The famous Damnoen Saduak floating market, located sixty-two miles southwest of Bangkok, Thailand remains a blast from a past when river traffic was the only way to trade.
The main canal was built in 1866 by King Rama 1V to connect two rivers, but many side canals were dug by hand. Today, these twisty mazes offer vistas of beautiful temples with gold dragons adorning steps down to the water to house boats where people live and work.
There used to be markets like these across Thailand, but as roads were developed, many of them closed. Damnoen Saduak retains its history, chaos and charm.
Very early in the morning, farmers sell vegetables and fruit before a quick turnaround to ply the tourist trade in an irresistible and colorful tourist trap offering t-shirts and low-cost indigenous clothing, Buddha figures, and carved wood items with a few hidden spice dealers or local artists amongst knock-off purses.
Other sellers cook noodle soup or hot bbq inside their boats and I wondered how they kept afloat. A kaleidoscope of vendors voices join the long tail boat’s smoking engines that whine in a strange orchestra of sound as crowds thicken and jostle for space.
I bought saffron. But you need to know what color it should be (bright orange and red, not brown). A large bag would selling for $40 at home, set me back $5 US. Old spices sold cheaper–be wary. Everything is negotiable, and I suggest aiming for 50% off asking price. Cute traditional cotton pants should cost $3-$5. Fix an amount in your head and stick to it. Competition is fierce and a seller won’t let you leave without announcing their bottom line.
Close by, there is a mangrove conservation area in Khlong Khon district of Samutsongkram province. These forests grow in salt water, providing a green wall of defense against coastal erosion. The health of an ecosystem is determined by the vigor ( or lack) of the mangroves that can grow up to forty feet tall.
When fishermen noticed a depletion of harvest, a serious effort began to replant and protect this sensitive ecosystem. There are hundreds of shrimp-eating monkeys who ran after our boats looking for bananas. Some of them are cute, while others reminded me of the Witch of Oz and her army. It was fun to watch them, but be sure to keep them off your lap and watch your fingers!
The sea-side communites farm-raise fish, mussels and oysters. Some residents make shrimp paste (which is really krill) used in Thai cooking. I asked about sustainability of harvesting krill with the Arctic and Antarctic oceans warming, resulting in the reduction of the mighty protein required by all mammals, including the largest whales.
I got a confused look from the local vendor. Seems like a little education is in order for both of us. I’ve googled that there are eighty-nine known krill species and all of them should have harvesting limits.
Edible cricket farming is on the rise too, and I recently learned about a high protein cricket flour that is being exported around the world. Thai farmers make more money on this high protein commodity than in harvesting rice, sugar cane, palm sugar, or coconut sugar.