Vernacular Architecture: Thailand’s Floating Market

Thailand's Floating Market at Ayutthaya.

One of the most fascinating places to visit in Thailand is its floating market at Ayutthaya.  It’s vernacular architecture includes intriguing wooden structures along the waterways with vendors selling their crafts and delicious Thai food. It is also a setting for local vendors to display traditional Thai costumes, and delight the visitors with interesting souvenirs. 

Getting there

Ayutthaya is approximately 2 hours from Bangkok and can be reached by car or train.  I took a day tour of Ayutthaya organized by Klook, which took me to important historical and cultural places such as Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, downtown Ayutthaya, Wat Mahathat, Wat Phra Si Sanphet and the Floating market.  The tour was well organized and was probably the best day tour I have had in a long time. 

Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya was the capital of Siam from 1350 to 1767.  During the reign of King Narai between 1657 and 1688, Siam reached its zenith and had contacts with many kingdoms and cultures including the court of King Louis XIV of France.  A Burmese invasion in 1767 ended the Siamese Kingdom and the capital city was eventually moved to Bangkok.  Hollywood’s portrayal of its blockbuster movie, “The King and I” captures some of the magic of this ancient kingdom.

Vernacular Architecture of Thailand’s floating market

Traditionally a floating market is a make-shift market that comes together along the waterways as a place for sellers and buyers to exchange their goods.  A floating market can come together quickly for a short period of time, which makes it a temporary place.  A typical market consists of two components, a floating wooden platform tied to the shore and boats moored along the edge of the platform. Typically buyers use the platform to access goods sold by vendors on floating boats. Unlike the traditional floating market, Ayuthaya’s floating market is a permanent market.  It is also an elaborate market with multiple wooden structures and bridges.

Additional attractions 

Ayutthaya’s floating market offers boat rides so one can experience the market from water and travel under and around the bridges connecting various wooden platforms.  It is a fascinating experience which is recommended for all first-time visitors.  As an added adventure, you can take an elephant ride from the market to nearby historical monuments. The ruins of the ancient city of Ayutthaya can be found at every intersection, although you will definitely want to visit Wat Mahathat which features Buddha’s head overgrown by a fig tree.  I was so taken by the sight of Buddha’s head that I forgot to lower my head in front of the Buddha. The result was an embarrassing scream from a local caretaker who reminded me that no one’s head should rise above that of the Buddha!

An Urban Experience

The floating market is a unique urban experience. It is rooted in the social, cultural, and historical traditions of the city of Ayutthaya.  Our contemporary shopping malls could learn a thing or two about why shopping is not an end in itself but a means to a wonderful cultural experience.   

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