Southeast Asia, Day 7: Taling Chan Floating Market

Sunday, March 25th, 2018
Taling Chan market

I was so glad that “early” in Nicole’s opinion was not before nine. However, she was being smart about the sort of late yet still early morning. When she went to the weekend market the other day, she arrived right when it was scheduled to open, and everything was still being set up, so things didn’t get into full swing until she was there for about an hour. She didn’t want to make the same mistake twice.

The floating market was scheduled to open at 8am. She originally thought 8:30 would be a good time to head out, but in the end we left around 9:30, which was perfectly fine. It gave Nicole the extra time she needed to pack up, and the extra time for me to learn from Jeremy, an American guest at the hostel, that the internet wasn’t working for any and all non-Apple products. So, problem detected… but not quite solved. Grr.

Nicole, Sarah and I headed out to the Taling Chan floating market. Nicole suggested we not go to the typical tourist destination, which was the Damnern Saduak floating market, since it would be massively crowded and it was nearly an hour cab ride away. It’s large, so that’s why tourists enjoy it, but the one we were going to was closer to the city center and attended by more locals, so it seemed like a winner.

We hopped in an Uber and went off to the market, which was only about a 30 minute drive away, if that. We pulled up to a gorgeous temple and the driver dropped us off at a gate labeled “Song Klong floating market.” We stepped inside, and despite it nearing ten, vendors were still setting up. It was a market mostly selling food, so vendors were gently placing pastries under plastic dome displays and others were firing up woks and lining up bottles of sauces on either side of their carts. However, some food was already out, and ranged from pad Thai to cakes to mini sweet pancakes to teas.

The market offered a 1000 baht river boat ride, which was very steep to what we were expecting. We wandered around some more, and at the far end of the market, there were a dozen elderly women taking a craft class where they were making clay flowers. They were first meticulously gluing tiny stems together to form the inside of the flower, then gently rolling a soft clay into petals, using small rods to curve and smooth the petals before forming them along the stem base. It seemed like so much fun, and they looked like they were having a great time.

Nicole bought some “sweet egg balls” after we watched them being made, which involved a man scooping up a bright orange batter with his fingers and flinging it into a large pan of what looked like boiling oil. When we ate them, though, it appeared that perhaps that oil was just sugar water, because these moist little dumplings were beyond sweet and really did taste like they were boiled in sugar water.

I grabbed a milk tea and we sat at a bamboo table beside the water to regroup. This market was small, and it technically wasn’t a floating market. It was more of a market that sat beside the water with boats that ran to nearby markets. Sarah and Nicole looked at maps on their phones and noticed there was another floating market just south of us called the Taling Chan floating market. We deduced that the cab driver maybe scammed us, sending us here so we’d pay for a 1000 baht drive to the more popular market. Since that was only a short walk away, we decided to go by foot.

We stopped in a 7/11 first to grab some water, as the heat of the day was growing. I considered buying sunscreen, but here in Asia, it’s nearly impossible to find a body product or lotion that isn’t “whitening,” as the Asians treasure their light skin. I guess whitening sunscreen would be nice if you developed odd tan lines, but otherwise I really didn’t need to look whiter than I already am, and I was also generally concerned about a product not just claiming to protect me from the sun, but to also tweak my skin color. Despite the low prices (only three dollars for a 100ml bottle of brand-name sunscreen!), I passed.

We walked onward to the Taling Chan market and it became immediately clear that this is where we intended to go, and indeed the driver dropped us at the wrong place. He even passed the entrance on the way to dropping us off, which was frustrating.

Near the entrance, vendors sold wooden goods out of local teak, as well as ornamental home d├ęcor and clothes. As we entered, loads of vendors appeared to sell garden items, such as seeds and pots and small plants, which contributed to the exotic, lush vibe. I stopped and looked for an extraordinarily long time at a table filled with essential oils but in the end decided it was best to just refrain.

Then we started seeing food vendors. There were peanut candies, dumplings, fried fish, fresh fruit, juices, and things I couldn’t even tell you the name of. There was sweet rice wrapped in green leaves and stuck on a skewer. There were mini fried eggs in a bowl made out of a leaf.

We went further in, and there was live, local Thai music played by a band in a small pavilion, and beside it was a stand selling tickets for a boat ride up and down the canal for a mere 200 baht, a much more affordable option than the last one offered. Through the music pavilion we saw a glimpse of the water, and we excitedly walked through the small crowds around the side and witnessed it: the floating market.

Inside the water, there were a handful of long boats with a single person in each who was cooking up some sort of dish. One woman was grilling prawns. Another woman was mixing up noodle dishes, pulling sprouts and carrots and onions from individual bowls into one large bowl before stirring it up and throwing it on a plate for a customer.

Fish thrashed about when guests tossed food scraps in the water, and one boat captain shouted something in Thai and pointed to the edge of a boat, indicating he wanted people to look. Where he was pointing was a giant lizard swimming in the water, possibly a crocodile.

Despite the crowds, it was manageable, and Nicole and I jokingly commented how this was pretty calm compared to the chaos of Bangkok.

After eating dumplings and fruits and noodles and other exotic bites, we grew tired and decided to head out. We hailed a cab back to the hostel.

I rearranged my things and freshened up, and in the mean time met an American couple named Jeremy and Meghan,who were heading to the weekend market today.

I wanted to return as well, so I followed them on their more adventurous route via the boats to the train.

We walked to the canal, where we all took the boat ferry for a mere nine baht to the train station. It was an entertaining experience, with the loudest engine known to mankind. However, this boat had far more life jackets than any Vanuatu ferry ever has had, so I was impressed. I was also entertained by how the ticket collector would balance standing on the edge of the boat with reaching into his fanny pack to give you your ticket and change.

Once we arrived at the market, we parted ways, as this was too massive of a place to stay together. I wandered around, purchasing fabric as a souvenir for my friends back in Vanuatu, as well as some cool Thai boxing shorts because… why not. A guide book I rear said you should never buy the first item you see in Bangkok because you’re guaranteed to see it again and for cheaper. Despite having asked prices and shopping around for those shorts and getting them for a mere 300 baht, I of course kept seeing it for cheaper and cheaper, so it was just too depressing to keep asking after a certain point.

I was so mentally exhausted. So many sights, so many vendors shouting for my attention. I wanted some rest, and as the market was drawing to a close at six, I sought out one of the few massage parlors that was open. They had air conditioning, WiFi, and cheap massages, so I went in to check my email briefly before sinking into the peaceful atmosphere than comes with a six-dollar, hour-long foot and shoulder massage.

I was so dazed heading out of there. After exiting any sort of massage, you’re tired and relaxed, but here it was even weirder because I was just so tired and my brain could not handle everything was throwing at it. I put some mental blinders on as I made a beeline to the train, taking it as close as I could to my hostel, which is still quite far. From National Stadium, I took a slightly overpriced tuktuk just because I was too tired to negotiate and I wanted the experience of riding in one.

Once back at the hostel, I met some new guys in my room, some young Dutch boys named Sil and Myrden. This was their last night in town, but they weren’t planning to go crazy as they were part of the five boy crew that Sarah joined last night until 4am on Kao San Road. Despite this, they still joined me in a quest for cheap dinner on Kao San road. I got spring rolls and a strawberry smoothie for a total of two dollars. We wandered around, people watching as the boys strongly resisted the urge to get a drink, as they knew it would lead to more and more…and they had to be at the train at 8am tomorrow.

It was a gorgeous night, and they were friendly company. We returned to the hostel where we met up with Lea and went to the rooftop for some card games and Jenga for a couple hours. The speakers on the roof have an open Bluetooth, so anyone can just bring their phone and hook up to it with ease. Myrden DJ’d for us with a nice blend of music that was catchy but nothing too obtrusive. Sarah was on the roof as well, and it was cute to hear these young’ns talk about how they couldn’t spend too much time on Kao San Road because they sometime check ID, as the drinking age in Thailand is twenty. Clearly Lea had not been to the bar that Nicole and I encountered the other night, the one with the giant sign reading “WE DO NOT CHECK ID.”

It was fun, though, and since the hostel sells beer in the lobby, the kids could get buzzed as they wished. We ran out to 7/11 for some late night snacks and ice cream before heading back to the hostel. I stayed with the boys as they hurriedly looked on their phones to book a hostel for Chang Mai. It was their first ever backpacking trip, and it was fun to hear their perspective and excitement in their new journey. Eventually we headed up and went to bed. Tomorrow will be my last full day here in Bangkok, but I don’t have anything planned, so I’m curious to know how I’ll spend it.