Continuing on my series of blogs on Samut Songkhram, this is about Amphawa, a rather small but well known town on the mouth of the Mae Klong River. If the over commercialized floating markets in Bangkok have made you feel jaded, then the rustic and authentic wooden houses and canal side shops here may be your thing.
Amphawa has been a thriving market since the 17th century and continues to be till this day, although it has succumbed somewhat to commercialization. However, it still retains it’s small town charm and the weekend floating market is something different from the other floating markets in Thailand.
As mentioned in my previous blog on Mae Klong, getting to Amphawa is usually by mini-bus from Victory Monument in Bangkok. Or you can take the train from Bangkok to Mae Klong (which is a small adventure in itself) and then catch a songthaew or public bus to Amphawa.
Most tourists that come to Amphawa are local Thai day trippers from Bangkok, although there are also many Asian tourists coming here. I didn’t see many western tourists when I was there and I guess this place hasn’t featured much on the radars of Westerners yet. The peak period is during the weekends starting from Friday until Sunday when the floating market is on.
There are several local hotels along the sides of the canals allowing their guests direct access to the canals and a chance to experience life along the canals. However, these are usually fully booked by locals for the weekends, so you would probably need to make reservations in advance, instead of arriving and then start trying to look for a place to stay. There are also homestays that let you live with their owners along the canals.
Amphawa Floating Market
This is very different from other floating markets in that most of the boats are selling food to visitors on the banks of the canals, and it only starts operating from 2pm onwards instead of the early morning. Think of it as a floating hawker center. The boats sell mainly seafood and you can order all kinds of grilled prawns, crabs, squid, fish and clams. Of course the famous Thai boat noodles are also sold here. The shops along the canal banks mostly sell food or are restaurants. There are also numerous souvenir shops selling Thai handicrafts and what seems to be the rage is retro stuff from the 60’s and 70’s like artwork, knick-knacks, old CD’s, postcards.
I didn’t come all the way to just take photos and sight see. Samut Songkhram is famous for their seafood and there is nowhere better to try it then in Amphawa.
So besides stuffing your face with seafood, there are some other things to do when in Amphawa. One of these is to take a boat ride along the canals and visit a couple of temples. Or combine this with an evening cruise and catch a glimpse of fireflies as they light up the forests that line the Mae Klong River banks.
After viewing the fireflies, the boatman will drop you off back in Amphawa where you got onto the boat. A sunset cruise with temple visit and fireflies viewing typically takes about 2 hours.
Most of the visitors to Amphawa are day trippers from Bangkok and they usually leave after dinner. However, if you have time, stay a night to see and experience monks coming round in the early morning to receive alms from the villagers.
You have to be up really early as the monks come around 6am. The villagers and some of the Thai visitors would have prepared their alms much earlier while waiting for the monks.
Wat Bang Kung
There are several temples around Amphawa and Samut Songkhram but none are as unique as Wat Bang Kung or commonly referred to as Bang Kung Camp. If you have been intrigued by tree covered temple ruins in Cambodia, then this temple is really your thing. The temple is really just a stone hall, but it has been overgrown and covered by a huge banyan tree over the centuries until now you can barely see the structure of the hall.
This temple has a long and violent history. In 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in the north fell to the Burmese army. The Siamese retreated from Ayutthaya to Wat Bang Kung in the south and built a naval fort (Bang Kung Camp) which held out against the Burmese. Despite the Burmese army blockading the Mae Klong River mouth and laying siege to Wat Bang Kung, the Siamese general Taksin gathered thousands of Chinese soldiers and managed to defend and prevent the Burmese from capturing Wat Bang Kung. The Burmese finally retreated in 1768 and Taksin was made King after that.
After the Burmese retreat, the Siamese moved back to Ayutthaya and Wat Bang Kung was left forgotten for centuries, overgrown by the banyan tree. In 1967, the Thai government restored the temple and built a memorial for Taksin and the Chinese soldiers that fought here.
So Amphawa is really worth more than a day trip from Bangkok and with Mae Klong Railway Market included it’s definitely worth your while. If you are going to Bangkok next time and can spare a weekend, instead of spending time in another shopping center, how about taking a side trip to discover something new?
In my next and last blog on Samut Songkhram I will feature the highlight of this trip which was to sail out to the Gulf of Thailand for whale watching. What? Don’t you have to travel thousands of miles to some arctic place to see whales? You might think. This is something that very few people know, that you can actually see whales literally just 2 hours flight time from Singapore, so tune in.