A typical floating market can be seers amidst river bends and tributaries, and the villages along their river banks. In the early mornings, klongs or canals were often jammed with boats selling a wide of 'ready-to-go' food such as soup noodles, coffee, and coconut pancakes. Traffic was slow as villagers waved the boat vendors near if something whetted their appetites. The mood was totally relaxed and convivial - vendors and customers would chat up like old chums. and soon neighbors would gather buying poll food and enjoying the gossip of the day -
but only ever so briefly as the boat vendors
would move on in search of new customers. Indeed, in reminiscence, the floating market with the vendors gently paddling their sampans (small boats), indeed represents a charming picture, reflecting the rich abundance of the country's heartlands and the simple lives of the people who chose to lived there.
The floating market actually evolved at a time when there was an organized farming system which facilitated for villages to yield good crops. However roads were non-existent then, and in order for villagers and farmers to sell their surplus crops, they turned to the waterways as a means of commuting, and indeed as a distribution channel for their crops to reach the community of buyers. Such meeting places gradually became floating markets.
Hence floating markets in Thailand have existed since the Ayutthaya Period. Historical archives, temple murals and memoirs of western missionaries recorded that Talad Koo Mal: Rawng, Talad Paak Khlong Wat Derm, Talad Hua Raw wereamong the more popular floating markets then. Floating markets were generally named after the canals or the sites
People in the heartlands of Thai‑
land have long lived in the water
community - in sync with their
simple way of life with agricul‑
ture as their main livelihood,
trading whatever surplus from
their harvests within the river
community at floating markets.where the local people met in daily trading activities
During the Ratanakosin Period, more canals were dug to meet transportation and defense requirements and soon this extensive web of canals won the city its the nickname of 'Venice of the East'. However, following the endorsement of the Bowing Treaty, the way people traded started to change. From serving basic needs, production was then needed to serve the rapidly growing demands both in the local and foreign markets. As a result, a spate of canal digging ensued to facilitate ease of transportation and accessibility. As more agricultural belts emerged subsequently, in tandem with the expansion of communities, so did the a number of major floating markets. Paak Khlong Talad between Chakpetch Fortress and Pee Sua Fortress was one of them, although this was subsequently turned into a land-based market to serve as a major wholesale market for farm produce; and so, until the present day.
Other floating markets which will be long remembered is Talad Nam Khlong Mahanark which was once a vibrant floating market where a large variety of merchandises were offered for sale. The elderly would still remember the days when sampans were 'market-stuck' - referring to the kilometer-long queues to access the canal during the peak hours of the markets. The embankments, which had mix of rich mansions and humble dwellings, were usually hives of activities - including noisy merchants trading and negotiating, and villagers socializing.
The term 'market-stuck' refers to the appointed time for trading i.e the busiest time of the floating market. Sunthornphu, one of the country's most celebrated laureates, described that most paddlers were local Chinese women. As Thai men had to serve the country with national duties, it was left to the Chinese who were exempt from such duties, to develop the trading business - hence explaining the historical role of the Chinese in the business community. Farm produce were generally available from Thai woman vendors while consumer products and a wide range of imported products from China such as tea leaves, fans, umbrellas, paper, silk, tableware and dried fruits, among others, were traded by Chinese merchants. Chronicles from the reign of King Rama III described sampans offering speciality products such as : terra-cotta water containers, coconut oil, liquor, fish paste and fuel wood from neighboring provinces - were also seen in the vibrant floating market.As progress never stands stills, so development continued in many parts of Bangkok. More roads were built as communities expanded, both in the urban as well as rural areas. Gradually, life along the waterways slowly declined and soon river communities, houseboats, and similar vessels, and even the floating markets gave way to modern infrastructure. With an increase in the number of land-based market stalls, people started to prefer land transportation over using the waterways. The floating markets had met their fate, itseemed and many were forced out of business while others were forced to change.
The busy Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi province, must undoubtedly be the most familiar floating market for foreign tourists in Thailand. Originally a traditional open-air floating market, where farm produce were traded, this market has changed forever. With easy accessibility, tourist activities and souvenir shops, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market soon became one of Thailand's most famous tourist attraction. In a way, it is now a picture postcard destination rather than a way of life. Yet, there is no denying that Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the living legacy of the country's floating markets - a legacy which will continue as long the charm of waterways trading continues to prevail.
Other floating markets elsewhere such as Talad Nam Tha Kaa and Talad Nam Ampawa in the province of Samut Songkram, continue to delight locals and tourists alike. The beauty of the traditional river community is all there in perfect ambience : idyllic scenes of wooden houses lining the riverbanks, small sampans, friendly villagers. The increasing number of visitors indicates that people still long for that getaway for a taste of the traditional way of life - to explore the canals and the villagers, the old residences and temples that seem somehow untouched by time.Time may have brought with it many changes and the originally vibrant floating market might have given way to present-day infrastructure. However, it is worth remembering that the charm of the floating market is worth preserving and it is important that the floating markets continue to stay. To ensure this, careful planning and joint venture initiatives between the public sector and the local residents are needed especially to combine the traditional ways of life with modernization and tourism in a harmonious way. One important aspect is to keep the canal environment clean. Visitors too can help if they would respect the markets and help keep it clean. With such efforts, the floating market will continue to delight us all, as a legacy of the traditional way of life, for a long time to come.