Amphawa Floating Market

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.

Getting There

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.

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The Amphawa Floating Market comes alive in the late afternoon from 3pm onwards until dark. The shops and restaurants along the sides of the canals continue business until late at night.
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Order your food from the boats and eat them along the sides of the canals. It looks quaint and smells really delicious, and I got hungry just walking pass, but the hygiene level leaves a lot to be desired. Swarms of flies were buzzing all over and any food left unattended was soon covered by a layer of flies, and don’t even mention where they wash the plates after you finished eating. Only try it if you have an iron stomach.
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I think a better choice (and more hygienic) is to eat at the restaurants lining the sides of the canals. They are clean and offer the same grilled seafood as what you see on the boats. Just expect to pay a little more, and a not so rustic experience.
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Many foot bridges connect the 2 sides of the canals and you can cross over from 1 side to another easily.
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This is the crowd on a weekend. People squeezing pass each other on the narrow walkways along the canals. I wonder if anyone has gotten pushed or accidentally fallen into the river, since there are no railings along most of the walkways.
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Besides the boats and restaurants along the banks of the canals, there are several side roads which offer more food and shopping choices. Here a sea of umbrellas shade shopkeepers and shoppers from the hot afternoon sun.
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One of the side streets selling all kinds of Thai snacks and desserts. If you are into exotic food, this is an eye opener for you.
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Amphawa is famous for their mackerel fish, and you can find many shops selling them grilled and seasoned with a teriyaki like sauce.
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A coffee shop uncle preparing Kopi Tarik. It looks so much like our Singapore coffee shops. He was preparing coffee in a small open air stall and everyone was queuing to try it. There must be something special in that coffee…

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.

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Fresh water prawns which are common in Thailand. They are usually grilled over a charcoal fire.
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Here is an oyster shooter Thai style. Put a fresh oyster on your spoon and dribble some Thai seafood chili, garlic and herbs on it. Put it in your mouth and experience the explosion of flavors.
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Thai fried fish and steamed fresh water crabs filled with roe. The crabs are somewhat like hairy crabs but much meatier. If you hate eating hairy crabs because of their lack of meat, then these crabs will be to your liking – full of roe and meat.

River Cruise

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.

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A boat ride along the canals is on a long tailed boat, similar to what you see in Bangkok. Now here is a boatman who knows how to pimp his engine.
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We started off cruising through the canals that we had walked along before. It’s a different feeling being on the boat instead of being on shore.
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There are some temples which you can hop off to visit but we only visited one. This temple was built during the Ayutthaya period (14-18th century) and has the mummified body of it’s abbot on display in the main hall.
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You can take the many boats along the canals for such site-seeing cruises. They charge THB50-60 per person or you can charter the whole boat for THB600.
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We cruised around the main island that formed from the Mae Klong River’s tributaries until sunset. We spotted a flock of herons, but they took flight when we approached.
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As night fell, swarms of fireflies gathered in the trees along the forested banks of the river. It’s really hard to capture them on camera in the dark on a rocking boat. You have to see them in real life to appreciate nature’s own little Christmas lights.

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.

Morning Alms

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.

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Dawn over Amphawa and the scene is completely different from the hustle and bustle that happens later in the day.
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Alms that have been prepared for the monks.
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The monks come in ones and twos. The villagers offer alms when the monks approach.
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A moment of solitude. I guess in a monk’s life there are many moments like this.
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Besides walking, some monks paddle their small boats to receive alms. This is something you probably won’t get to see in Bangkok.
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Receiving alms along the river, and a blessing in return.
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The monk goes on his way, back to the monastery where the collected alms will be shared with the rest of the monks and nuns. The peace and repose of the morning only lasts a couple of hours. The busy day has just begun and very soon the vendors and tourists will be taking over the river.

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.

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The tree encrusted ordination hall of Wat Bang Kung. This is really a Lara Croft moment.
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Inside the ordination hall which is really quite small. Worshippers pray and then walk clockwise around the Buddha for a blessing.
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The roots of the banyan tree has grown inside the hall in some areas. Faded Buddhist paintings on one wall reveal a sense of it’s past glory.
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Small Buddha statues and other figurines sit on the open windows.
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Catching a glimpse of the large Buddha sitting at the end of the hall through one of the windows which has been covered by tree roots.

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.

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There are many small statues of roosters all around the place. I’m not sure what is the significance of these statues.
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There are also many statues of Maui Thai fighters. I guess this is to commemorate the heroism and warrior spirit of Taksin and his soldiers, but the statues really look tacky.
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And finally a couple of old cart wheels which have been used to block off an unused well. I found this unusual scene when I was looking for the toilet.

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.

7 thoughts on “Amphawa Floating Market

  1. I can’t remember which floating market we visited when we were in Bangkok, but it was a really fascinating way to sell goods. What I didn’t like though was that the sales people would hold onto your boat until you bought something from them! Very commercialized, but also a unique experience.

      1. I agree! We did a loop through Laos, and came down through Chaing Rai and Chaing Mai. Bangkok definitely has interesting and unique pockets though. It was cool to go out to a Muay Thai match, especially because it’s something the locals do.

  2. too bad i have just visited and ate and went again to eat. Wondering at the beautiful temple, where did it hid? Pimp the engine- hahaha! never knew monks visited too. I love what you wrote. beautiful piece

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