Amphawa is a small town located in the province of Samut Songkhram, 1h30 away from Bangkok city. It is famous for its floating market, where you can find local arts and crafts, tropical fruits, and many other Thai foods. If the floating market itself is more of an attraction for tourists, the little town of Amphawa has wonders to offer to visitors. Organized along the Mae Klong river and living in its rhythm, the floating market city will teach you the balance between slow living and buzzing days.
The town that feels like a movie
Whenever I think about Amphawa, I think about the sweet imagery of a Ghibli movie, some tender dream I was once roaming. There is something utterly romantic about this floating city: whether it lies in the swift movement of the boats sliding on the water, the juicy dragon fruits pilling on the market stalls, or the lanterns swindling from the bridges. This town might be small, I could write endless tales about it: for its colors and clamor make you feel as if you're walking the scenes of an animated story sometimes.
The afternoon sun rays are getting low between the awnings and the palm trees. You might think that the village is falling quiet as well, but if you know Thailand, you know better: the country never really sleeps. Amphawa is like this: a little buzzing a little peaceful, a soft mix between the two, mostly alive during the day but at night as well. From Friday to Sunday the little town comes alive, singing its tales of handmade crafts, local band music and fireflies evenings. But one of Amphawa's particularities is this one: once the week begins again, the floating city comes quiet, doors closing and umbrellas folding, given back to its villagers as the visitors go back to the city. Amphawa is only for the weekenders, as it seems.
The traditional floating market
Here in the village, you can take a traditional wooden boat to explore the market. It will take you between the canals where merchants display their crafts and handmade goods from houses and huts on slits, to the center of the floating market where food vendors navigate on the crowded river with their long paddles, docking from one boat to another to sell their fresh fruits, soups or sticky rice. You are craving Yen Ta Fo, the pink noodles soup? Or want to try mangosteens, or taste one of the different mango varieties of Thailand? Ask and the floating market shall provide: the old ladies with their ngob hats (traditionally made of ola palm leaves and bamboo strips) will serve you food directly in your boat, and if you are as much of a food lover as I am, you will want to try as many specialties as you can. Trust me, it is always a good idea.
You can accost and walk through some of the stalls here, and also visit the coconut sugar factory. Coconut sugar is used widely in Thailand, as it is the most popular sweetener for desserts, milk tea, or sauces. In Amphawa, you can learn how it is traditionally made, a heritage passed between generations.
Life along the river
The small boats can also take you away from the crowd, to more peaceful arms of the river, where you can let your eyes wander upon the high silhouettes of red and golden temples overhanging the water, or coconut trees of which the leaves brush the river. Farther on the Mae Klong river, you can reach the Wat Bang Kung temple, hidden under the high roots of banyan trees and sheltering buddha statues covered in gold flecks. If you linger a while you may listen to young students playing the ranat and the sueng, both traditional musical instruments, or witness the monks in their bright orange robes receive offerings.
Or you might stay on the water to drift calmy between the houses on slits on the edge of the river, where laundry is hung to dry in a colorful display over the blue sky. You see how much life revolves around the river: locals bathe and wash dishes in her, go from one place to another on their barks, and while it may seem like a strange routine, it falls perfectly into place over here.
Wandering the streets of Amphawa
The sun is a deep orange already as I walk down the street and I wonder if my next step is going to be one of the little coffee shops where you sit on fluffy cushions on the floor, the old postcard shop, or one of the busy seafood restaurants. Amphawa is well known for its seafood too: for some people visiting the town, tasting the local cuisine is the reason for their holiday. If you're a seafood lover, you will have a wide selection to make your choice from: prawns, crab, squid... most of the time grilled before you, in large woks in the street where the drizzling oil almost splatters your arm when you make your way through the crowd. This is one of the joys of Thailand: street food cooked anywhere deemed convenient enough to host a fire and a pan, served to you still hot and steaming, fresh like nowhere else.
Maybe I will end up wandering through the less busy canals, where the wooden houses are finally falling asleep while lanterns are still lit above their porch, and witness the first fireflies sparkle in the bushes. In Amphawa, once the sun sets in pink clouds and reddish shades behind the river, it's time to hop on a little boat to go admire the dance of the fireflies. Still on the canals, from one shore to another, the boat spies on the ladies of the night. From the branches of the trees almost touching the water, the shimmering insects display their prettiest light. And if this is not one of the best display of the magic Amphawa seems to shelter, I don't know what is. As you leave the floating city behind you, the songs of the river will stay in your heart for a long, long time.