Amphawa is the second most popular floating market near Bangkok, not as large as Damnoen Saduak but more authentic, with visitors almost exclusively Thai. Located 50 km from Bangkok this once small village was apparently already present in the mid-Seventeenth Century. It has become such a magnet for Thai weekenders that food stalls have grown from the riverbanks and stretched far into the surrounding streets.
The main draw is of course eating seafood grilled procariously on wooden boats moored around the famous central bridge, serving an appetizing array of huge prawns, shellfish and squid. From noon until late in the evening, the smell is simply irresistible and customers flock to each side of the river all day long.
Seafood prices are what you would expect at floating markets: according to weight, but to give you an idea, five large prawns usually cost 300 baht. Customers perch on rows of narrow steps leading down to the water and food is brought directly from the boats onto really tiny tables. If you don't feel like sitting on a concrete ledge very close to brownish waters, walk a bit further from the bridge to find restaurants with real tables and chairs. Even better, try to get a seat on the balcony of the restaurant next to the bridge, it's the only one around but you might have to wait a bit or come early. The nicest and most quiet restaurant is located at the very end of the broadwalk where the canal meets the Mae Khlong River.
All along each side of the canal, old charming wooden shops sell Amphawa souvenirs, from the obvious T-shirt to some more interesting creations, and of course lots of sweets, snacks and ice cream - Thai people have a very sweet tooth and a passion for nibbling all day. In all streets radiating from the market you can find an incredible array of local food sold from small carts during the weekend only. Most food looks familiar but some really look unusual or even funny, from ice cream sandwiches to alien-looking helmet crab egg salad (Yum Magda Talay).
Once you have had enough walking (or trying to walk) around Amphawa, it's time to take one of the many longtail boats and explore the surrounding canals and rivers. It's not as impressive as the Bangkok Khlongs but it's always good fun, and after the heat of the market the breeze from the river is a welcome relief. Two tours are available from the many counters found around the bridge: the temple tour and the island tour. Both usually coast 50 baht per person for joined tours and 500 baht for a private boat. 50 baht appears cheap but the tour last a lot longer as the boat has to wait to be full to leave then wait for all passengers at each stop.
On the other side of the Mae Khlong River, Amphawa hides a very surprising temple called Wat Bang Koong, which you definitely shouldn't miss if you came all the way from Bangkok. The boat takes you first to a couple of temples, that are rather small but each have their own personality, such as surprisingly large golden seated buddhas, tall chedis and even small museum houses. It's not all that impressive but it's a good change from the crowds at Amphawa.
The true highlight of the cruise is Wat Bang Koong... built in the middle of nowhere, this temple alone is worth the trip to Amphawa. Of course kids and teenagers love the wacky mini zoo set on the temple grounds - a camel, an ostrich, a dozen deer and a group of boars, a couple of naughty goats and two beautiful peacocks happily doing what they do best: parading around and showing off their colourful feathers to ecstactic photographers.
It's hard to believe but some people come all the way here and miss entirely the magnificent temple located a hundred metres from the river... Just like a scene taken directly out of an Indiana Jones movie, a whole temple entangled in the roots of an immense tree, similar to what you see around Angkor wat, but not just partially covered but litterally swallowed. Only the door and the six windows are free from roots. The temple is not abandoned nor neglected, far from that... a queue of devotees are permanently walking in and out to pay respect to the golden Buddha seated inside the temple.
Amphawa is definitely the most attractive of all floating markets, having retained its authenticity and not yet on every tourist map. But Bangkokians love this place so much, that past noon it becomes impossible to walk. The best way to enjoy Amphawa is to come before 10:00 and leave soon after lunch.
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