Shop-Eat-Float in an Asian hub
Hey fellow foodies and travellers!
Here’s another guide (1st guide on SE Asian Night Markets-> here) compiled by various contributors who have travelled to Southeast Asia. They have visited famous floating markets across cities and have happily shared their experiences on this space. Let’s deep dive into the floating culture of these peculiar markets.
Before we begin…
What are floating markets?
Adding a very Southeast Asian touch to the markets serving food and fresh produce are the famous floating markets of Southeast Asia. These comprise of vendors selling food, fruits and vegetables, grocery items and trinkets on boats. While most of them have a dedicated space and time to run their shops, the others believe in floating away for offering tours instead of docking their boats.
Let’s dive right in…
Cai Rang Floating Market, Mekong Delta (Vietnam)
The Cai Rang Floating Market is located in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, near the city of Can Tho. It’s definitely the biggest draw in the area. People come from far and wide on their boats. Farmers will travel for upwards of 7-8 hours up the river and will stay until they’ve sold everything. Then they’ll head home and repeat the process. Most people are selling fruits and vegetables. On many of the boats, you can see a large stick with something hanging from it. This is basically an advertisement that tells you what is for sale on the boat – the boat with a pineapple hanging from it sells pineapples. There are people on smaller boats whipping up drinks and meals for those who come to shop.
The best way to get there is to join a tour as you need to be on a boat and it’s a little far away from the town. You can join a larger, packaged tour or you could book a stay at a small guest house in the city and ask them to take you. We stayed at Hung’s Homestay and joined his personal tour which was just the two of us and Mr. Hung. It was a much more personal and intimate experience than joining a group put together by a tour operator.
The Inle Lake Floating Market – Nyaung Shwe (Myanmar)
As floating markets go, this one is in a spectacular location. While sunrise is a superb time to view the lake, it’s not necessary to get up at 0 dark thirty to visit the market. This amazing floating market is on Inle Lake, Myanmar. It’s easy to visit from the main tourist town of Nyaung Shwe. Most people combine a visit to the Inle Lake floating market with a trip to various sites around the lake and lunch overlooking them, of course.
Visit the market by longtail boat – and it’s a hodge-podge of souvenirs, fruit and vegetables (you’ll need to be up early for these). The speciality of the area is the Inle Lake Tomato – that’s right they’re grown right here ON the lake. You’ll also want to ensure you see the Inle Lake fishermen rowing with their feet and legs – it’s amazing.
Amphawa Floating Market, Bangkok (Thailand)
Southeast Asian markets are always vibrant, colourful and full of surprises especially floating markets. They have a very unique vibe that you don’t find in any other part of the world except Asia. Amphawa Floating Market near Bangkok was our first Asian floating market and it’s still one of our favourite. As big seafood lovers here, we had a real treat of all sort of local fish and seafood dishes including some we’d never tried before. Amphawa is a weekend market that gets alive on Friday evening with many locals coming here from Bangkok to escape the bustling capital city and to crawl through its narrow streets and canals. Here, everything is happening in boats; cooking, selling and washing, though it gets quite busy and crowded. It’s still pleasant and enjoyable.
Except for food tasting, there are other activities you can do in Amphawa e.g. take a boat tour to see fireflies, wake up early morning to see Buddhist monks in small boat going down the river collecting donations from the locals, or visit the unique tree temple that is just 10 km away. Many tourists do a day trip to Amphawa from Bangkok but we’d recommend to stay here for a weekend to experience the real Thai floating market in its full.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Ratchaburi (Thailand)
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi, Thailand is just a 1-2 hour drive from Thailand’s main city, Bangkok. As the most popular floating market of Thailand, Damnoen Saduak has grown into a tourist trap over the years. But that doesn’t mean you should miss it. The market is always vibrantly bustling with lots of activities – the vegetables and fruit vendors where on their boats, peddling their items from one tourist boat to the next. Here, tourists can also buy Thailand souvenirs, from key chains to fridge magnets, from the popular Thailand clothing staple, the elephant pants to the colorful paintings.
During our visit to Damnoen Saduak, we ordered Pad Thai for our brunch for just 70 baht each plate. The vendor cooked the Pad Thai right in front of us, and after just a few minutes, she handed out our food on our boats. We ate our Pad Thai as we cruised through the cool waters of Damnoen Saduak. It was such a wonderful experience.
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market – near Bangkok (Thailand)
Khlong Lat Mayom provides an authentic Thai floating market experience. Those with a passion for food must visit this market that will leave you spoilt for choice. It is only 20 km out of Bangkok, yet you get the feel you are in a rural part of Thailand. It is definitely one of my favorite markets in Bangkok. I came to know of it from a Thai friend who lives in Bangkok, and when I visited, I hardly saw any fellow tourists there. Floating markets have been a part of the daily Thai life for centuries. They offer exotic delicious fruits to tasty Thai desserts and a great selection of meat and seafood dishes. This food lover’s dream is really cheap. You can eat on the riverside from the stalls and small restaurants or eat food served from the local boats cooked right in front of you. Additionally, you can wander to the center of the market for long tail boat tours at around £2 for 1.5 hours. The trip offers you a choice to visit a temple and a round of small villages. Don’t forget to bring back some tasty treats with you and check out stalls selling handicrafts and locally crafted products.
Some recommended food to try includes Pad Thai Kanom Jeen (cold rice vermicelli), Hoi Tod (oyster omelet), Southern Khao Mok Gai (chicken biryani), Northern Khao Soi (curried noodles peppery), Somtum Papaya Salad etc. Do try the various varieties of crab, prawns, fish, squid, which you can get grilled, steamed or fried, combined with a rice or noodle dish, and a tasty side dish of vegetables. Pla Pao (Thai salt crusted grilled fish), Gai Galae (Thai grilled chicken from the southern Thailand), Palm sugar juice were delicious and a must-try too. Its opening hours are from 9am-4pm on Saturdays & Sundays (usually closed on weekdays) and the best arrival time is between 10-11am.
Tha Kha Market – close to Amphawa (Thailand)
Floating markets in Thailand have always been a popular attraction, and if you are not afraid to travel a little outside of Bangkok then you can find a few that keep a very old “local” flavour. Not too far from the massive floating market of Amphawa you will find Tha Kha. Driving through mud roads and dirt paths, this small floating market seems to only hold a few vendors, most pretty old and pretty used to their job. They exchange commodities with each other, food, fruits, and with a surprising strength, hold the boat straight despite the very heavy weight they have on the front (put 5 coconuts on my boat and I’d flip over in less than a minute).
Maybe a little inconvenient to find, the Tha Kha market is worth staying the night in Amphawa to get a chance to visit both. Added bonus: if your schedule allows it, you could even get a look at the famous market laying on the railway track.
Bakun Floating Market, Sarawak, Borneo (Malaysia)
Almost the same size of Singapore, blue water, and jungle all around, the Bakun Lake looks beautiful when you reach it, but it’s not supposed to exist. Situated 60 km from Belaga in Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), it was created in 1986 as a hydroelectric reservoir, capable of supplying 90% of Sarawak energy demand. The dam that encloses it is the biggest dam in Asia, outside of China. To build this, thousands of natives were evicted from their ancestral lands and resettled near palm oil plantation, doomed to live a lifestyle unknown to them. But some of them simply didn’t accept that, they stayed, retiring in the jungles upstream the river, or building floating houses near the jetty. It’s those people that, every Wednesday and Saturday, give life to one of the most peculiar floating markets in Southeast Asia.
They bring in fresh products from the jungle with their longboats, vegetables, fruit, game, and medicinal herbs that are impossible to find everywhere else, in the territory of Borneo by now devastated by deforestation, but that are an ancestral part of the local culture. This is their struggle to survive, to still live following the path of their ancestors.
Kelantan Floating Market – Kampung Pulau Suri, Tumpat (Malaysia)
The floating market at the state of Kelantan, Malaysia, has been made much along the lines of the markets of Thailand. Although they cannot exactly be compared, the market could be considered a smaller twin of the Thai markets. The relatively new Pasar Terapung Kelantan or Kelantan Floating Market offers all that a local food enthusiast would like to taste. Besides the usual tender coconut water, fried rice preparations and traditional cakes or kuih, the vendors offer coconut salad or kerabu nipah, soupy noodles or mee celup and kuih sepit or crispy battered wafers.
We were happy to see a new market in the state that attracts locals and tourists alike. It is situated at Kampung Pulau Suri of Tumpat district and is accessed via boats through the Kuala Besar Jetty Point. You can expect to see vendors set stalls in and out of the boats as well. There is a mid-sized sandy area that has tables and benches, as well as hammocks, shops selling clothes and enough space for kids to play.
Thanks to fellow-travellers/contributors for sharing their experiences across various floating markets of Southeast Asia.
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** We know there are a lot more floating markets in SE Asia. If you want to contribute to the guide, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can roll out phase-2.
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