This weekend I went on a two-day trip to Amphawa Floating Market in Samut Songkhram. This is less than 90 minutes from Bangkok. People go there as a day trip at the weekend, but I think its better to spend a night in one of the many homestays. My starting point was the British Embassy on Ploenchit Road as the ambassador and his wife also came on the trip. This is a Google Map of all the places that we visited on the trip plus some more. These are some of the pictures that I tweeted on @RichardBarrow during the trip. The ambassador also tweeted on @KentBKK.
Our first stop was to see the swimming monkeys in Khlong Khon (see map). You can catch a songteaw to Wat Khlong Khon from the market in Samut Songkhram. There is a pier in the temple car park where you can rent boats for about 700 Baht. You can buy some food for the monkeys here. Some peanuts are a good idea as they float on the water unlike the bananas. We headed out towards the sea with mangroves on either side. At several points we stopped so that monkeys could come swimming out to our boat. All great fun.
Our second stop was the Market on the Railway Tracks in Samut Songkhram (see map). These trains never seem to keep to the schedule any more. So it is best when you arrive to go to the station first to see what the time of the next train is or ask a market vendor. We had 45 minutes to wait and so went and had lunch first. A few minutes before the train is due to arrive there is an announcement on the tannoy and all the market vendors pull back the awnings. The tables are on rollers and just push back. Trains come through here eight times per day.
Our next stop was at Wat Bang Kaphom (see map) which is on the way to Amphawa. This old temple dates back to the late Ayutthaya period. The entrance to the old wihan is guarded but what looks like two soldiers. The gable above the door depics the images of two Europeans with one of them sitting on a chair. Inside it is just as interesting. In the center there is a replica of four superimposing Buddha’s footprints. Around the walls there are stucco reliefs depicting the Lord Buddha’s life.
We arrived at our fourth step by mid afternoon. Amphawa is a weekend market only from Friday to Sunday (see map). It kicks off at about 3pm or so and starts to shut down by about 9pm. You could go there just for the food, but there are also plenty of shops selling quality handicrafts. Most shops are unique and you won’t see elsewhere. From the market you can join a five temple boat tour which is mainly of interest to Thais wanting to make merit. During the week this place is very quiet.
We stayed the night at Ban Mae Arom Homestay (see map). There are quite a few homestays in Amphawa and they are all as good as each other. However, I prefer the ones at the far end of the market as they are a little quieter and they have their own exclusive veranda on the riverfront. Most homestays these days seem to be at least 1,000 Baht per night. The room we stayed in was 1,200 Baht and was pretty basic with a shared bathroom. During the week it is nearly half price.
During the evening we booked ourselves to go on a firefly tour. This cost only 60 Baht per person and they came and picked us up at our homestay. The first few groups that we passed seemed more like cheap Christmas trees flashing in synch. To be honest, I thought that they were fake lights. However, later on we were able to get close to some trees where we could actually see them flying around. They are not easy to photograph but I did manage to get this one.
A highlight for people staying at a homestay are the monks that row pass early in the morning to collect alms. You have to get up at 6am but as they rowed right pass the homestay we didn’t have to go far. And anyway, there was always the option of going back to bed. Once other guests had finished making merit they then called to passing food vendors so that they could have some freshly cooked breakfast. The first one that came had red pork on rice. Another had pad thai.
We decided not to have breakfast at the homestay, but drive the short distance to Tha Kha Floating Market (see map). This is an authentic floating market and you will see them selling both fruit and vegetables as well as cooking some delicious meals. I love it here as it is much quieter than Amphawa and more laid back. The majority of tourists here are Thais but you do see foreigners arrive now on tours. You can join boat tours by paying 200 Baht per boat. A nice quiet paddle around the orchards.
Our next stop was Damnoen Saduak Floating Market (see map). We only went here out of interest to compare an authentic market with one that was created for foreign tourists. The first difference was obvious. The main canal through the market was one big traffic jam of boats. And not just paddle boats. There were many boats with massive engines. Then there were the souvenir stalls. All of them selling virtually the same things as other locations around Thailand. Boat hire here is also very expensive. No, thank you. We didn’t stay long.
Our next stop was back at the Mae Klong river that runs out into the Gulf of Thailand. Here we visited the Church of the Virgin May (see map). This church was built by a French missionary back in 1890. They had a big event going on when we arrived and so we were lucky to be able to observe the Thai people worshiping in a Christian church. The interior design of the church is also very beautiful. It’s always strange to see a building and setting that is so European here in Thailand.
Our next stop in the afternoon was to see what was once listed as “Unseen Thailand”. This is the ordination hall at Wat Bang Kung (see map). Following the defeat of Ayutthaya in 1767, King Taksin moved his naval forces to the district of Bang Kung. The highlight here is the chapel that has now been completely taken over by four different species of ficus plants. It certainly makes for some great photos. Though due to its popularity these days, it is not easy to get a clear shot.
Our final stop was to pay homage to the memorial set up for the Siamese Twins (see map). This is literally in the middle of nowhere and is maybe not really worth the detour. The statue was built in the memory of Chang-Eng the Siamese twins who made Thailand famous around the world. They were born here in Samut Songkhram in 1811. They were later spotted by some foreigners who took them to the UK and America. They later married and had children. They died at the age of 63. There is a museum here but it looks like all exhibit have been removed and the place is now very neglected.