They say that the best way to experience a foreign destination is to visit its marketplace or bazaar. With this in your itinerary, you get to learn its food, culture, traditions and history. It’s your ticket to make new friends, too. Floating markets in Asia are unlike any attraction you’ve seen before, though. They’re the place to be when you want fresh produce, great local eats, Instagram-worthy photos and a boat trip in one go!
Things to Know Before Going to Floating Markets
Traders in small boats to sell their goods are a rare sight, considering today’s modern times. Perhaps, that is why these floating markets in Asia are such a draw for curious tourists. But when you think about it, using boats for transport and business is more practical than keeping a physical store. It’s also more convenient for farmers living on wet lowlands or near river valleys.
Before diving into this unique experience, however, make sure to come prepared. These tips may come in handy:
- Plan how to get there. Check with your hotel concierge or travel operator for transportation info and floating market tour schedules. Once you arrive, shop around for the best boat ride deal.
- Come early in the morning. Most floating markets open as early as 5:00 am. Visit them at sunrise to avoid the heat and crowd. Don’t forget to bring water, some snacks, a hat, sunscreen and shopping bags.
- Try your hand on haggling. It’s a common practice in Asia, so get ready for some good banter and bargaining. Check other shops first to know the average price of the goods you want.
Well-Known Floating Markets in Asia
When you think about floating markets in Asia, Bangkok in Thailand easily comes to mind. But its neighbouring countries also have something great to offer. Check out these top picks and see which one should be at the top of your list.
1. Damnoen Saduak, Thailand
It’s no wonder why locals dub Damnoen Saduak as a tourist trap. It is the biggest water market in Ratchaburi and one of the most popular in Asia, after all. Its fruit and veggie vendors are the highlight of your visit. But there’s more to see (and eat!) here. For instance, if you’re looking for Thai souvenirs to bring home, this place has all the keychains, magnets, clothing and paintings you need.
Doing a food tasting adventure on a boat ride is something you shouldn’t miss either. The vendors got all the local yummy eats here, from pad Thai to pork skewers to tom-yum noodles. And for dessert, remember to make room for some soft-serve coconut ice cream.
2. Cai Rang Floating Market, Vietnam
At Mekong River Delta, near Can Tho City, is the largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market, Cai Rang. Traders often operate large boats to sell goods in bulk. But local farmers aboard smaller vessels are also here to offer their products. The market draws many visitors that it became a national intangible cultural heritage site in 2016.
Here, instead of peddling, vendors advertise by using a long bamboo pole to hang the items they have on sale. Apart from the usual fresh produce and flowers, handicrafts, repair services, lottery tickets, and local food and drinks are also available. Imagine enjoying Bahn mi, Vietnamese coffee and pho while in the water! To get there, you need to take a 30-minute boat ride from Can Tho. You can stay in a guest house here and have a tour operator help make arrangements or join a packaged tour.
3. Dal Lake, India
Dal Lake is the gem of Srinagar City in north India. Surrounded by stunning Pir Panjal mountains and Mughal Gardens, it’s a place that never fails to impress visiting families, couples and solo travellers. Compared with the floating markets of Thailand, Dal Lake suits tourists who prefer peaceful shopping and sight-seeing. Also, rather than fresh fruits, flowers and vegetables from the farmlands along the lake are the top merchandise.
The cruising shikaras or canopied wooden boats make this lake even more serene. Make sure not to pass the chance to stay in one of its aromatic cedar houseboats. Also, plan your visit sometime between March and November, when the weather is almost always pleasant.
4. Amphawa Floating Market, Thailand
If barbecued shrimp and octopus tentacles sound enticing to you, then a visit to Amphawa in Samut Songkhram is well worth it. It may not be as big as Damnoen Saduak, but it has more locals than tourists, making the market experience a bit more authentic. Aside from fresh seafood delicacies, a bowl of rolled noodles in flavourful broth (kuayjub) is a must-try here.
To make the most of your visit, plan to stay here for the evening. A boat ride during nighttime is perfect to see fireflies along the Mae Khlong river bank. The beautiful teak wooden homes here are also worth checking out. Not too far away from the market is Wat Bang Kung — a tree temple famous for its surrounding banyan roots and golden Buddha.
5. Inle Lake, Myanmar
If you want a floating market experience packed full of side trips, then Inle Lake in Nyaung Shwe will not disappoint. Tourists flock here to see the wooden stilt homes and floating gardens and, of course, to shop for fresh produce, hand-carved Buddhas, baskets and Burmese doughnuts. Find time to watch Inthar fisherfolk catch carp with a bamboo net and harpoon. Oh, and they do this while standing at the edge of their canoe and rowing with one leg!
Your Inle Lake adventure doesn’t stop once you’re out of the water, though. Here, you can go workshop hopping on a boat tour and see silversmiths, long-neck weavers, boat makers and woodcarvers at work. Other sites to visit (and gawk at) include the Jumping Cat Monastery, golden stupas of Ywama village and the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda. Spend a day bicycling around town to visit its hot springs, vineyard and local restaurants, too.
Asia is not only a hotspot for floating markets. Its night markets are the best, too! Check out these street food markets in Taiwan for their delicious food finds.