Entrance booth, bunting and boats at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand
Culture Thailand

Ayutthaya Floating Market: Authentically Inauthentic

The crocodile stretched its jaws wide, wrapping its teeth around the brave man's head. On another poster, a couple reclined on cushions alongside a fearsome looking tiger. Along with the animal shows and bizarre photo opportunities, we could have taken a ride on an elephant. The elephants were on hand, each waiting patiently with a smartly dressed mahout. We hadn't even entered Ayutthaya Floating Market and already the tourist circus had begun.

Sneaking Into Ayutthaya Floating Market

With bunting flapping overhead, we walked along the canalside, surrounded by brightly coloured flowers. Reaching the entrance booth, we were a little surprised when they demanded a hefty 200 baht entrance fee. Everybody else we saw walked in freely without having to pay.

Flowers alongside the canal at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Boats On The Canal

They explained that this fee covered the cost of a boat ride. The fact that we didn't want to take a boat trip didn't seem to matter. Assuming that something had been lost in translation, we walked away. Just around the corner, we found a narrow alleyway, which led us directly into the market.

We later discovered that Thai tourists can get into Ayutthaya Floating Market for free. Foreigners have to pay however, but the entrance fee includes a short boat trip. Without realising it, we had sneaked in the back way.

Paddle wheel aerator in the canal at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

The Canal

Inside Ayutthaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya Floating Market has been carefully designed to look the part. A maze of wooden walkways and bridges lead visitors around the outer rim, with views across to a verdant island in the centre. Small, well-tended shopfronts line the walkways while more people trade from boats moored up along the canal.

In actual fact, nobody can cross the bridges because they all lead to the central island, which is off-limits to visitors. And the boats trading at the banks are permanently mounted on wooden frames and not even in the water.

Monitor lizard in the canal at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Hiding Under Dr. Fish

Shopping At Ayutthaya Floating Market

We wandered around the market, perusing the sweets, snacks and t-shirts and stopped briefly at the Dr Fish stall. The glass tanks were filled with tiny fish just waiting for some toes to nibble. Lurking just below the tanks in the murky water of the canal, we spotted a hungry looking lizard, perhaps also waiting for an unsuspecting toe or two to come his way.

Feeling peckish, we bought some khanom mo kaeng as a snack. These egg custard desserts were baked in individual clay pots and each had a different topping. It turns out that crispy shallots go surprisingly well with custard.

Three khanom mo kaeng desserts at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Khanom Mo Kaeng

Alas, it didn't cross our minds that buying egg desserts that had been sitting out in the tropical heat may not have been the best idea. We did however have plenty of time to reflect on this while projectile vomiting at the train station the following day.

Keen to avoid food poisoning?  Check out the advice we should have followed.

Cannon firing from a small boat at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Firing The Cannon

The Sacking Of Ayutthaya Show

The blast of a cannon firing certainly caught our attention. It signalled the start of the next performance. The main stage was the island in the centre of the canal and we watched a man there dancing with swords. He leapt and whirled as he slashed the air and finished by balancing all twelve swords about his person, most teetering on the edge of the blade he held in his teeth.

Man on one leg balancing swords at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Balancing Swords

Much more sedate were the female dancers that followed. With flowers in the hair, they gently swirled their arms around as they swayed by the waters edge.

The finale was a historical re-enactment of the sacking of Ayutthaya. The Burmese invaders arrived by boat, blasting their cannons as they went. The Thai defenders met the Burmese as they came ashore and a fierce battle ensued. The dramatic swashbuckling ended with bloodshed, several bodies on the ground and one of the attackers being thrown into the canal. Waving a giant flag, the victorious Thais re-staked their claim on Ayutthaya.

Sword fighting actors at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

The Battle For Ayutthaya

As we were leaving Ayutthaya Floating Market, we saw the elephants again.  One was hungrily shovelling whole bunches of bananas into its mouth.  Another tramped down the street, heading for home, with the mahout and his daughter, still in her school uniform, on its back.  Commuting by elephant must be a perk of the job.

How Authentic Is Ayutthaya Floating Market?

Most floating markets evolve over time with locals trading goods from boats on the canals.  However, Ayutthaya Floating Market is different.  Both the market, and the canal, were purpose built as a tourist attraction catering specifically to Thai tourists.  It is certainly not an authentic floating market but it is an authentically Thai tourist experience.

Read about Damnoen Saduak, a genuine floating market.

Boat cruising on the canal at Ayutthaya Floating Market in Thailand

Boat Trippers

Ayutthaya Floating Market Travel Tips

Ayutthaya Floating Market is free for Thai tourists but foreign tourists are expected to pay 200 baht.  This is vastly overpriced as most markets in Thailand are free, although it does includes a short boat trip on the canal.  Be prepared for this if you do visit.

We got food poisoning eating unrefrigerated egg-based desserts at Ayutthaya Floating Market.  Before you buy any food, carefully consider if it will be safe to eat.

The live shows at Ayutthaya Floating Market are fun and there is no extra charge.  There are shows 3 times a day on weekdays.  On weekends there are 4 shows per day.

How To Get To Ayutthaya Floating Market

From Central Ayutthaya:  Ayutthaya Floating Market is some distance from the temples in the centre of town.  It's easiest to take a taxi or tuk-tuk.  Although it's not too far to cycle if you rent a bike, negotiating the many lanes of traffic to get across the bridge can be challenging.

From Ayutthaya Train Station:  Tuk-tuk is the fastest way to get to Ayutthaya Floating Market from the train station.  You can also walk or cycle.  If you cross the railway track and weave through the back streets, it's only around 2 kms from the train station.

4 thoughts on “Ayutthaya Floating Market: Authentically Inauthentic

  1. This sounds quite different from the floating markets I visited in Thailand some years ago. And thanks for the warning, I’m easily tempted by egg custard desserts and now I will know better.

    1. Thanks Cindy. It was very different from the other floating markets we visited as well. More like a floating market theme park.

  2. I am so sceptical about these type of tourist attractions… I do think that at some point there were real but globalization comes with a price. In any case, it was fantastic to finally read a post with some criticism about the reality behind these attractions, from the elefants to the sword balancing.
    Thanks for sharing!

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