Southeast Asia’s colorful floating markets embody the rich culture and heritage of the region, and they are a bucket-list must for many adventurers. To make the most out of your experience, we put together a guide to help you plan your trip that includes tips on what to bring, an overview of what you’ll find, and also a brief look at the custom and art of haggling.
Visitors to these markets will find vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables directly from small wooden boats, or cooking delicious local fare as they float through the water. For such picturesque moments, the first item to make sure you bring is your camera, the second is snacks. The majority of the region’s most popular floating markets are about an hour to two outside major cities. Most floating markets also open early in the morning (5 to 7 a.m.) and the best time to experience them to beat the heat and crowds is as soon as they open. Plan for an early morning, and bring snacks and water with you to tide you over during the commute and as you explore the market.
In addition to your camera and snacks, a hat, sunscreen, and a backpack or larger bag for souvenirs are also recommended. Plan to spend the day out-doors and on or near water.
Tours that include transportation from major cities are widely available. Hotel concierges and local travel operators can recommend tours that work with your schedule, and they can also advise you on taxi services or other transportation options in the area.
Once at the market, you can explore the shops on foot and watch as vendors in wooden boats overflowing with fruit and vegetables sell their goods to people on shore or in passing boats. Motorized or hand-rowed boats for hire are also readily available to guide you through the interior of the market. Boat operators will offer a range of prices and length of tours. Shop around to find a tour that works for you, and do negotiate the price before agreeing to a tour.
If the price is not fixed, do not hesitate to give a counter offer. Bargaining is a common practice in Southeast Asia, and at tourist destinations expect vendors to inflate prices 20% to 50%.
A good starting point when haggling is to have an idea of what the average asking price is for the souvenir or service you’re negotiating for. Shop around and get a price range from multiple vendors. This will help in the negotiation process.
Smile. Haggling is an expected practice in Southeast Asia, and local vendors appreciate a good banter. Make it fun, not a competition.
If you cannot agree on a price, then simply walk away. If the vendor is keen enough to sell the item, the vendor will stop you and offer a price more in your asking range.
At the region’s most popular markets, such as Damnoen Saduak outside of Bangkok, Thailand, some vendors do accept credit cards. Cash remains the primary payment method throughout the region, and we recommend dividing your money into small bills and keeping it in several places on your person. This can help with budgeting and also prevent you from flashing large stacks of bills while traveling.
Southeast Asia’s Most Popular Floating Markets
Damnoen Saduak, Bangkok, Thailand
Located about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok, Damnoen Saduak was featured in the 1974 James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, and in the 2008 Nicolas Cage film Bangkok Dangerous. Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market for travelers through the region, and it caters heavily to tourists. Visitors will find a large array of souvenirs for sale, in addition to more traditional vendors selling produce and favorite local delicacies. More information about Damnoen Saduak can be found at TripAdvisor.com.
Amphawa Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
This weekend market, located about an hour and a half outside of Bangkok, is a popular destination for both locals and tourists. While not as large as the Damnoen Saduak floating market, Amphawa offers a more authentic experience to visitors. Best explored on foot, this market is known for its seafood delicacies, such as prawns, shellfish, and squid served from boats in the river or from the variety of shops that line the streets radiating from the market.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo By Nomad YC
Expect for the market to become extremely crowded by noon. Plan to arrive before 10 a.m. and head out soon after lunch.
Boat tours are also available to explore the surrounding canals and rivers, with stops at the Wat Bang Kung temple, and other surrounding smaller temples. Read more about the weekend market on TripAdvisor.com.
Cai Rang Floating Market, Can Tho, Vietnam
The Cai Rang Floating Market is about a 30- to 40- minute boat ride from Can Tho, which is a four hour drive from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Like other floating markets in the region an early start (as early at 5:30 a.m.) is recommended to catch the market at its most active. The market opens at sunrise and most vendors are gone for the day by 10 a.m.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra
Cai Rang is the main wholesale floating market near Can Tho where merchant vessels gather to sell fresh produce, sea food and other goods. The market is impressive for its size and it is an experience that is truly unique to the region. Boat tours to Cai Rang are available from Can Tho. A variety of overnight tours from Ho Chi Minh City are also available. For more information about Cai Rang, visit TripAdvisor.com.
Aberdeen Floating Village, Hong Kong, China
Not so much a market, the community in Aberdeen Harbor in Hong Kong, is more aptly called a floating village. The Aberdeen Floating Village, located in the southern district of Hong Kong, is home to about 600 traditional Chinese junks and sampans that crowd the narrow harbor housing about 6,000 residents who make their living on the water.
Tours on sampans are readily available throughout the harbor to explore the floating village set against Hong Kong’s dramatic skyline of towering skyscrapers. Also moored in the harbor is one of the area’s most popular floating restaurants – Jumbo Kingdom. Visit TripAdvisor.com for more information about Aberdeen Harbor.
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