Both sides of the road to Tha Kha and Amphawa floating markets provide opportunities to observe the old way of Thai living, traditional houses, green fields, and farms.
A small bonus for being a little ahead of the schedule was a stop at one of the hundreds of salt fields lining the road. Samut Songkram is a few kilometers from the Gulf of Thailand. As a consequence, salt provides another of its main incomes besides floating market tourism. Unlike rock salt produced in other parts of Thailand, the salt in Samut Songkram contains iodine. Spending about 10-15 minutes here, you’ll get to see the process of salt’s production. Packages of salt were also available at a cheap price.
Mae Klong Markets
08:20 Only an hour and a half drive from Bangkok, we arrived at the fresh market in Mae Klong. The market is the biggest one in Samut Songkram, though it still features a warm and calm atmosphere. Here, there are numerous stalls selling fresh fish and meats, vegetables, traditional Thai sweets, spices and spicy curry pastes.
What attracts tourists to visit this unique market is that the vendors here place their merchandise right next to the railway. Every morning, around 08:30 the train approaches the Mae Klong station. Vendors quickly dismantle their stalls and umbrellas so that the train can pass. Then, like magic, everything is put back into the same spot as soon as it is gone.
If you want to capture a photograph of the tumultuous moment as the train passes though the market, please be very careful as the train runs quite rapidly. A quick glimpse through the camera lens might look like the train is a hundred metres away, but in fact it’s right in front of you.
Tha Kha Floating Market and Palm Sugar Village
09:30 Originally, the Tha Kha floating market only opened six or seven days each month depending on the phase of the moon. Nowadays, the trade also takes place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With smaller amounts of visitors and its natural canopy surrounding, The Tha Kha is still protected from the commercial onslaught its neighboring floating markets experience.
There were a number of elderly Thais in their rowboats, selling fruit, vegetables, local food, and delicious sweets. The main buyers here are the Tha Kha natives (also in rowboats). People here seemed to know each other very well. Everyone was smiling and calling each other by name. The locals did not seem to notice us, which was great as we got to see an original floating market where locals trade with each other, not set up specialy for tourists. Although there was not much for us to buy, the food was worth trying. I had Pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles) traditionally served in a bowl made from banana leaf and Kanom Krok (coconut pancakes). They were sweet!
After a short stroll and some small talk with some friendly vendors and locals, we embarked on a rowboat ride to a family’s home to observe the production of palm sugar. The workers on site showed us how the palm sugar is extracted from the sap of coconut flowers. Huge woks bubbled over a blazing furnace, and the result was crumbly and coarse with a distinct caramel flavour. Also, we got to taste the fresh palm sugar hot off the furnace.
Benjarong House and Museum
11:15 After a relaxing journey along the tranquil canal from the sugar palm production site, we got back in the van and headed to the Benjarong House and Museum. The museum displays a stunning collection of ceramics enameled with five primary colours. All pieces are carefully made and hand painted. Luckily, we were allowed to get a closer look as the skilled artisans carefully applied each colour on the different objects.
Surprisingly, it takes three days to complete a Benjarong pot! Without question, if you would like to have your own design on a beautifully painted Benjarong it might take up to six months due to the long waiting list. However, if you particularly like the work and would like to buy some for home decoration or as a souvenir, some items on display at the entrance are available for sale.
12:00 We spent less than an hour exploring the house and museum until it was lunchtime. Approximately a ten-minute drive took us to Bann Amphawa Resort & Spa. An ideal hideaway resort set in a natural environment. Due to the enormous size of the resort and its excellent services, we were taken from the lobby to the riverside restaurant by golf cart.
At Saban - Gna Restaurant, the staff members served us nine seafood dishes. All were beautifully fresh and scrumptious. Highlights were: spicy prawns, seafood salad with cashew nuts, sweet and sour fish, stir-fried veggies with shellfish, and of course, the famous tom yam kung – all served with rice. After we filled up with all the delicacies, our dessert was a selection of fresh fruit complemented with choices of coffee, tea, and fruit juice.
A Boat Trip to Wat Bang Kung
13:15 After lunch a motorized long-tail boat picked us up and we set off on the Tha Chin River. Our boat's captain was very friendly. He would shut off the engine from time to time to tell us the history of the area and folktales as we passed important landmarks. As for the river itself, Tha Chin is where an English merchant discovered the famous Chang and Eng while swimming. The conjoined twin brothers then were exhibited around the world and later became known as ‘Siamese Twins’. A few more interesting tales were told as we passed local houses on the river's banks. Before we knew it, we had arrived back at our original destination that afternoon, Bang Kung Temple.
Dating back over 200 years from the reign of King Taksin, Bang Kung Temple was an army garrison where Thai soldiers resisted the invading Burmese. Here, a Banyan tree's limbs have literally swallowed up the original structure, giving the raised Buddha shrine inside an added aura of sacredness. This is on the 'Unseen Sights in Thailand' list. Within the temple area is a memorial to the greatest Muay Thai fighter ‘Nai Kanom Tom’. Statues demonstrated over 40 Thai boxing maneuvers. Before we left, we fed some shockingly large fish. They have obviously been well taken care of by visitors.
Amphawa Floating Market
15:00 Sometime later, we arrived at Amphawa Floating Market. It was livelier than the Tha Kha we visited earlier. Vendors were selling homemade food and pastries in the canal. Also, many of the houses lining the canals were doubling as shops, restaurants, and a couple of home-stays. We hopped off the boat and joined the slow-moving crowds and what came as a surprise to me was that I did not spot as many foreign tourists as can be seen at the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market from my previous trip.
Souvenirs and postcards were fairly cheap and bargaining skills are not necessary for shoppers here. If you have more time and fancy a private tour, ask your guide to arrange a Firefly Tour, a boat trip after dusk taking you to see thousands of lightning bugs illuminated in the dark. Be sure to bring some snacks and a drink as the trip is usually longer than an hour.
Before departing back to Bangkok, we waited for our van at a local coffee shop. The sweetness of the condensed milk added to traditional Thai coffee energized us all after an adventurous day.