BOAT INSTEAD OF SHOPPING BASKET: FAMOUS FLOATING MARKETS
Floating markets is one of the main attributes of traditional Asian life. This region with its majestic rivers flowing out during rainy season, cosy tributaries and extensive network of canals, is considered the birthplace of such trade places. Now no historian is sure when they emerged, it seems that such markets existed always. Therefore, local residents treat them the same as the majority of people treats a neighbourhood retailer. For tourists, of course, a visit, or rather a boat trip to such authentic bazaars is a novelty form of entertainment and memorable emotions for a lifetime.
Damnoen Saduak, Thailand
Situated 100 kilometres away from Bangkok, in the Ratchaburi province, this market is a real Mecca for travellers. By 9 a.m., when trade is already thriving, sightseeing buses take surprised tourists to the docks. Guests experience a powerful wow moment not only due to impressive flavour of Asian market, but also due to countless boats-counters sailing before their eyes. Agile Thais studied this business for centuries, so they do not pay much attention to foreigners, sometimes do not even notice them, because now the most important thing is to sell more expensive, to buy cheaper.
If you do not have your own boat, it is not a problem at all, boats are rented out everywhere at the berths. So, everyone can touch the ancient Asian tradition of trade on water. Of course, even if you do not intend to purchase and just want to be soaked into the atmosphere, do not flatter yourself, no one is able to go or to sail away from the Damnoen floating market empty-handed: fruit, vegetables, amazing street food, spices and souvenirs - everything finds its buyer quickly due to unusual environment. To get a closer look at interesting goods, it is enough to wave to the vendor and his floating stall in a second will moor nearby, deftly manoeuvring and avoiding boat jams.
Curiously, this market is far from being the largest and cheapest in Thailand, but it is the most promoted in the mass media. Since the 70s Hollywood movies are being constantly filmed there, the most famous of which is the series about James Bond. Thus, do not be surprised that nearby boats carry more cameras than merchandise, it means that the Damnoen will be on screens again.
Vegetable market, India
Popular in the whole region, vegetable market which operates in the city of Srinagar, is famous not only for its giant size, but also for a huge range of farm-fresh vegetables. It is surrounded by magnificently beautiful floating gardens of lotus flowers. The bazaar opens at five in the morning, but in order to be in time for the opening, you need to sail out about half an hour in advance. Local boats called shikara are very comfortable and especially for "early" tourists are equipped with cosy blanket, because in the morning by the water it feels chill and fresh. While shikara boatman rows to the commercial area, passengers can take a nap.
Arriving at the epicentre of the commodity-money relations, you immediately notice the main difference from the Thai market - in India exclusively males are engaged into this business. Perhaps, that is why emotions and cries are less, but everything is shrouded in smoke - both sellers and buyers are smoking all kinds of pipes, cigars, home made cigarettes. They immediately recognize tourists and do not hesitate to earn on them by selling their merchandise at exorbitant prices. Another advantage of this market is that after you have bought everything you need, you can sail through the canal to the "water" quarter of the ancient city and see first-hand the Indian Venice.
Cai Rang, Vietnam
Our next stop is the main floating market in the Mekong Delta. The waters of this great river every morning are disturbed by hordes of boats and scooters flooding the delta. This market does not specialize in something specific, it is some kind of a shopping centre, because in addition to the merchandise, it offers a variety of services: hairdressing, repairs, there are also floating restaurants that serve food on the go. In general, this site is lush with vibrant life as any city centre.
For marketing purposes, every boat installs a high pole topped with goods that can be purchased from the owner. Therefore, at first glance there is a surreal view: as if everyone is baking something in the sun, or there is a competition whose mast is higher.
Interestingly, paper money are not used in Vietnam, local currency is made of a material similar to polyethylene - specifically because of floating markets which are numerous in the country and wet bills are perishable. The most tradable goods are pineapples, nowhere else you can buy the same tasty and cheap fruit, especially if you add the fact that you can indulge this yummy delicacies right there, contemplating the surrounding environment which is chaotic, but at the same time very streamlined by its rules.
Blumenmarkt, the Netherlands
One of a kind, this European market appeared in Amsterdam in the 18th century. And though the city canals are often overfilled, and the Dutch literally fight with water for every meter of their land territory, reasons for opening Blummenmarkt are much more prosaic, and have nothing to do with trade traditions. The fact is that more than three centuries ago local flower merchants did not want to pay the city for the rental of retail space, so they decided to move on water. Ever since they have not left the barges, and even though the market has long been firmly anchored at the shore, these glass pavilions nowadays are still called "floating". It is advisable to come in the morning, because in the afternoon the market is already closed.
Residents of the Iwama village about once every five days ship their wealth, among which there is seafood, fruit, wooden crafts and souvenirs, in the boat and go to the Inle Lake. Surrounded by high mountains, seventeen villages and small towns, the location turns into a real market and public space, where it is a custom not only to trade but also to exchange news, make friends and even arrange marriages.
Boaters are not afraid of water buffalos that live here: it seems they even add some flavour. Although the place is picturesque, in addition to natural beauty, people did their best and built right in the middle of the lake on stilts a wondrous Jumping Cats Monastery. The best time to visit is September-October, when the three-week vibrant Paung Daw U Festival is held: the area is illuminated with lights, thus creating even more fantastic atmosphere.
Main photo orientalescape.com