Today was quite the interesting day and at the same time, pure Bangkok.
We woke up this morning with the plan to go to a floating market, namely a smaller one that is primarily frequented by locals. We had the front desk staff write the name of the market in Thai on a piece of paper to give to a taxi driver (most don’t speak English) and then grabbed one of the taxis sitting outside the hotel (the first of a few mistakes). He kept asking us (before we even got in the cab) that this market was too small, only a few boats and that he knew a much larger market. He showed us a flyer touting itself as the largest and the first (true, but this was throwing warning bells). The market we wanted to go to was quite a drive away (just about every floating market is at least an hour’s drive from the city depending on where you are) but this one was slightly closer. Despite having an uneasy feeling, we said OK and got in the cab but insisted on the meter.
After driving for about half an hour (the countryside looks oddly enough a lot like Florida – very flat with lots of marshland) and then we noticed on the highway that the meter had gone off and was no longer displaying anything. We were a bit uneasy and my wife and I were talking in German trying to figure out what we do now but then our taxi driver noticed and had a genuine panicked reaction. Turns out he had a little toggle switch on his dashboard that was really loud when he flicked it (meter beeped when turning it one way and then nothing the other but no display showed) and smashing buttons on the meter furiously. The meter beeped but it never displayed. He even unplugged it and plugged it back in and everything. He suggested a price of 1500 BHT for the drive to the market and back and this seemed somewhat fair since we had paid 450 BHT for the 45-minute ride from the airport and that included a small airport surcharge. After some quick mental math, we figured this was OK since the drive for each leg was about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Didn’t seem too bad and he said he would wait for a couple of hours while we checked out the market. We agreed and kept driving.
After a while, we arrived at Damnoen Saduak or rather a boat pier somewhat close by to the market. Once we got there, however, things turned around and the folks operating the pier and the cab driver tried to get us to pay 4000 BHT total for a boat ride into and around the market! (We later found out this was a common scam as detailed here.)
We vehemently refused and demanded he take us back to the hotel immediately. The cab driver said OK, he’d take us to the market and convinced us to give him a second chance. We ended up agreeing under the condition he take us straight to the market and after saying no to a few other boat places along the way he suggested, we arrived at the market. Turns out this market (and apparently many floating markets) has gone almost full tourist and is not exactly full of boats like it once was (although at the beginning when we were there it was quite full).
You can take boats into the farther, boat-only ends of the market at a vastly cheaper rate (250 BHT) or just walk around. The market itself was only frequented by a few tourists when we were there and most of them were in the boats driving around but we just walked around.
The market itself was still quite nice, though. You could tell that once you got away from the tourists that the locals still came here, still did a lot of shopping here and it still had some of that flair. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it before so we still came away happy, despite the slight ordeal in getting there. After getting something to eat and walking around for 1.5 hours, though, we found our cabbie and made our way home.
Drove back to the hotel and talked the driver into cutting the price to at least 1400 BHT after that whole fiasco (maybe should have put up more of a fight but we just wanted to get away) and left. Got up to the hotel room and found the link above and felt kind of good afterwards because apparently the meter fee to the market is actually closer to 2000 BHT for each leg! Wow! After licking our wounds, so to say, we realized we made out rather cheaply and the market wasn’t bad (very pretty but maybe others would have been better? No idea) but were really ticked that we had let ourselves be scammed and ignored our own instincts. Ah well. What’s an adventure without a few mishaps, right?
After resting at the hotel for a bit (jetlag is kicking our butts, we almost fell asleep in the cab on the way home) we grabbed our things and walked over to one of the water taxis for a trip to China Town, also known as Yaowarat. The taxis are divided into the locals and the tourists with the tourist boats apparently having an audio recording or something explaining about the sights along the river. Toss that, we jumped onto the local boat, paid less than half the price of the tourist boat and headed up the river.
Once we jumped off the boat it was only a short walk before we were on the outskirts of China Town and the hustle and bustle that comes with it. After another few minutes, we turned the corner onto the main road and WOW! It was like being in a movie. All of the activity, the stands, the food, the people… It truly felt like a movie, nothing I’d ever seen before. I have some vague memories of the China Town in Los Angeles but this was something else entirely. Then there were the smells. Oh, the smells. There were food stands everywhere, people selling fruits, vegetables, spices - countless things we both wish we could have taken home with us but couldn't (thankfully we can get a lot of things at an Asian grocery store near our apartment).
I could honestly try and describe every little detail with words but the photographs do a much better job than I ever could.
We walked up and down the main drag and into the side streets before settling on a place called T&K Seafood on a big street corner at one end of the main road. Our timing couldn’t have been better because shortly after we sat down lines began forming at the restaurant of people trying to get one of the few tables available. We ordered lemon and spicy garlic snapper and chili prawns – the fish was amazing, the prawns so-so. We are definitely going to try and head back that way for some more food because the little bits of food we tasted from the stands and that restaurant were simply amazing.
We closed out the night walking around, people-watching and making some photos before grabbing a taxi and heading back to the hotel for the night. Despite the little mishap earlier in the day, still another great day in Bangkok!