Everything I Ate at Don Wai Floating Market
When you hear the phrase “floating market” in Thailand you expect a network of canals cluttered with wooden boats selling produce. That’s not Don Wai, at least not anymore. Set on the Tha Chin (aka Tha Jeen) River in Nakhon Pathom province about 30 kilometres west of Bangkok, fruit traders used to sell from boats in the early 20th century. Without the spectacle, and thanks to it being a 40-minute journey from central Bangkok, tourists often miss out on visiting Don Wai Market. It’s possible to take a bus there, but less hassle to hail a metered taxi (around 400 baht, or $20 AUD). For the river experience, domestic and international tourists pay around 80 baht for a one-hour boat ride, snacking on their market haul as they go.
From the car park you pass a temple and incense prayer station to enter the fresh produce section. Someone dissecting jackfruit might hand you a firm yellow seed with a smile as you browse rows of beautifully presented roots, herbs and vegetables. Lotus stems are curled like nature’s extension cords. Hummingbird flowers, dok kae, have petals that look like fat white beans, while chom cham moonflowers – named because they bloom at night – are tightly twisted shut like perfect, pale green soft serves. Pearl garlic with heads no bigger than ping-pong balls are stacked beside bunches of Siamese neem with minuscule white buds, eaten with flavoured sugar and salt mixtures to mask the bitterness and, supposedly, improve your skin.
Continue on and the air becomes heavy with the scent of caramelised meat. Moo ping (pork skewers) are grilled, pork and duck barbecued and tongues and gizzards laid out in shallow Styrofoam boxes to eat on the go. You’ll pass the duck noodle soup restaurant on your right and be forced to turn left, where the market narrows to a path of rickety wooden boards with stalls set up on either side. On the corner a woman sells dried and preserved molluscs and fish from towering piles, giving way to tables offering khanom wan (Thai desserts), edible seaweed, coffee, salty braised tom khem whole fish and more.
I visited Don Wai Market twice, the first time with chef Thaninthorn “Noom” Chantrawan of Chim By Siam Wisdom restaurant, known for competing on Iron Chef Thailand, his wife and mother; the second with Palisa Anderson and her team from Chat Thai and Boon Luck Farm in New South Wales, Australia. Having people with me who spoke the language was invaluable, but if that’s not possible, my advice would be to eat absolutely everything – whether a sample (there are plenty), an unknown piece of fruit or vegetable that catches your eye or anything else. Here’s a small selection of what I ate.