Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Photo Essay

A Thai lady wearing a distinctly large sun hat laughs while folding a newspaper.

An elderly Thai lady wearing a conical hat dips her paddle into the water as I fire off an exposure of a vendor arranging an assortment of fruit at her individual stall. As a passenger on this small vessel making its way down a canal, I’m surrounded by colorful displays of goods and inundated by exotic smells at this Thai floating market.

Visiting markets (especially floating ones) is one of my favorite travel activities; however, the scene I tried to convey above is far from the truth. What I failed to mention is that the boat I’m on is packed with other foreigners (Thai: farang) with a plethora of other vessels – both behind and in front of us – transporting even more tourists.

As a travel photographer, this is a treasure trove of an opportunity to take candid portraits while capturing all of the colorful exotic displays and bustle of this Thai floating market; however, as I’ve pointed out in a previous article, impressive travel photos don’t always have an equally impressive story behind them.

Unlike local markets, where vendors hardly notice the presence of a foreigner, I’m constantly being badgered to purchase something: “By from meeeee. Fried Bananaaaaa! Coconut here!!!!”

Conflicted by the reality of the situation, I can allow myself to feel entirely jaded by the experience or just go with the flow; I decide on the latter and continue pressing down on my shutter release as I wander around the floating market.

As a now popular tourist attraction, Damnoensaduak floating market was originally the name of a canal dug by military personnel during the reign of Thai King Rama IV. Rivers and canals, at the time were the lifeblood of transportation and goods; however, the now crowded market caters mostly towards tourists.

A Thai conical hat for sale on an otherwise bare display table.

A Thai conical hat for sale on an otherwise bare display table

Scenic views from our longboat of lush green vegetation and murky brown waters prior to reaching the Thai floating market.

Scenic views from our longboat of lush green vegetation and murky brown waters prior to reaching the Thai floating market.

An elderly Thai lady paddles here way down the canal in a tiny vessel while trying to avoid colliding with much larger ones.

An elderly Thai lady paddles here way down the canal in a tiny vessel while trying to avoid colliding with much larger ones.

Batter is being poured into a mold being used to make Thai cakes.

Batter is being poured into a mold being used to make Thai cakes.

A Thai lady vendor with a collection of hats for sale flashes a smile.

A Thai lady vendor with a collection of hats for sale flashes a smile.

This is a side perspective shot of a Thai lady rowing a boat loaded with fruit to the floating market.

This is a side perspective shot of a Thai lady rowing a boat loaded with fruit to the floating market.

An overhead perspective shot of the colorful Thai floating market.

An overhead perspective shot of the colorful Thai floating market.

A candid moment, where this Thai lady is communicating with another vendor at the floating market.

A candid moment, where this Thai lady is communicating with another vendor at the floating market.

A Thai lady with dyed hair makes eye contact with a group of tourists.

A Thai lady with dyed hair makes eye contact with a group of tourists.

An overhead perspective travel photo of three rowboats filled with fruit (bananas and coconuts) passing each other at the same time.

An overhead perspective travel photo of three rowboats filled with fruit (bananas and coconuts) passing each other at the same time.

A friendly exchange between two Thai vendors both selling deep fried banana wedges.

A friendly exchange between two Thai vendors both selling deep fried banana wedges.

Colorful fans for sale with elephant patterned designs.

Colorful fans for sale with elephant patterned designs.

A selfie portrait from two tourists visiting the floating market.

A selfie portrait from two tourists visiting the floating market.

A candid photo of a Thai lady wearing a conical hat and army fatigue inspired apron.

A candid photo of a Thai lady wearing a conical hat and army fatigue inspired apron.

How do you feel about visiting an attraction that clearly caters towards tourists?

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

Allan Wilson August 12, 2013 at 10:15 am

I wrote a bit about them here; the end of floating markets? http://live-less-ordinary.com/southeast-asia-travel/taling-chan-floating-market-bangkok. Amphawa is probably the better choice for floating markets but again horribly touristy. I prefer going to the lesser known ones. Not great for photo-ops but more local and authentic in feel.

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 9:00 am

Thanks! I checked out your post and totally agree with your assessment.

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Lori August 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

Splendid and vivid photo essay! I especially like the portraits in this series!

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 9:00 am

Thanks Lori! I’ll be sharing more photo essay over the next coming days :)

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Maria August 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Wonderful photos – you’re skilled at capturing people in the moment. :-)

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 9:01 am

Thanks Maria :) I’m glad they don’t always notice ;)

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Mary @ Green Global Travel August 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm

The markets are admittedly very touristy though none the less always prove so visually decadent. You did a brilliant job of capturing fabulous candid shots! I am amazed by how much can be accomplished in the space of a very small boats – entire thai kitchens and small floating business!

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 9:02 am

Thanks Mary! It is amazing how much they can pack into the space of just a tiny vessel!

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Tom August 12, 2013 at 12:42 pm

I love local markets, I always try something, even in India where I was warned not to eat at the local markets… But I did and nothing happened. Breathtaking photos… Wish I could be there someday…

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 9:03 am

Thanks Tom,

Most of the time I’ve been fine eating street food. I’ve actually been sick more often from eating in restaurants abroad.

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Gran Canaria Local August 12, 2013 at 12:52 pm

In the Canary Islands, our markets are as much for locals as they are for tourists. The exception that proves the rule? Erm, that would be the floating market at Tenerife’s Siam Park.

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 8:53 am

That’s great! Those are my favorite types of markets :)

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A August 12, 2013 at 1:38 pm

The place is certainly very touristy! I was there several years ago, and surprisingly I did not see many if any tourists that morning as well. I was with a local in my boat. Honestly I liked sitting and watching the market so that part was good, but still the overly touristy nature of the market annoyed me overall

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 8:51 am

I agree with what you’re saying. I don’t think I’d ever come back here again; however, it is was ‘okay’ once.

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures August 13, 2013 at 12:08 am

These photos are breathtaking!

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 8:48 am

Thanks Andi! Floating markets are a great place to take shots of people.

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Karin@yumandmore August 13, 2013 at 6:36 am

Stunning photopraphs very real and showing great emotion!
great essay! well done!

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Samuel Jeffery August 13, 2013 at 8:43 am

Thanks Karin!

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Sherry August 14, 2013 at 12:40 am

Inevitably I often end up at tourist attractions in my travels. There is a reason why they are tourist attractions in the first place. So to me they are worth a visit. I just don’t like it when they get too crowded or expensive. So if I go or not will highly depend on my mood.

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Samuel Jeffery August 14, 2013 at 1:51 am

Hey Sherry,

I feel the same way you do about visiting these kinds of places. It’s often dictated by my mood and prices. Sometimes I’ll just randomly wander around somewhere instead of visiting a popular attraction. I often find that just as (if not more) rewarding.

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flipnomad August 15, 2013 at 8:56 am

Gorgeous pictures Sam!

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Samuel Jeffery August 17, 2013 at 4:31 am

Thanks Flip! :)

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Thomas August 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm

Great photos as usual Sam! The photos, food, and even hats look great but man that water is just well not very appealing. I like visiting the roads less traveled. The wifey on the other hand likes the popular places. After all they are popular for a reason as she would put it.

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Samuel Jeffery August 17, 2013 at 4:33 am

Thanks Thomas! Yeah, unfortunately the waters (whether at this canal or taking a water taxi in Bangkok) tend to be filthy. I think a mix of both types of travel is ideal.

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Angela August 16, 2013 at 11:28 am

I frickin’ love those Thai cakes!
About visiting an attraction catered to tourists. It’s not something that’s my first choice and I try to avoid it rather than search for it. But some attractions are just too good to skip.

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Samuel Jeffery August 17, 2013 at 4:37 am

Thanks Angela!

I agree with you regarding tourist attractions. I don’t want to cover everything that’s in a guidebook; however, certain things are worth visiting.

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Freya August 18, 2013 at 8:50 am

I know it’s very touristic but I just loved the floating markets in Thailand, they are so unique, colorful and provide great photo opportunities. Wonderful photos, made me feel like I’m there again.

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Samuel Jeffery August 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Thanks Freya!

I may head back again early next year to show my parents.

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noel August 21, 2013 at 4:55 am

Gorgeous, I love the large format images, it just makes the scenes pop, great job Samuel….btw do you accept guest posts, I would love to do one of my photo essays for your audience?

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Samuel Jeffery August 21, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Thanks Noel,

I try to do photo essays at 1000 px.

I’m not currently accepting guest posts but I may open that up again next year.

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Stephen S. August 21, 2013 at 11:09 am

Beautiful photos mate. I headed here later this year. I cannot wait to explore this market, it has been on my list for years.

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Samuel Jeffery August 21, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Thanks Stephen!

There is a lot to do in and around Bangkok. As a photographer you’ll really enjoy the different opportunities.

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Vid of Bruised Passports August 21, 2013 at 3:48 pm

I love that shot with the elderly Thai lady. I do have a soft spot for floating markets in South Asia, despite their increasingly touristy nature

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Traveling Ted August 22, 2013 at 1:45 am

I will be in Thailand for a couple of weeks in November and December. These photos are psyching me up.

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Samuel Jeffery August 22, 2013 at 5:09 am

That’s awesome Ted! Best time of the year to be visiting Thailand :) Where do you plan on going?

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Traveling Ted August 22, 2013 at 11:10 am

I am going south to Singapore, Malaysia, Borneo. Pretty excited!

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Samuel Jeffery August 25, 2013 at 4:15 am

That’s awesome! Try to hit up Malacca if you can.

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Salika Jay August 23, 2013 at 10:27 am

I like floating markets in Thailand for they are unique. I went for one in Pataya. Nice photos! :)

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Samuel Jeffery August 26, 2013 at 7:23 am

They are very unique! I’m thinking of taking my parents next year.

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Barbara August 23, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Fantastic images! I love the emotions you have captured in the candid photos as well as the colors of the floating markets. Sometimes you get your best images in areas catering to tourist!

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Samuel Jeffery August 25, 2013 at 4:07 am

Thanks Barbara!

That’s true! I think it’s because they’re used to having their photo taken and aren’t phased by it the slightest.

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Nick - Goats On The Road August 24, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Hey great post Sam. Love the one of the rice hat.
We’re starting to find ourselves in “touristy” situations and sometimes, just because tourists are there, doesn’t mean it’s catered to them. We’ve started going to cultural shows and musical concerts that are full of tourists, but it’s the only way to really see the traditional music and dance in some places.
Also, lots of the time if you’re in a “touristy place” half of the tourists are locals. I think it’s worse to avoid “touristy” things and miss the experiences all together in some cases.

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Samuel Jeffery August 25, 2013 at 4:06 am

I agree with you Nick. I like to have a balance of both when I travel. If you avoided everything that was ‘touristy’ you’d sure be missing out on a lot of things!

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Ryan @Treksplorer August 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Love this photo essay! Markets are among my favourite places to people watch, but I have yet to visit a floating one; looks like it would be a treasure trove for travel photography. It’s great that you were able to capture people so candidly! I’m guessing you were using a pretty long telephoto lens here?

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Colleen Brynn August 29, 2013 at 8:51 pm

I know what you mean… the more travelled our world becomes, the harder it is to get experiences without other tourists ruining the moment… but you did an excellent job of snapping some candids and capturing the market!

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Samuel Jeffery August 30, 2013 at 5:15 am

Thanks Colleen! It sure is :) I’ll likely be taking my parents here in a couple of months. I think I’ll make a video this time around :)

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Marissa Carnahan September 4, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Wonderful pictures! You captured a lot with them! I’ll be following along with you, Samuel. :)

Marissa

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Samuel Jeffery September 5, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Thank Marissa!

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Noel | Stories On Travel September 13, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Love to visit this place. The photos are captivating, especially the ones with real people. I love to explore the historical places and local foods in Thailand. People look friendly too. Thanks for taking us there Samuel.

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Samuel Jeffery September 14, 2013 at 7:44 am

Thanks Noel,

You’ll have a lot of fun doing that in Thailand. I already miss the food and I left just two weeks ago!

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Julio Moreno December 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I love the floating village. For some reason, I thought these were only in Vietnam. I will be taking a SE asia trip in August of next year so I’ll be sure to pass by here!

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Samuel Jeffery December 15, 2013 at 3:58 am

Thanks Julio,

Indeed, you’ll notice these floating villages are quite common in SE Asia. The biggest one I’ve visited was Kampong Ayer in Brunei.

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CHANDRAS January 17, 2014 at 5:19 pm

Nice Market.We were seeing Live Big Lizards on the banks of canal as we were moving to the center market place.

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