Having the parents in town is a great reason to check off things on the ‘To Do’ list. Although I’ve lived in Bangkok for more than 12 years it’s somewhat surprising that I still have such a list, but that’s one of the terrific things about Bangkok – there’s always something new to experience. The fact that it was my parents’ 11th trip to the Kingdom meant they’d already done the most obvious things, as well as many lesser-known ones. As a co-founder of Smiling Albino they’ve been my “guinea pigs” for trip development more than a few times and it was time to do so again.
Talad Khlong Lad Mayom (Lad Mayom Canal Market) lies about 12km west of Bangkok’s famous Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), the majestic landmark perched along the banks of the Chao Phraya River and featured on the Thai 10 Baht coin. Many tourists combine a visit to the temple with a one-hour boat tour along the canals of Bangkok Noi (Little Bangkok). A short canal trip is a must-do experience, but if you have a few more hours it’s well worth the journey a little further inside the canal system and into another chapter of Thai history. That was our mission.
We rang up Smiling Albino’s longtime boat friend Khun Moo (Mr. Pig) and reserved a longtail boat for the three-hour round-trip journey to Lad Mayom, which I’d heard of and read about but never had time to visit. Passing Wat Arun as we headed north on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River and west into Thonburi’s canal system, I remembered that it wasn’t until 1542 that the river took its current form: The river originally forked west, creating a horseshoe of sorts, much like the canal we were journeying upon.
Heading west into Thonburi by small boat is, in many ways, truly stepping back into another era. This side of the river was briefly the Thai capital (1767-1782) and only became connected to Bangkok in 1932 with the opening of the Memorial Bridge. It officially became part of greater Bangkok metropolis in 1971 and since that time development has occurred at a blistering pace. There are still many people living traditional water-based lives along Thonburi’s canals, and today’s trip would showcase the charm of yesteryear and remind me that not all Thais, or Bangkokians for that matter, live in concrete buildings and get around in cars.
As Bangkok Noi’smain canal is firmly on the tourist route, our first 30 minutes westward saw many other boats full of travelers; a couple turns later we left the crowds behind. Things were suddenly quieter, the canals narrower, people were paddling boats rather than relying on motors, and everyone’s smiles grew larger. There are few things as fascinating and relaxing in Bangkok as cruising its canals by boat. Life literally passes by: kids swimming, people washing their dishes, birds chirping, and concrete giving way to palm trees.
We cruised by Taling Chan market, popular with Thais for sitting at small tables and eating soups and grilled seafood sold by passing boats, opting to push straight to Lad Mayom. I’m glad we did. As you round a corner into a narrow canal, a cute sign in Thai welcomes you to this charming community that originally opened a weekend market back in 2004. Aimed at Thais in search of respite from the city’s blistering pace, the market offers unique handmade crafts and tasty food (Thais live to eat). We were the only farangs (foreigners) in sight and people seemed delighted that we’d made the journey. While the market is also accessible by small roads, we were the only ones who’d come by boat and people were clearly impressed. Getting out of our longtail felt a bit like rolling-up to a party in a flashy car – we’d arrived!
Talad Lad Mayom holds much charm for those wanting to experience a more ‘Thai’ side of the city without going very far. The journey there is reason enough to go, but if you come hungry, have a sense of adventure with food, and aren’t scared to eat from small food stalls (that’s where the best food comes from!), then it’s easy to burn a couple quality hours here. There’s a good variety of food on offer, refreshing blended fruit shakes, quaint handicraft stalls, and even a canal-side foot massage stand. The key is appreciating that less is often more: have fun sitting with locals, try sharing a story, do things you normally wouldn’t (like a massage next to a canal), and truly get a feel for what Thais consider sanuk (fun).
After our all-too-quick visit to the market we got back in our waiting boat completely in bliss and thoroughly enjoyed the one-hour cruise back to where we’d started at Tha Tien, literally traveling forward in time, back into the modern age.
Allow least three hours for a roundtrip visit to Talad Lad Mayom, preferably four so you have time to properly enjoy the market without feeling rushed. Boats for hire are available from several piers along the Bangkok side of the Chao Phraya River, but be sure to clearly indicate where you plan to go and agree upon the price prior to heading off. For those wanting to just show up and have fun, Smiling Albino is currently developing a series of canal experiences that will not only feature charming boat trips but also incorporate authentic meals and cocktails at a traditional wooden Thai house along a quiet canal. Stay tuned…
Check out our photo gallery from the trip.