Sat waiting for the boat back to the mainland, the contrast between the two sides of the river is striking. On the opposite bank, ugly factories and oil refineries line the view in the industrial area around Bang Na port. But where I am, peace and greenery reign supreme. Little more than 15 minutes from the Skytrain link to the bustle of downtown Bangkok but cut off from the ‘mainland’ by virtue of a shortcut canal creating a man-made island in the Chaophraya river, the fresh air oasis of Bang Krachao is known as ‘the green lungs of Bangkok’ and is home to attractions including Bang Nampheung floating market.
Only superficially a floating market, since nothing but the odd noodle soup vendor actually floats (and even they are permanently stationed at the river bank, serving customers who are firmly seated on land), the appeal of the market at Bang Nampheung is two-fold: firstly the relaxed vibe and focus on local and eco-friendly products – similar in many ways to what you’ll find at Khlong Lat Mayom further away in the outer reaches of Thonburi. And secondly, the sheer scale of the market; you’ll have little problem finding the place, which is pretty well signposted from the moment you set foot on Bang Krachao, but leaving might well be a different matter (I got lost for quite some time looking for the exit where I had parked my bicycle).
Bang Krachao is another Mon enclave on Bangkok’s outskirts, technically lying in the Phra Pradaeng area of Samut Prakan province to the south of the capital. Mon communities settled in the area in the nineteenth centruy and as a result it has much in common with nearby Koh Kret in Nonthaburi, and further field Koh Klang, just across the river from Krabi town in Thailand’s south. The floating market has more in common with Koh Kret, and you’ll see elements of the Mon pottery industry cropping up.
Perhaps I am slowly becoming a little fatigued with floating and semi-floating markets – apart from Khlong Lat Mayom and Koh Kret, I’m a regular at spots like Amphawa and Taling Chan – but I was just a little underwhelmed by the actual produce on sale, particularly on the food side. That’s not to say there’s not a good variety, and again much like Khlong Lat Mayom it’s an interesting mix here between local market style food (eggs, fresh vegetables and the like) and prepared food to sit and eat or to take away; and the food that is on offer looks and is delicious. It’s more that it’s pretty much the same as at any other floating market: lots of guay deow noodle soup, somtum papaya salad, pork satay skewers and the like. It’s good food, just nothing much different from elsewhere. One thing that is in abundance is gak fruit (fuk kao in Thai) and the juice of it – it makes a fleeting appearance at Khlong Lat Mayom, but it seems to be a speciality at Bang Nampheung and is everywhere. Large bottles of honey are also prevalent, not surprisingly given ‘nampheung‘ translates as ‘honey’.
There are also plenty of kitschy and occasionally slightly tacky non-food items on sale; think t-shirts, DVDs, soft toys and phone cases as well as an impressive selection of plants and gardening kit (also in evidence at Taling Chan). Though Bang Nampheung is an obvious tourist attraction and by no means an authentic affair of any sort, the sort of goods on sale are befitting of its firm focus on a Thai target market. Apart from the odd cycling group making their way around the island and one or two husbands flanking their Thai wives, you’re unlikely to come across many other foreign faces. That also means prices are lower, and food and other products at Bang Nampehung floating market are generally good value.
In the furthest depths of the market – seriously, don’t underestimate how easy it is to get lost in the never-ending lanes that spurt out from one another – a small hut offers Thai and foot massages, and a little park next door has tables for you to sit and eat all the food you’ve ordered up from take-away-only vendors. It’s hard to imagine anywhere much more serene to get a massage, at least not (practically) within the city limits, and therein lies the beauty of Bang Nampheung when it might lack much other differentiation from the countless floating markets you could choose for your day trip. While Taling Chan and Khlong Lat Mayom both offer some degree of peace and greenery, they are but little pockets not far from the ongoing mayhem. Bang Nampheung stretches on and on and on, and even once you reach its boundaries you need to navigate a couple more kilometres of rural lanes before you even hit the pier to get back to the ‘mainland’.
All this makes it worth allowing at least a few hours to drift around Bang Krachao and Phra Pradaeng as a whole, even once you’re done pigging out at the market. The odd roadsign directs you along a supposed cycle trail, which takes in among other sights a ‘fighting fish gallery (it’s probably great, but the name wasn’t selling it for me) – but in reality, even without much of an idea where you’re going you can pedal happily along and take in the tranquility. You’re never far from a papaya salad or aharn tum sang stir-fry stall or an iced tea stand to quench your thirst, and the seemingly endless long, narrow paths that sprout off the main roads make for pleasing detours, raised above the small canals and shaded by coconut trees. Another of the area’s main attractions is Suan Sri Nakhon Kuen Kan park. I didn’t make it there on this visit, conscious as I was that I needed to make it back from my unintended ramble and hit the market before it closed up – but it is made up of acres and acres of mostly forested gardens with sala huts overlooking lush ponds. Countless temples around the Phra Pradaeng area also worth a stop.
Despite what Travelfish’s blogger thinks, getting to Bang Nampheung floating market is a doddle. From Bang Na BTS station take exit 2, keep walking about 100m from the stairs until you reach the first road, where you’ll find a few motorbike taxi drivers waiting. Take one to the pier on Sanpawut Road (just ask for ‘thaa rua‘, or ‘pier’) – it’s a little bit of a trek but the ride will only set you back 20 baht. Then hop on the green-roofed cross river boats (there’s only one type of boat and there and it goes to only one place); you pay your 4 baht fare on the other side when you get off.
On arrival at Bang Krachao, either take one of the countless motorbike taxis (like Koh Klang in Krabi, they’re surprisingly everywhere for such an otherwise low-key island) for the 15 baht ride to the market (if you throw caution to the wind and fit two of you plus the driver on the bike, it’s 20 baht between you) or rent a bicycle from the stand to the left of the exit from the boat. A day’s bike hire will cost you 80 baht, though it may be worth haggling (I didn’t and usually don’t, but I heard him tell a family member ’80 is enough’ after quoting me the price, which made me wonder how much they usually charge). From there, jump on your bike and follow everyone else – just about every one of them is going to the market too.
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Travelfish: Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market
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Migrationology: Day Trip to Bangkok’s Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market