Friday, August 1, 2014

Thailand's floating markets are a riot of color and confusion

Colors abound at Thailand's floating market  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
DAMNOEN SADUAK, THAILANDAugust 1, 2014 – Simply put, Thailand is exotic.

Nowhere is that more evident than its floating markets where fruits, vegetables, flowers and anything in between are sold from a traffic jam of boats that makes the congestion of New York and Los Angeles look like the wide open spaces.

Such attractions are common in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, but no matter when or where you enjoy your first floating market experience, it will be impossible to prepare for the organized chaos an awesome array of sights, sounds, smells and colors.

Selling produce  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
Arguably the most famous, and probably the best known, floating market is Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi, Thailand. Approximately two hours by car from Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak is slightly more than 70 miles south of Thailand’s capital, and there are a variety of tours available.

Though the floating markets were once the traditional way of selling produce, they have more recently become popular tourist attractions. Don’t let that keep you away, however. These are not run-of-the-mill tourism sites. Marketing fruits and vegetables from boats is serious business and has been for nearly 150-years.

Historically, Damnoen Saduak is the name of the canal built by King Rama IV’s army between 1866 and 1868 as a source of income for local farmers. After the main Damnoen Saduak canal opened, more than 200 feeders were dug by local peasants as links to get produce to neighboring provinces and Bangkok.

Bangkok is a city filled with a maze of canals, or klongs, as they are called in Thailand. When fuel is available, modern-day motorized longboats have become the preferred mode of transportation rather than slower more traditional canoes. Movie-goers may recall the high speed longboat chase through the klongs of Bangkok in the 1974 James Bond adventure The Man with Golden Gun.

Not only were the canals a source of access to the marketplace, they also provided irrigation for crops, thus making agriculture a year-round proposition.

Making the sale (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
The floating markets are a photographer’s paradise. As you might imagine, Damnoen Saduak has become a popular backdrop for fashion magazine layouts. If you can’t get a picture at Damnoen Saduak, put your camera away because you will never have a greater opportunity for success.

The setting is awash in a sea of straw hats and a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables. This is an equal opportunity society in its purest sense. Women compete against men. Young and old alike maneuver for an opening in the endless crunch of canoes to make a sale. Gnarled, weather-beaten faces reflect a lifetime of vending their wares along the canal.
Thai woman paddles through the congestion  (Photo: Thailand Tourism) 
The air is thick with humidity. Chaos prevails amidst a cacophony of clatter and chatter surrounded by ever-changing smells…some pleasant, others not so much.

To the untrained eye the watery marketplace is a blur of undefined, disorganized formlessness. But it is also unmistakably intoxicating. If nothing else the riotous gamut of colors will immediately beckon your involvement and, once you surrender, you will be instantly mesmerized by the hypnotic anachronism of aquatic commerce.

Life on a klong (Photo: Thailand Tourim)
For once you must yield your traveler’s sensibilities to tourism. This is no ordinary phenomenon. These are not the canals of Venice with vegetables or the Eiffel Tower from a tour bus window. The floating market of Damnoen Saduak is sensual. It must be absorbed through the pores. It gets under your skin. So rich is its ambience that you will actually create home videos that people will watch.

Become part of it and you will be profoundly rewarded. There is no escaping. The sensations are contagious, and there is no cure.

Making room  (Photo: Thailand Tourism)
The daily show begins around 8 a.m. and ends about 11. It’s a morning performance so arrive early, snap all of your pictures and then stand back and watch the pageant. Try to ignore the crowds. There is no way to avoid them anyway and besides they add to atmosphere.

The floating markets of Thailand are a kaleidoscope of colors in high definition.