Any destination we head to, the husband and I definitely make it a point to visit the local bazaars. A stop (or two, or three!) at the local markets is a great way of getting exposed to the culture and traditions of the place, at the very root level. And, of course, it teaches you a whole lot about the food of that region – the ingredients that the locals use, the ways in which they cook, their indigenous foods, et al. Thailand was no exception. That was how, one bright and sunny day during our recent holiday in Thailand, the two of us headed to Pattaya Floating Market, with the bub in tow. And, hey, this is a floating market – a market actually on water – and how do we not check out that?!
Internet-shaped impressions of the Pattaya Floating Market
The little reading I did on the Internet before we headed out to Thailand told me that if I was charmed by the idea of floating markets, the ones in Bangkok are what I should be visiting. All of Thailand used to commute via waterways in the olden times, trading in markets included. While transport in Thailand is presently largely by road, the waterways still exist, as do the floating markets. Bangkok has several of these floating markets, many of them as major tourist attractions, while a couple still operate as hard-core trading centres. Most Internetizens suggested visiting the Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa floating markets in Bangkok, and against going to the one in Pattaya. According to them, the Pattaya floating market is pure tourist trap, messy and filthy, a hotbed for scams of various types.
As luck would have it, we never got a chance to visit any of Bangkok’s famed floating markets on our holiday. It just never happened! This left us hugely disappointed and, tourist trap or not, we decided to head to the Pattaya floating market, to get a feel of the place if nothing else. And you know what? We weren’t disappointed one bit. Agreed, the market is chaotic, there are some tacky things around, and that there are better ways to learn about Thai culture and heritage – but, we loved the Pattaya Floating Market!
Pattaya Floating Market left us with a vast range of emotions – happy, awe-struck, sad, angry, overwhelmed, all at the same time. Overall, though, it left us feeling enriched for having visited. We are glad we chose to visit the market, in spite of there being conflicting information about the place on the Internet. We are glad for the opportunity it gave us to get a wee bit closer to Thai culture and heritage, food and traditions.
Postcards from the Pattaya Floating Market
Let me tell you about the experiences that stood out most prominently for us, at the Pattaya Floating Market.
Food, food and more food
One of the things that strike you as you walk around the Pattaya Floating Market is the humongous amount of food that is on offer. Food being cooked and sold on boats, food stalls lining the water, fresh fruit, roasted chestnuts and sweet treats – there’s food, literally, everywhere!
Fried octopus, various kinds of grilled fish, whole frozen mangoes, various traditional Thai desserts, palm fruit juice, snake fruit and durian, noodle hotpots, the most beautifully presented milkshakes and ice creams are some examples of the food we came across here. Some of the eatables here didn’t look very hygienically prepared, while some others were just fine – take your pick carefully if you decide to eat here. There wasn’t much on offer for vegetarians, though, apart from the milkshakes, ice creams and desserts.
Dirty waters, but charming nonetheless
Charming as the Pattaya Floating Market is, one can’t help noticing that the waters on which it stands are far from clean. The waters are filthy and murky and, as we walked around, we kept wishing this part had been better maintained.
We chose to focus instead on the prettier sights the market had to offer, instead – the rows and rows of shops, some with rather interesting merchandise on sale, the big bus-like boats that ran on the water ferrying people around, the Thai Cultural Village tucked away within the market that offered us a glimpse into the real Thailand, a huge Thai water buffalo making the rounds of the market and posing for photographs, the ongoing dance and music shows, and artists at work busy making glow-in-the-dark paintings that you find all over Thailand.
The tall, tall, tall drag queens
Drag queens are everywhere in Thailand, and the Pattaya Floating Market is no exception. Standing on tall, tall, tall stilts, they welcome you at the entrance. They are dressed so gorgeously you can’t take your eyes off them! They are all smiles, posing candidly for cameras from across the globe.
My heart hurt for them, these drag queens. Were they being forced to dress up and pose for pictures, thanks to poverty? Was the smile plastered on their faces just for the sake of tourists? Just how happy were they on the inside? Well, at least, they were living in a country that doesn’t make a big deal of it, that accepts people as they come.
Some interesting souvenirs
Most of the stuff up for sale at the Pattaya Floating Market is shiny and pretty, sure to catch your eyes. Crazy shoes and glamorous earrings, funky purses and dresses, Thai elephant statues and paper umbrellas, cute dolls and keychains are some of the stuff that is on offer – the same things you would come across anywhere else in Thailand too.
We didn’t really shop here, thanks to the astronomical prices for stuff we were being quoted at every stall. All we bought were some little cute souvenirs to get back home with us, which we felt were reasonably priced.
Great photo ops
Touristy, commercial and a bit filthy as the Pattaya Floating Market was, we found it fascinating nonetheless. We were charmed by this and that, and ended up walking around the market for hours on end. We took countless pictures – I think we actually went a bit crazy here taking photographs. Who can resist, considering the innumerable gorgeous photo ops available here?
Every single lane you turn into is pretty, in a quaint sort of way. You would inevitably want to capture all of that in frames! If you love photography, the floating market is definitely not something that you should miss, I say.
The wonderful Thai Cultural Village
A little makeshift village in the midst of the Pattaya Floating Market, the Thai Cultural Village offers a peak into real life in the country. There are live stations where you learn about the various types of dried food stuff available in Thailand, silk cultivation in the country, music and dance forms and, of course, Thai massage. For a first-time visitor to Thailand, this place can offer invaluable learning about the country under a single roof. Yes, quite touristy, but quite informative too if you look at it the right way.
All visitors to the Thai Cultural Village are treated to a little free-of-charge session of Thai massage. A hot cloth pouch filled with ancient Thai medicinal herbs is used, quite a common form of massage in the country. We found the massage quite relaxing and rejuvenating after our long, tiring walk around the market.
The plight of the long-necked Karen
The Karenni (also called the Karen or the Red Karen) are an ethnic minority tribe from Myanmar (Burma). They have a distinct dressing style of their own, including the wearing of several thin brass rings around their necks to make them appear long. For this reason, they are also called the Long-Necked Karen. Several hundreds of these Long-Necked Karen fled to neighbouring Thailand over the years, thanks to political unrest in their own country. As most of these Karen were illegal immigrants in Thailand, they are not official Thai citizens and opportunities for them stay limited. The Thai government has bestowed a couple of villages to the Karen (maybe considering the huge potential of these villages to become tourist attractions?), to make their own, to reside in and earn their living. These habitats of the Karen draw tourists by the horde – many interested in photographing the long-necked women and/or buying the various handicrafts that they make.
The Karen villages are quite on the outskirts of Thailand and not very easy to access – at least not with the bub in tow – so we dropped the idea of visiting them. Personally, I’m quite conflicted about wanting to visit the Karen habitats and not wanting to. We were, however, happy to note that there were stalls by a couple of the Karen in Pattaya Floating Market’s Thai Cultural Village. We dropped by, and were thrilled to interact with them (a task that was not at all easy considering their extremely limited knowledge of English). It surely felt like we had stepped into a documentary by National Geographic! They happily posed for pictures for us, too.
Everything was going fine till we came across a little wooden enclosure, not unlike a pen in a zoo. A lone Karen child was walking around, 4 or 5 years of age, calling out to passing tourists and smiling at them. Many got out their cameras to take pictures. ‘Burmese refugee child!’, our guide cried out, excitedly. At that precise moment, my heart shattered into a million pieces and I lost all interest in the place or taking any more pictures.
Too much to take in
Like many indigenous markets around the world, the Pattaya Floating Market too is a bit too much to take in in a single visit. It gets overwhelming after a while – the crowds, the touristy-ness of it, the scale of the market. We kind of zoned out after some time, a plight brought about also by the fact that it was a supremely hot day and our little daughter was getting crankier by the minute. Thankfully, there are benches laid out here and there, and we took short breaks in the midst of checking out the market, which really helped refresh us. Please do bear this in mind when you decide to visit, too. I don’t think we managed to do justice to the market, in the few hours we were there. We probably need a few more visits, a more leisurely frame of mind, and more congenial weather to do so.
Thankfully, our drive to and from the floating market, our entry tickets and boat ride had all been arranged for beforehand by our hotel – I don’t know what we would have done if this hadn’t gone as smoothly as it did. I had read a number of stories on the Internet of tourists getting scammed here and being charged an exorbitant entrance fee, and was super scared! If you plan to visit the Pattaya Floating Market, I would suggest you do so via the tourism desk at your hotel too.
I hope you enjoyed this virtual journey through the Pattaya Floating Market, and that this post offered you helpful tips to plan your visit here too! Do let me know, in your comments!