Originally a typical market place connected by an intricate network of waterways and canals, Bangkok’s floating river market is now one of Thailand’s most famous tourist attractions. Located on the outskirts of the city, this marketplace serves as an opportunity to revive traditional methods of buying produce and household items—a portal to a pre-Westernized paradise. Due to the over-commercialization of the marketplace in recent years the beauty of the spectacle is not so much the awing arrival upon the market, but more about the journey to the final destination.
Stepping off a rickety teak dock, one must step into a traditional Thai canoe modernized with a motor as it is whisked away down a maze of watery passages much too complicated for a newcomer to try to navigate. The boat seats hovering only slightly above the waters surface alter the travelers’ perspective, forcing them to look up at the combination of Western and Eastern style houses that line the passage. This twenty-minute journey into the market place gives the individual an almost voyeuristic peak into the everyday lives of the middle-to-lower class Thai people who gravitate to the river for bathing, cooking, thirst-quenching, or simply people watching.
Due to the way in which traditional Thai houses are built, the majority of locals’ lives takes place on open porches or kitchens, which allows travels the opportunity to see saronged grandmothers cooking up a savory lunch or wringing water out of sun faded pants. In contrast with some of the more traditional tableaus, the Western influence becomes more obvious as one passes by the ruins of houses lying next to industrial complexes which pollute the water ways. I even spotted an angsty teenager through a shutterless wooden first floor, hovering over Toshiba laptop and wearing a 90’s cartoon t-shirt.
As the boat journey progresses the river becomes narrow and narrower until a bottle neck effect begins to force the neighboring boats up against your own; this signals that one is getting closer to the market place itself. Contained in the stalls lining the canal are a combination of traditional Thai dishes as well as tourist souvenirs. Small canoes containing portable grills of chicken satay and steaming bowls of rice as well as pre-sliced tropical fruits such as mangoes, papayas, lyche nuts and coconuts approach, their owners trying to make a sale while bigger shops lining the shores attempt to pull you in with tentacle like hooks. If the shimmer of a Thai silk fabric or whole market priced saffron catches your eye, you may signal to the shops proprietor encouraging them to assist you to their stall. This is not your average shopping experience: one must maneuver their boat amongst the many. This requires much patience and determination if you wish to arrive at the stall of your choice. The overwhelming gasoline smells from the multitude of engine powered vessels as well as human perspiration can be at times overwhelming.
One simple pleasure not to be missed is the largest coconut ice cream stall in the floating marketplace, a very popular dessert in Thailand due to their abundance of sweet coconuts. Unlike any creamy confection the average traveler may be privy to, this ice cream is a simple 4-ingredient concoction of boiled coconut meat, coconut milk, ice and coconut water combined together and served in a small coconut shell. While more sophisticated venues may add difference pieces of fruit or additional spices in their ice cream the simple version sold off the side of a canal speaks to the idea that sometimes less is more.
1 14-oz. can coconut milk
1 cup milk
⅓ cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
½ cup sugar
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (optional)
1. Bring coconut milk, milk, cream, coconut, sugar, and salt to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for 1 hour. Stir in vanilla; cover with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface of the custard. Chill custard completely.
2. Pour custard into an ice cream maker, and process according to manufacturer's instructions until churned and thick or beat with a mixer than freeze for 4 hours, repeat this process 3 times.
3. Transfer to an airtight storage container; freeze until set, at least 4 hours.
by Ariela Brody '16