For many people a trip to Bangkok includes a visit to a floating market but deciding which one can to visit can be a difficult choice. We have visited several and think each has its own reasons to visit them so we have posted our thoughts to help decide. If time permits why not visit all of them? All are fantastic destinations for both your appetite and your camera.
By far the most known floating market is Damnoen Saduak, located in Ratchaburi, about two hours drive from Bangkok.
This iconic market is major destination for tourists (often on their way to Kanchanaburi)which means big crowds and added chaos to the already congested waterway.
Get aboard a flat-bottomed boat to get amongst it all - the insane tight squeezes (how do they do it?), perfectly balanced piles of produce, constant noise and absurd prices - this is still a great place to visit despite the crowds.
Taling Chan is a market on the Chakphra Klong (across from the Taling Chan District Office). Open only on the weekends from about 9am through to late afternoon. Partly on the water on the market on the land, this is an easily accessible market to get up close to all the mouthwatering sights and smells.
The market is only about 20 year old (built to mark the current King's 60th birthday) it was designed to capture the old way of Thai culture where locals used the waterways for commerce, transport and living. It has a much more low-key feel than Damnoen but this won't last for long so get there before the tourist buses come. Having said that, it is still a lively place to visit and some things sold here include flowers, fruit, vegetables, trinkets, animals and plants.
Like most places in Thailand come with an empty stomach because with all this food floating by you will build up a big appetite for the wealth of dishes that are cooked straight from the boats on either side of the pier. Before heading back to Bangkok there is a chance to see Thai classical dance performances too.
Ampawa district is in Samut Songkram and only 90 mins from Bangkok. You visit here for more than just a market experience.
It consists of over 300 canals feeding off the Mae Klong River. Around Ampawa, the streets are narrow and most houses open onto the canal side. Of all the canals areas we have visited the water here was the cleanest despite the daily usage the canals get for all manner of business and leisure activities.
Ampawa has its own floating market which takes place from Friday through to Sunday, however unlike other more popular floating markets it comes alive in the afternoon (from around 3pm on). Predominately food, the opportunity to taste local produce should not be missed so make sure you take your time and an empty stomach.
But the floating market is not the only reason to visit. By night a boat trip along the Mae Klong reveals an amazing light show as the abundant fireflies swarm amongst the trees along the river bank. If I had not seen it for myself I would not have believed that the fireflies could flash in harmony just like a Christmas tree would. The hundreds of yellow flashes make for a wonderful photo opportunity.
There are also quite a few temples that are worth a visit such as Wat Bangkae and Wat Bang Kung. This latter one has a small room that has become encased in the roots of a Banyan Tree (similar to the Buddha head at Wat Mahathat in Authaya). Inside a beautiful gold Buddha and from some angles you can hardly see the Wat enclosure.
With so much to experience in Ampawa it is well worth an overnight visit so we recommend arranging a home stay through a local tour operator or just asking the locals once you get there.
If getting waterborne to visit have food experiences is your thing then consider this ecotourism destination - Khlong Mahasawat, a canal in Nakhon Pathom Province.
This is a hands on experience where you get to taste the local fresh fruit direct from an orchard, pick lotus flowers from ponds, learn how rice crackers are made,and contribute to the local economy. We came upon this after a tip off from Fee's dad who is an Agronomist.
Created through an joint initiative between the local community, the Department of Agricultural and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, this agri-tour won top honours at the Thailand Tourism Awards 2007.
Khlong Mahasawat is an hour's drive from Bangkok meaning you can complete the tour is around half a day. Travel by road or train to Wat Suwannaram where you then hire a boat(expect to pay 300 baht/ boat). We were met at the Wat and did the following tour for about 60 baht.
The first place you visit is a lotus farm where you can see the different types of Thai lotus along with learning how they are used in ceremonies. Make sure you ask to try picking some (unfortunately they won't let you do it like they do) and be sure to buy some too(a bunch of 20 for less then a dollar).
Next stop a food processing plant that specialises in khao tang, a rice cracker with assorted sweet toppings. The women here show you how to it is made using rough rice ('unpolished') and they taste great! Choose from two types one with sesame seeds and the other with shredded pork.
Next is an orchard that is abundant in organically grown mango, pomelo, jack fruit, banana, and lots of other fruits we had never seen before (I don't each much fruit but Fiona was in heaven). Take the farm truck (about 40 Baht) to tour the orchard, despite its noise and lack of shock absorbers it is worth the discomfort to beat the heat and take in all the views. At the end of the tour you are in for a special treat with a range of delicacies made from the farm's produce - jack fruit, sweet and sour mango, pickled mango, and Thai desserts such as khanom phing (tastes sweet and coconut like) - all to sample for...what for it - free!
Last stop on the tour is an orchid farm where you can see and buy orchids cheaply. This is a great photo opportunity.
Thailand has many beautiful birds but none would be more famous than this bird...
Thongchai 'Bird' McIntyre a Thai pop singer, actor and celebrity.
Half Scotish and half Thai, Bird is a household superstar in the hearts of many Thais no matter what their age. Thai people usually call him "Pi Bird" ("pi" means older brother in Thai language). Many people also call him "Bird Thongchai" or "Bird Mcintyre". Whatever people call him, he simply likes to be called "Bird". Bird (or 'Nok' in Thai) is a popular Thai nickname, in fact Ben's Thai tutor's name is Nok as are many of our Thai friends which can be difficult when we are hanging out with them all.
We first came to know Bird through visiting karaoke bars with our Thai friends in Koh Samui and before too long we were hooked too! With ageless looks and catchy Thai tunes that are easy to sing along to it helped us learn Thai language. Fiona has been known to sing along with hairbrush in hand - which has the Thais rolling in laughter (I won't tell you how many of his cds and vdo she has!).
With a string of hits and mutliple albums some of his best known songs are Prik Kee Noo (bird chilli) , Boomerang and Kob Jai Jing Jing (Thank you truly). Two of our favourites are Sabai Sabai and Fan Ja (with Jintara, Nat Myria and Katreeya).
Whenever he makes an appearance, people will do anything just to get a glimpse - his popularity keeps growing regardless of time. Tickets to his concerts always sell out but we were lucky enough to see him perform once at the Impact Arena - it was an eyeopening event with people crying and screaming. As one of the few westerners there, it was a fantastic night out and the Thais around made us feel part of the drama of it all. Check out a vdo clip of Bird here.
As the Ultimate Thailand Explorers we won't just cover the sites of Bangkok but will will also cover the sounds too! From daily photos, vlogs and tweets you will be sure to see that Bangkok - is Asia's coolest city!
Hoi An, on Vietnam's central coast, has a lot to offer and it is easy to see why thousands of tourists come each year to this UNESCO listed world heritage site. Boasting great food, famous tailors, serene beaches and cultural sites, it is worth at least 48 hours in this great town.
The centre of town, or the Old Quarter, has many charming streets to explore on foot. Highlights include:
SITES The Japanese Bridge constructed in the 16th century. The Cantonese Asssembly Hall built in 1885 for congressional meetings. The two beaches, Cua Dai (a 15 min bike ride) and An Bang.
FOOD Hoi An's specialtiy dish 'Cao Lau' made up of thick round noodles, sliced pork, rice cake, corriander, herbs anda soy based sauce.
Another signature dish is the 'White Rose' which is a type of shrimp dumpling made from translucent white dough bunched up to look like a rose. Best place to try these is at 22 Nguyen Hue.
Our other favourite restaurants are:
Mango Rooms - a fantastic Vietnamese fusion menu (11 Nguyen Thai Hoc) White Marble - a dedicated wine bar with lively atmosphere (98 Le Loi) River Lounge Restaurant - just across the river is this prime eating spot. European vibe with superb Asian menu by Michelin-star Austrian chef (35 Nguyen Phuc Chu)
TAILORS With over 400 tailors to choose from, it pays to shop around for the best range and price. Expect to pay ~$50 USD for a well made suit, $10 business shirts and from $20 for a dress. Whilst items can be made in 24hrs, it is wise to allow more time for any alterations to be made. Some recommendatios include Thang Loi (41 Le Loi),and B'Lan (23 Tran Phu).
ACCOMMODATION We stayed at the colonial styled Life Resort (1 Pham Hong Thai). With beautiful surroundings and comfortable rooms matched with excellent service. Central and affordable.
To help in the preservation of this old town, tourists are required to purchase a ticket (75,000 VDN per person) which gives access to the Japanese Bridge, an assembly hall, an old house, Hoi An handicraft workshop and museum.
We would suggest spending the day cycling around this town and spending time on the beaches and taking in the unique charm. By night, motorbikes are banned between 7:30-9pm (also 7-11am; 2-5pm)in the old quarter which makes for an opportune time to wander around the lantern lit streets, soak up the atmosphere and try some local cuisine.
Ho Chi Minh or Saigon as the locals prefer to call it, is a bustling and hectic Asian capital. With a population of 7 million and an estimated 5 million motorbikes there are moments when crossing the road becomes an adventure in it self.
Spread over 10 districts that cross the Saigon river, the city has a mix of both old world charm and new world comforts, typical of an emerging Asian business hub. District 1 is by far the most popular area for tourists and expats alike. Here you can find many of the top end hotels, shops and tourist attractions.
Iconic tourist sites include the Reunification Place, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Opera House and numerous pagodas. As in most places in Vietnam sites dedicated the country's war time history feature heavily. One such place is the War Remanants Museum. This confronting and at times disturbing account of the Vietnam war is best visited after other war related places such as Cu Chi.
By day you can stroll through many of the city's well maintained parks or explore some of the art galleries around town such as Zen Gallery. Zig-zag your way through the famous Ben Thanh market where you will find anything from lacquer-ware to fresh fish to fake designer clothing. Nearby you can slurp down some Pho Bo (beef noodle soup) for less then 20,000 dong or a little over $1USD.
Boutiques abound but be warned, Viet fashion is renowned for bright gawdy colours/sequins or downbeat pyjamas! So head for places such as Geisha (43 Ton That Thiep, Dist 1) for the latest euroasian fashion. If you are hunting for some communist inspired goods then downstairs at Geisha you will find a range of authentic dogma posters and fashion items.
By night head to the rooftop bar of the Caravelle Hotel (Dist 1) for sunset views over the city and the outer districts. For more rooftop views seek out the hard to find Casbah (51 Nguyen Du, Dist 1). Down an obscure alley and up a winding staircase you will emerge into a Moroccan inspired bar/ restaurant with views over Notre Dame Cathedral.
It is easy to see the French influence in this city with its architecture and food. A great restaurant is Le Jardin (31 Thai Van Lung, Dist 1) which as its name suggests, offers a relaxed garden setting and tasty French cuisine but with petite prices.
Another top eating experience offering a more high end Vietnamese menu is the Temple Club (29-31 Ton That Thiep, Dist 1). It has a colonial, art-deco atmosphere with ancient wood and masonary giving a romantic and elegant backdrop. Be sure to order the snails - they are huge and delicious.
Half day and full day tours can be easliy taken from the city and include the Cu Chi Tunnels(location of the Viet Cong's underground offensive) and the fertile Mekong Delta. We recommend booking your tours from the "Pham" (Saigon's backpacker area) where the same tours cost a fraction of those arranged through your hotel.
Each of Saigon's districts offer something different so give yourself at least 3 or 4 days to explore the city.... and perhaps by then you will have mastered the art of crosssing a Saigon intersection!
Kuala Lumpur is a good stop over destination to get a taste of Malaysia. To make the most out of this city, I would suggest staying at Traders Hotel which is in close proximity to the Petronas Towers.
These towers are the tallest twin towers in the world standing at 452m. You can go up to the bridge level of Petronas towers and get a good view of the city. They let ~1600 people up there each day, free of charge and issuing of the tickets starts at 8:30am. Note it is closed Mondays.
The only drawback is hundreds of people line up from ~7:00am to get a ticket and if you wait until later in the day you will probably miss out. If you decide not to line up, Traders Hotel has a great Sky Bar where you can enjoy a drink and get a magnificant view of the towers day or night but it is impressive in the evening beautifully lighting up the night sky.
It is also a short cab ride from the hotel to Petaling street market which is open until about ~10pm every night. It is a fairly typical Asian market offering T-shirts, sunglasses, fake goods, souveniers etc.
Traders Hotel has great rooms, free internet and gym, very good breakfast selection and friendly staff. I would definitely recommend staying here for a rendezvous in Kuala Lumpur.
Don't just take our word for it...not only do we think Bangkok is the number one Thailand destination but readers of Travel + Leisure magazine voted Bangkok the "World's Best City" for 2008 and readers of Condé Neste Traveler magazine rated Bangkok as "Best City of Asia".
The criteria included atmosphere/ambience, culture/sites, friendliness, lodging, restaurants, and shopping. We know this to be true and can show the world where to find the best of the best.
With one day to go until UTE applications close we hope that we a one of the five semi-finalists to showcase this number one destination.