some major events this year are already known, while others are not. No one really knows what will happen in places such as North Korea, where newly-installed “supreme commander” Kim Jong Un takes over as leader; possible sanctions and threats to blockade the Strait of Hormuz; unrest in Syria and other protests sparked by the Arab Spring; the European financial crisis; protests in Russia; potential economic slowdown in China; general elections in the United States and in dozens of other countries worldwide. No one knows what will happen. On December 21, 2012, when the Mayans purportedly predicted the end of the world will occur, we’ll look back at the year 2012, analyze the fall out, and, hopefully, be around to tell about it on December 22. Until then, we can only speculate about the future.

There’s no reason to worry about 2012. We can only control what falls in our own sphere of influence, which for most people amounts to whatever affects us directly. What do you have planned for yourself this year? Have you considered making some life changes? I believe in making and achieving goals, and I consider New Year’s resolutions worthwhile. Realistic resolutions can help frame a goal and give you a specific objective to achieve. You may not achieve everything you set out to do in a given year, but if you achieve at least one resolution or make progress toward one, you’re better off than you were. I met half the resolutions I set for myself in 2011 and set some new targets to achieve in 2012. The ones I did not achieve will be carried over to this year. They range from publishing a new book to losing weight to strengthening my faith to learning the guitar. Some will be easier than others, but I resolve to tackle them all in the next 12 months.

Even if you’re not the type of person to make New Year’s resolutions, there’s one goal you can resolve to achieve this year. Make this year a better year than 2011. Make it the best it can be. It doesn’t matter if you had a good or bad year last year. Life can always be better. Resolve to make 2012 a great year.

Empanadas or postres?

Dear Reader, if faced with the daily choice of chicken/beef/ham empanadas (meat-filled dough pockets) or creme/carmel/cherry-filled glazed pastries virtually every morning for breakfast–because that’s all the Paraguayans seem to eat for breakfast–what would you do?
Oh, probably scream for a bagel with cream cheese.  Neither of which is available in Paraguay.  That we know of. 

I Survived Eating Pufferfish

I was extremely busy last night and crashed when I returned to my hotel.  It’s physically draining to be running around all day, hurrying up, stopping, waiting, springing into action.  Tomorrow night will be a very busy day for me as the most important dignitaries arrive here in Busan for the APEC Summit.  To read all about the APEC Summit and the goings-on here in Busan, visit http://www.apec.org/ or http://www.apec2005.org/.  The latter site goes into much more depth about what’s happening now here in Busan than what I could describe in a single blog entry.  It is quite an exciting time to be here in Busan.  I’m amazed to be on the front lines watching the action and advance preparations unfold.  I’m not a spectator, mind you, but I am watching while I work hard doing my small bit to make sure the show goes on smoothly.  The big show, the APEC Economic Leaders’ meeting, is yet to come on November 17, 18, and 19.  I will be here all the way through the Summit and will watch the last major plane fly away a few days later.
Yesterday I tried “bokguk,” or pufferfish soup.  The pufferfish, also known as the blow fish, is a spiny creature that blows itself up into a balloonish shape when it is frightened by potential predators.  The defense mechanism is one way for it to appear larger than life, scaring away the predator.  The pufferfish is also poisonous, secreting a poisonous toxin intended to kill its predator.  Many Americans know that Japanese enjoy eating pufferfish, better known in Japanese as “fugu.”  Stories occasionally come out of Japan claiming that someone died from eating “fugu,” typically caused by the improper preparation of the “fugu” dish.  In Japan, chefs receive extensive training on preparing “fugu” properly, removing the poison glands so that the puffin fish meat remains untainted.  It is considered a delicacy in Japan.

I did not realize that Koreans also eat pufferfish, although this fact makes perfect sense since Busan is just a few hours by boat off the coast of southern Japan.  In Korea, pufferfish is not generally considered a delicacy, and here in Busan, numerous shops serve the fish in a soup for about 5,000 Korean won (about $5.00).  The soup includes bean sprouts and chives and can be served either spicy or mild (depending on whether you want to eat it with red pepper paste.  It is typically served with rice and a variety of panchan, or side dishes.   The pufferfish meat is cut into large chunks and served in the soup.  One typically eats every part of the fish except the head, organs, and spine.  The meat is delicious.  Served fresh, the taste and texture do not taste like fish at all.  To use an overused cliche, the meat tastes more like chicken.  (Actually, it tastes more like frog leg.)  Perhaps best of all, the pufferfish has so few bones that it is very easy to eat. 
I’ve wanted to try “fugu” ever since I first read about it when I was a teenager.  Perhaps I’m crazy wanting to eat something that kills some people (I think the victims are typically children or the elderly).  I have no desire to eat live octopus, which here in Korea the cephalopod is occasionally known to kill an unwary diner if the struggling animal lodges itself in the diner’s throat and suffocates the diner, as happened to an unfortunate Korean man in the past year.  I personally think it’s cruel to eat live animals and would rather that my food not move on my plate while eating it.  I have the same apprehension whenever my wife’s family eats “drunken shrimp,” a Chinese delicacy featuring live shrimp soaked in alcohol.  I just cannot bear to eat an inebriated shrimp starting up at me with those big black eyes, as if to say, “Hey dude, surf’s up!”
According to Wikipedia, all species of pufferfish off the coast of Korea are considered poisonous.  It mentions a hilarious episode of “The Simpsons” in which Homer Simpson eats pufferfish and is mistakenly told he has just 24 hours to live.  Like Homer Simpson, I too ate pufferfish and lived to tell about it.  Perhaps more daringly, I ate pufferfish at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant I’m sure is run by a Korean family as a small business.  I’m positive the cook did not attend professional pufferfish culinary training.  Well, I survived anyway.  Will I try it again sometime?  Oh, I suppose I will, depending on the occasion, now that I know how delicious it is.  Hopefully next time I will try it at an upscale restaurant, where I would feel more comfortable about how my meal has been prepared.