Floating markets are two-a-penny in and around Bangkok, and yet most visitors still swarm to the over-commercialised tourist trap that is Damnoen Saduak, in Ratchaburi province about an hour and a half from the capital.
Taling Chan floating market is a worthy alternative, not entirely unheard of but off most tourist itineraries to enough of an extent that you don’t feel like another piece of meat with a dollar sign above your head, bussed in to be extorted. In fact, the much more relaxed atmosphere at Taling Chan, and even the sorts of products on sale here, are tell-tale signs that this is a market geared far more towards local people and Thai tourists than foreigners.
Sure, there are banners at the entrance detailing opening days in English, and the odd clued-up stallholder has information about their wares and prices displayed in English – but unless most tourists are now looking to buy fresh vegetables and shrubs and herb seeds for the garden, they are not who Taling Chan is targeting. In fact, though there is a sign proclaiming ‘Souvenirs’ above the ticket desk for longtail boat tours, the souvenirs themselves aren’t clear to see. If they do exist then they are well hidden, and certainly not the fold-out postcards and other tat shoved in your face at the likes of Damnoen Saduak.
The emphasis at Taling Chan is very much on food – both of the fresh produce kind, and ready prepared dishes to eat there and then. Without doubt, the speciality is seafood; massive langoustines grilling over greying charcoal embers, delicate scallops garnished in their shells, and some of the most enormous pla pao whole grilled salted fish I’ve seen. Add the staple bowls of kuay teow noodle soup and numerous varieties of local sweets that no floating market would be complete without, and you’ve got quite a selection.
A floating market it may be, but there are actually relatively few boats on the water. This is only a small canal, after all, and the majority of the action is on the land. A gently rocking jetty provides plenty of seats to enjoy the food that has been hoisted up from the grandma cooking it on the boat below, and the produce stalls are on land proper, on the small street leading up to the water’s edge. Families feed the bountiful fish in one corner of the market where the edge of the jetty leaves the water of the khlong exposed, and the odd longtail boat passes by on the opposite side.
Boat trips in and around the area are available at modest prices – again, these are thankfully geared towards Thai rather than foreign tourist wallets, so think between 99 and 160 baht per adult. Trips include a morning departure to the nearby Khlong Lat Mayom floating market, even more low key than Taling Chan.
Refreshingly, you’ll have to buy your ticket at the desk (look for that ‘Souvenirs’ sign) as, unlike at Damnoen Saduak and even slighter tamer options like Amphawa, there is absolutely no touting of trips by the boats themselves – ask the boat man about taking a trip and he’ll just point you to the desk on the other side of the market.
It all rather sums up the ambience at Taling Chan – very laid back, and the perfect setting for a few lazy hours to kick back and relax of a weekend. There might be a band performing to the side of the canal – Shalalalala seemed to be the tune of choice on my visit – just alongside a grassed area with small ponds, the perfect spot for children to play and their floating lotus flowers in keeping with the area’s greenery, feeling far further from central Bangkok than it really is. Meanwhile, you can enjoy a Thai massage on a raised bamboo platform in the shade (to the beat of Shalalalala). Next to the ponds and up a small gravel path, the odd train passes along the track on its way out of Bangkok.
Taling Chan floating market operates only on weekends and public holidays. To get there, take the orange-coloured, number 79 air-con bus from the bus stop outside the front entrance to Central World on Ratchadamri Road, just around the corner from Siam Paragon. The bus also runs past Ratchathewi Skytrain station and Siam Paragon itself, though catching it here is a bit more hit-and-miss – make sure you’re on the same side of the road as Siam Paragon.
On the way back, catch the bus from the opposite side of the road, or wander up the road in the direction you came and take a look at Wat Taling Chan temple, notable for the glass gem like detail at the front – once you’ve had a look, there is a bus stop just a little further on. Buses run from 04.20 to 22.00, and the fare is 17 baht.