Songkran festival – also known as the traditional Thai new year – was originally celebrated by sprinkling water on family members and elders for good fortune, and by paying respects to images of the beloved Buddha. Over time, the festival has evolved and it now involves three days of water play, with locals and visitors alike splashing each other with buckets of water, water guns and super soakers as they gather on the streets.
Since the Songkran holiday coincided with the Good Friday long weekend, I decided to visit Bangkok to soak in the festivities. It was an unforgettable and in regrettable experience. From taking part in the splashing of water along specific roads to dodging people’s water gun attacks, it was a fun three days. The roads were filled with puddles and most people were drenched. However, one concern is the amount of water wasted at such a festival, while people in Africa or India have to walk long distances to collect water. Even water is a scarce resource in Singapore and we would be seen wasting water like that. Anyway, this is a Thai tradition and only lasts for three days, and it was an eye opener for me.
Besides splashing water in Bangkok, I also did side trips to Ayutthaya, Maeklong railway market and Amphawa floating market. There are many things to see around Bangkok and the markets should not be missed. While you can join a local tour which will set you back by $50-100, I chose to do it on my own by taking local transport, which cost less than $15 for a day trip.
How to get to Ayutthaya
From Hua Lamphong train station, there are hourly trains to Ayutthaya station. Choose to take the train to Ayutthaya to experience the scenery in the suburbs and to avoid the infamous Bangkok traffic jams. The train cost only 20B in third class and takes about 1h 15min.
Upon reaching Ayutthaya station, cross the road to the pier and take a short boat ride across the river (5B) to reach the centre of Ayutthaya.
You can rent a bicycle (50B for the day), a motorbike (300B per day) to head to the ancient temple complex. If you prefer something more comfortable, you can also hire a car, minivan or songthaew for the day (500-1000B). I chose the bicycle option because I also cycled around Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Ayutthaya used to be the ancient capital of Thailand and it used to be captured by the Burmese. So when you visit it today, you may see beheaded statues due to the pillaging by the Burmese. It reminds me of the Angkor Wat, but Ayutthaya is on a smaller scale and easy to cover within half a day. There are some special statues which are located on the outskirts, so do check them out. Today, Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
How to get to Maeklong railway market
We took an uber from Bangkok to the southern bus terminal at Sai Tai Mai. Or you can take a shuttle service line 515 (30B) from victory monument to the bus terminal. At the southern bus terminal, proceed to counter 10 to purchase a ticket for the minivan to Maeklong which cost 60B. The journey takes around 1.5h.
Maeklong railway market is also nicknamed “umbrella pulldown market”. Whenever a train approaches, which is like six times a day, the awnings and shop fronts are moved back from the rails, only to be replaced immediately after the train passes. While the locals keep calm and carry on with their business, the excitement from the tourists fill the market, mainly to see this special phenomenon.
From Maeklong, take a songthaew (8B) which stops outside 7-eleven to go to Amphawa floating market. The floating market was quite disappointing because the market was built on land and not floating houses as I had expected. They offered a wide array of local food which you should try. There are also several touts selling tourist boat rides along the river to experience it, which we kindly declined.
Food is the main reason holidaymakers from Bangkok visit Amphawa floating market. Amphawa floating market has many shop-house eateries, offering all kinds of tantalizing tastes. Grilled seafood and boat noodle are worthy of trying.
Lastly, Damnoen is the original floating market. Do go there early to catch the locals in action as the markets close around 12pm. The same southern bus terminal also has minivans to Damnoen. If coming from Amphawa, take a minivan (20B) to Damnoen. We thought it was possible to walk along the river to Damnoen, but this one is only accessible by boat. Do bargain with the boat operators for a one or two hour boat ride. It should cost around 200-300B per person.
Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market in Thailand, great for photo opportunities, food, and for giving you an insight into a bygone way of life. An early morning start is worth it to avoid the heat and catch Damnoen Saduak at its liveliest.
Do visit at least one of the local markets to enhance your Bangkok experience! While I know that many of my friends who visit Bangkok just want to relax in the air-conditioned shopping malls or eat to their heart’s content at one of the several cafes, it is indeed a unique experience to visit the markets outside the city which have their own charms. Not forgetting the ancient city of Ayutthaya which offers a historical insight of Thailand.