back to Asian Experience home page

                                                   
NOVEMBER 2  

Even though our flight was not expected to leave Siem Reap, Cambodia until 11am, we had to be at the airport much earlier since we were departing the country. Upon our arrival in Cambodia we had to fill out arrival and departure papers, provide them with a visa application and passport pictures.   We were grateful our travel agent, Kathy at Walnut Grove Travel, had prepared us for these kinds of events.                                                   

Terry didn’t expect the arrival Customs Officers to keep our departure papers, which we thought we would turn in upon our departure, but they did. Today it all made sense. On the forms we had listed the date, place and flight number of our leaving Cambodia

As we waited for the paperwork today, Terry glanced down and recognized his own hand writing. The paperwork was there -- the date, place and flight number. It is supposed that if we hadn't shown up as stated, they would come looking for us. 
There was a little confusion upon arrival in Bangkok . We had gotten so used to walking out into the gathering of greeters and finding our name on a piece of held up paper, we were rather surprised when it didn't happen.  We double checked and triple checked but it wasn't there. After making some inquiries as to how we might best get to the Century Park Hotel, we had to once more go through the group of greeters and there it was ... our name being held up by an attractive lady in a blouse of colour -- one sleeve a light yellow, the other light robin's egg blue, one half of the front was pink and so on. She lead us to a car and driver. On the ride into Bangkok she went over our itinerary and said our guide would be contacting us later at the hotel. We would be able to recognized the guide because whether it be a man or woman, they would be dressed in the same style shirt ~ a new uniform for Diethelm Travel guides. 
The Century Park Hotel is beautiful (light years away from three nights ago in Phnom Penh). Because we would be staying here for five nights and their standard rooms were full for some of that time, we were upgraded to a Junior Suite on the 15th floor overlooking a temple and a sailor's knot of freeways and roadways pierced through with a straight cement edged canal. We settled in. 

At 7:00 we met Tuk in the lobby wearing the new colourful and stylish shirt. "Tuk" is a nick-name. Most Thai, she later explained have nick names. She said her full name and there is no way we would want to try to repeat it phonetically. She received the nick-name "Tuk" after her mother had to take a tuk-tuk to the hospital to give birth. "No," she said without prompting, "I wasn't born in a tuk-tuk." 

Tuk took (tee hee) the time while we were in the van on our way to pick up some other tourists going to the Thai dinner and entertainment (part of our itinerary), to go through a brochure with day trips. She knew we were staying on for some extra days and wanted us to make the most of them ~ using her services. A couple looked interesting but we made no commitment. 

                                                        
The Thai dinner was served at low tables, with foot-wells below, much like some Japanese restaurants that cater to the North American's comfort of sitting in chairs while keeping the ambiance of the Orient. Each place setting was surrounded by bowls. The ones at either end of the arch had covers. One was a soup of fish in coconut milk, the other steamed rice - a staple served with most Thai meals. The other dishes had steamed vegetables, a "sweet and sour pork" kind of dish, fried spring rolls in another and one more held a curry dish which we tried but couldn't handle the spicy heat. 
                                               
The Thai dances, accompanied by musicians using Thai classical instruments, were once performed in the inner-court only for royalty. As in Hawaiian dancing ... ever hand gesture carries a meaning and as in pictures of Thailand the gestures are exaggerated and the costumes ornate. 
Returning to the hotel we were given a message. A guide named Danai, would be picking us up at 8:30am tomorrow to take us to some city temples. 

 

NOVEMBER 3, 2005

The sun broke through the smog and by 7:30am we were at the hotel's lavish buffet breakfast. One could have dinner in the morning. Metres and metres of counter and table space were piled high from cold cereal to fried rice and a chef cutting slabs of baked ham. The spacious room on two levels buzzed with staff to get coffee (Sherrie likes her green tea.) or helped in anyway they could. If you got up to get something, your place was cleared and tidy when you got back. 

Danai looked sharp in his multi-coloured shirt. He looked to be in his early forties and spoke in a soft assured voice. In the van he explained it might take awhile to navigate through Bangkok's morning rush hour. At one point we skirted around an accident that involved a motorbike taxi.   The driver's wear a red helmet (or pink with a different company) and an orange vest with a number on it. Because they scoot through traffic while cars stand bumper to bumper they are a popular mode of transportation for office workers and school children. Today, however, was not a good day for this driver and his lady passenger (ladies in skirts ride side-saddle) for they were still both on the ground with the bike on its side. Danai though the lady's leg was broken. 

Ninety-plus percent of Thailand's population is Buddhist. Bangkok has 300+ temples. Buddhist temples are recognized in two categories: one being "common temples" built by and from donations of the local people for their own worship; the other being "state temples" built by the government or royal family.

 

Wat Traimit is a common temple. A very large Buddha, covered in plaster was discovered in the north of Thailand centuries ago.   A piece of plaster fell off and revealed solid gold beneath ... a 4 meter high, 5.5 ton gold Buddha! ... the largest in the world.  The "Golden Buddha" is now in Bangkok at Wat Traimit. 
Wat Po boasts an enormous gold-leaf-covered reclining Buddha constructed in 1832. This 9 metre high and 46 metre long statue has eyes and feet inlaid with mother of pearl.
Even though we knew the measurements beforehand, we were still surprised at the sheer mass of it. 
                                                     
Wat Po was also the first centre of public education in the kingdom. Today it is an important centre in the teaching of traditional Thai massage (which we are looking forward to experiencing). On the grounds stand many "stupas" -- these are tall ornate structures like the top of a Dairy Queen ice cream cone made by an overly enthusiastic trainee. They house the ashes of family members -- one stupa = one family -- usually families who have some standing in the community and have contributed to the support of the temple or pagoda. The difference between a temple and a pagoda? The answers were as varied as the number of people we asked. 

Between the stupas and the Thai school of massage were statues in tribute to a Buddhist "medicine man". We had seen statues of him before but this collection showed him in different poses of self massage and a couple of him administering the trade to other statued persons. We thought of Josh.

 It looked a little pretzel-like and we had a twinge of foreboding. 

The last temple of the day was Wat Benchmabophit (don't ask for the pronunciation) or "The Marble Temple" .... why? ... because it is constructed mostly out of grey Carrara marble. Carrara is in Italy and is where the marble for Michelangelo's "David" came from, plus others of his works. The Marble Temple was built in 1889 and is a mixture of Thai and European influences evident in its columns and stained glass windows.

The temple houses a collection of bronze Buddha images in a number of different poses.

Our time with Danai had ended. He asked if we would like to return to the hotel or could he drop us elsewhere.

"It would be nice to experience a Thai massage," we said. "Could you recommend a place?"

He took us to a massage place near to our hotel and before leaving us, arranged with the owner a drive back to the hotel. 

 

Two ladies asked us to sit down on a bench and put our feet in a trough that ran in front. The two knelt down on the other side facing our knees and proceeded to wash our feet. Thongs were slipped on. Herded by the two, we shuffled into an elevator and up some floors. "Flip, flop, flip flop," the ill fitting footwear echoed down the hallway into a little room where we stood like lambs to slaughter, not understanding what was to happen next. 

The room was rectangle in shape with the door placed near the corner on one of the short walls.  The only adornment along the long wall closest to the door was a knee height small white table. 

Protruding out from the opposite long wall was a six foot wide platform, about a foot in height, running the length of the room.  Equally spaced upon the platform were foam mattresses about three inches thick and a little wider than a twin size bed.  Each mattress was wrapped with a clean white fitted sheet.  Another sheet was neatly folded near the foot of the mattress while a pillow was near the top.  One of the ladies, who had disappeared while we attempted to analyze these new surroundings, returned with two sets of “pajamas”, indicated in pantomime that we were to change, then left with the other lady and pulled something over the window in the door.

The “pajamas” were two pieces made in grey and white thin stripped material which reminded us of prisoner’s garb (not personal memories!).  The ladies returned carrying clean, white, folded towels and asked us to lay down, face up using pillows for our heads.  From that moment on we were at their mercy.  (We were still fooling ourselves that we maintained any control once we entered the elevator and one of the ladies gave Sherrie a big hug and giggled as we rose up from street level.)   They started on our right legs ... poking and prodding ... stretching and bending ... manipulating and mincing.  They dug deep and found muscles we didn’t know existed.  

We couldn’t keep time, Terry’s watch was over on the little white table, but it seemed an hour had gone by and they had not yet given up on our right legs.  Perhaps Danai had got the instructions wrong and we were doomed to hobble around Bangkok with one of our legs stretched longer than the other.  Finally they stopped and covered our right legs with white towels ... much like covering the dead and we wondered how we would manage to limp back to the elevator if they repeated their efforts on our left legs.  They did. 

Another hour seemed to pass and because our arranged time was for two hours, we thought the legs were it.  Our timing was off.  They moved to the hips, arms and shoulders, flipped us over and walked, then crawled ... they really did walk and crawl ... on our backs and shoulders before sitting us up.  The end had come.  So we thought.  Wrong.  The two ladies sat at the top of the mattress with their backs resting against the wall and a pillow between their spread legs.  With an authoritative pull on our shoulders, we flopped back with our heads upon the raised pillow and they proceeded to knead our necks like dough for a double loaf of twelve grain bread or perhaps the pretzel we had envisioned earlier when we saw the “medicine-man” statues.  

It ended with them getting up, joining our hands together, gathering up towels and sheets and leaving the room.  It was up to us to attempt to stand, unaided, on jellied legs.  Standing on one foot to get out of the pajamas and into a pair of slacks was a whole new challenge.  Being successful we shuffled back down the hall to the elevator.  There was no muscle power left to lift the thongs far enough from the floor to “flip” or “flop”.  At ground level we changed back into our street shoes and were ushered out the door.   

We asked about getting back to the hotel.  They called a taxi driver over.  “Three hundred Baht,” he quoted for the ride back to the hotel.  “Fine with us, the massage shop is covering it so you can check with them.”  

There was some mix-up.  At the time we felt we might be the targets of a small scam but the following morning Danai made some calls and it turned out to be an unfortunate misunderstanding.  The result on the day of massage, was after some discussion outside the massage shop we told them we would walk. 

We thought we knew in which direction to walk and we did start off in the right direction back down the “drive through restaurant”.   That is “drive through restaurant Thai-style” – collapsible tables and chairs had been set up on both sides of a narrow lane along with a number of portable woks and hibachis.   As cooks cooked and diners dined (we use the word loosely) cars, like the one we arrived in, trucks and motorbikes drove down the centre.                                

At a multi-road intersection we “Y”ed off in the wrong direction – at least we think, in hindsight, that is where we might have gone wrong.   We “found ourselves lost” (an interesting combination of words) in a city we knew nothing about. 
 Since we were walking, we just couldn’t be “that far” away from the hotel.  Right?  We may have kept walking, perhaps even stopping to ask directions, but it started to sprinkle and get windy ... Asia’s natural way to say “RUN FOR COVER!”   Two minutes later there was a torrential downpour with us standing on the side of the street trying to wave down cabs which had already been nabbed by people with better response times than our own.    One taxi stopped.  We put our wet bodies into the back seat and asked the driver to take us to the Century Park Hotel.  Either he didn’t know where it was or didn’t want to carry this wet fare such a short distance.  Back into the downpour we went. 
We were pretty bedraggled when we presented ourselves at the hotel’s front entrance in a taxi that cost 60 Baht.  The two doormen hesitated a moment before relenting to let us in after we explained we had got caught in the sudden rain.  “Farangs [foreigners],” they must of thought.  “Worse ... farangs who walk in Bangkok when metered taxis are so inexpensive!!”  

Once we dried off in our room and looked presentable again, we went to the pool area on the fifth floor and had a cocktail. While watching a swimmer gliding smoothly under the waterfall which came from a higher wade pool, a gentleman came through from the fitness room having just completed a workout. 

                                                                
“John!” we greeted.  It was the same John we had met on the plane and with his wife, Linda, at a communal house in Vietnam.  We had a quick “catch-up” visit and since we both had coupons for an Italian dinner at the hotel’s Roberto’s Restaurant, we made plans to meet them later in the evening.  

John and Linda were waiting when we arrived at Roberto’s.  The dinner was delicious, the company most pleasant and the conversation lively.   All in all it had been a great day of travel experiences.

We hadn’t expected to see Danai again after today, but a phone call let us know he would be our guide tomorrow and it would be best if we could get a very early start since the Grand Palace is the most popular sight-seeing attraction in Bangkok.

NOVEMBER 4, 2005

In the lobby, we bumped into John and Linda with their own multi-coloured shirted guide.  They were off to see the temples we had seen yesterday.  We thanked them again for their company at dinner and bid them a safe journey, as it was unlikely we would see them again.

Danai was waiting and told us we would be the only people he would be guiding this morning.  

The Grand Palace grounds are home to many ornate temples, palaces and buildings with a variety of architectural styles.  Gold leaf, reflective tiling, Chinese porcelain and Buddha images are to be seen everywhere.  Once the official residence of Thailand’s royal lineage, the Grand Palace is now open to the public except during special royal ceremonies and visits from heads of state.

A  troop of soldiers stood at attention inside the gates.  They looked hot in their green uniforms, even though it was early in the day.  
Audience Hall with the coronation chair surmounted by a nine-tiered white umbrella-type canopy was impressive.  A picture of the king stood on an easel showing a young gentleman of nineteen years just after being crowned King of Thailand - he is now in his late seventies.

North of the royal residence and linked by a connecting gateway lies the Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most revered sites in Thailand where people convene to pay respect to Buddha and his teachings.  The Emerald Buddha is enshrined on a traditional Thai-style throne made of gilded-carved wood known as a Busabok.The emerald image is clad with one of three seasonal costumes – summer, rainy season and winter.  The costumes are changed three times a year in a ceremony presided over by His Majesty the King.  This will be done during our stay in Thailand when the costume changes from rainy season (which we saw) to winter (a dryer time).  

The Borom Phiman Mansion was built in 1903 by King Rama V for the heir apparent.  King Rama V is the king depicted in the story “Anna and the King of Siam” and the subsequent movie “The King and I”.  The mansion was built in European styling.  A great many buildings in Bangkok (the new capitol established in 1782) were built in the European style during the early 1900s as the king encouraged Thailand to “become more worldly”.  At present the mansion serves as the royal guest house for visiting heads of state and guests of the royal family. 
At one point in the tour, as we looked up, “clink, clink, clink, clunk” came from above and a piece of reflective tile about 2cm by 2cm with a corner chipped out, fell to Sherrie’s feet.  Danai said that the years were having their toll and repairs were constant.  In fact on some of the main buildings scaffolding marred the facades.  Completion of the work on these buildings is expected in approximately two months.  Indeed they had many bodies on the job, but even at that two months seems to be an optimistic forecast.  
Again Danai asked if we would like to have the driver take us back to the hotel or drop us somewhere.  Terry was prepared for this afternoon with a planned walk through Chinatown.  Terry showed Danai a map with the start point and Danai translated the instructions to the driver.  The van weaved up and down streets and the signs on buildings started showing Chinese characters.  Before long the driver found himself at the end of a dead end street.  “Guess he wasn’t sure of where he was going,” we thought.  With a few backup and forward moves he managed to turn around without once hitting a car or one of the many pedestrians milling about.  Then to our surprise the driver parked the car and Danai said this was the start point we had requested, then bid us goodbye.  As we got out of the van, two big buses were making their way down this no-thru street.  The street simply came to an abrupt end.  No cul-de-sac, just a squared off end with a nondescript white one-story building at the butt, which served as a ferry terminal for commuter water buses which hop up and down the Chao Phraya River.
We watched in wonder at how and why these cumbersome vehicles would put themselves in such a jam when there was a cross road only a half block away.  With driving skills that would qualify them for bus driver Olympics, the two buses managed to make the 180 degree turn with no more back and forths than did the van.  Amazing ~ but we still asked ourselves, “Why?”

While Terry withdrew the AAA Travel Book walking plan from his pocket, Sherrie shot a picture of the old two-story building across the street which reflected a time when the French had an influence in these parts.
Soon we were emerged in Bangkok’s Chinese district walking sidewalks barely wide enough to maneuver around shoppers who were browsing shop steps piled high with merchandise and the continuation of those piles at curb side.  Much of these first blocks consisted of plastic thing-a-ma-jigs of all sorts and portable food stands.  We turned into a tiny alley known as Sampeng Lane.
Hardly wide enough for two people, shoppers had to scrunch themselves sideways in order to allow room for passing motorcycles and push trolleys loaded with boxes.  If you really want to make headway and not meander, you can tuck in close behind a person pushing a heavy laden push cart so that you also pass by the “sideways survivors” before they turn back to once again congest the narrow passages. 
According to directions, we were to use the Tang To Kang gold shop as a landmark.  We were lost.  We asked an elderly lady but had no success communicating.  We looked around for a young person and found a twenty-something gentleman who gave some thought to what we wanted and looked a bit quizzical just before he pointed over our left shoulders and asked “There?”  Peeking through the stalls covered with once bright umbrellas, the gold shop stood proudly on the corner where it has been for over a hundred years.
A couple of blocks further we turned left again.  The alleyway was much wider with less people.  This looked more like the wholesale isle.  Super-sized clear plastic bags (about the sized of Glad’s orange hefties) held rice crackers, puffed we-don’t-know-what’s alongside dried mushrooms, dried fish, dried squid and dried seahorses.

                                                 
                                     

Back on a main street ~ meaning there was car traffic, we successfully crossed and inched our way passed sidewalk stalls for half a block then passed under a Chinese arch that put us in the parking lot of Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Dragon Flower Temple) which combines elements of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.  

Lots of different things were happening inside and having strange tourists with cameras only brought welcoming smiles.  Some people were praying quietly, some held big bundles of burning incense while one lady took a thin round canister of sticks and shook it up and down until one, which had worked itself higher than the others, flipped out and fell to the carpeted floor.  She then picked it up and read what was printed on the stick.   

A gentleman took the same tin, held it in prayer then reached inside and took one of the elongated popsicle sticks and read the lettering on it.  Perhaps a horoscope type message; perhaps similar to Christians praying then allowing their bibles to open and glancing down to the written word – we don’t know.

Further down the main street was the Old Market which really isn’t old at all but a modern mall, except rather than spreading out like our malls usually do, this one went vertical in a place where land base is precious.  Across the street we went into the Grand Chinese Princess Hotel whose first floors also resemble a modern mall.  We stopped at a little convenience store and bought a couple of cokes then sat at one of their tables in the air-conditioned “hallway”, people watched and read some more of the AAA walking tour pages.  “On the left,” it read, “is the subterranean Saphan Han market.  Dark, cramped and next to a festering canal, the market has a kind of Dickensian appeal.  You can cut through here if you are interested.”  The words set us back a bit, but we were here to experience.  

When we got to Saphan Han, we peeked down into the cool shadows.  It looked fine from this vantage point.  We ventured further. 

It was definitely a place for locals to shop but we were greeted with warm smiles as we stopped to look and take pictures of food unfamiliar to us.  The thin alleyway started to have less shops and more living spaces with laundry hung from second story windows; reminding us of narrow back lanes in Europe.  We crossed over the canal (which didn’t seem any more “festering” than other polluted canals we had seen) into “Little India” and back out onto a major road which crossed our path and continued up onto a bridge which crossed the river. 

According to the map we were standing between two water express terminals ~ the one at the dead end street where we started this walk and the other across this wide busy street and up river.  We decided to walk towards the bridge thinking that there might be a roadway which went under the bridge before the water.  There wasn’t.  The only other road bent back towards Chinatown.  We followed it around walking through some shipping/warehousing type buildings.  Fellows taking a break from work called out greetings and waved and made us feel comfortable about intruding in this very non-touristy place.  After a turn here and a jog there we found ourselves back among the plastic goo-gaws and then the dead end street.  Before figuring out where the entrance was for the water bus terminal in the white nondescript building, we bought a 1.5 litre bottle of very cold water and gulped down some to quench our thirst.  
There are plenty of opportunities to pay good Baht (Thailand currency) to take tour boats up and down the river – even evening dinner cruises.  Our favourite way to tour some of the world’s city rivers is to get on commuter boats which stop at each port along the river and watch locals getting on and off.  Workers with lunch bags or briefcases, school kids with books, backpackers, monks, women managing shopping bags and children and teens with earphones attached to cords which disappear into day bags.
We started at Pier 5 and hopped back and forth up the river to pier 27 where we got off and waited for the next water express going down river.  An enjoyable hour for 20 Baht each (50 cents US).  At Pier 5 we stayed on and got off at pier 1.   It was half a block to the entrance of the Oriental Hotel.
Asking directions to the afternoon tea, a bell hop pointed us in the direction of the Author’s Lounge located in the oldest part of The Oriental.  This wing was opened in 1887 and was the original Oriental Hotel, the very first luxury hotel in Siam.  Back in those days this part of the hotel housed the lobby, bar, restaurant and kitchens with all the guest rooms upstairs.  A large number of writers have stepped through these doors and inevitably bellied up to the bar over the years ... the likes of Joseph Conrad in 1888 and William Somerset Maugham who came in January of 1923 and wrote “The Gentleman in the Parlor”, Noel Coward and Graham Greene in the 1970s ... the list is extensive and continues to grow.  Tea at the Oriental is like tea at the Empress in Victoria. 
Taking from a page of the Oriental Hotel’s tea menu is this: “There are probably as many stories on the origin of English Afternoon Tea, as there are blends of tea, but the following must be the most commonly respected one. 
In early 1800 England, people usually ate two meals a day only: breakfast and evening dinner.  It is said that one day the 7th Duchess of Bedford instructed her servants to serve her some small cakes and hot tea at 5 pm, as she felt particularly hungry.  The experience was so delightful to her that this tea became a daily routine to which the Duchess even started to invite some friends. 
One thing let to another, and within a few years, taking tea in the afternoon became an established social event of the English upper classes.  Eventually, however, the trend became so popular that tea houses and coffee shops started to introduce it as well.” Seeing a good thing, many hotels adopted the serving of Afternoon Tea as part of their guest experience.   

We had thought of coming back on Sunday to “take tea” but as we stood there, we wondered why we shouldn’t do it now.  True, we were a bit “melted” after walking through the heat of the day, but what we were wearing was not out of step with the others.  We found a quiet spot away from the mahogany furniture and into a white wicker air-conditioned enclosed porch looking out to the garden.  Soon we were being doted on and served the traditional tea with finger sandwiches, cakes, pastries, sweets and scones served on a three-tiered plate with silver tongs.  We doddled as we sampled and sipped watching the doorman in traditional Thai garb open the door for people coming and going between the hotel and the hotel’s garden, pool and private pier.  It was all just “too-too”.
Leaving the hotel and reemerging into Bangkok’s everyday life, we made our way over to the skytrain station.  School girls stopped at roadside food vendors for stuffed crepes just as North American students might stop at the corner store.  The Bangkok skytrain designer was the same as Vancouver’s and the experience of using it was very similar, even more so with the large influx of Asian culture in Vancouver, we could have been home.  

By the time we reached Victory Station, the sky was spitting.  By the time we walked the block long platform and took the stairs to ground level, it was raining.

This time we had our rain jackets with us and felt rather smug.  By the time we walked three blocks, dodging store products and shoppers in the narrow space left for movement, the streets were flooding and a miniature lake had formed in our path.  Some were attempting to cross, but we followed those who turned back.  We had only four straight blocks to go to our hotel but our detour took us eight blocks and once again we arrived at the hotel soaked and bedraggled.  “When will these farangs ever learn.”

One thing we did learn was that rain jackets might be a good idea in BC but umbrellas make more sense here.  Rain jackets don’t breath and in this wet and heat they act more like a personal sauna.  Umbrellas are quick and easy and an airy alternative and much more sensible for Asian tropical weather. 

 

 

NOVEMBER 5, 2005                                     

This morning we met Tuk (the guide who had taken us to the Thai dinner our first night in Bangkok).  She and the driver would be taking us approximately 110 kilometres southwest of Bangkok to the floating market of Damnoen Saduak.  

On the way there Tuk had the driver stop at a small village where a morning market was abuzz. 

                                                                  
Unlike going through the Chinatown markets on our own, it was great having Tuk explain to us what some of the things were, from dragon fruit to fish stomachs, and how they were used in daily menus.  At one of the booths of seafood, a green parrot perched on the edge of a box of mussels and prompted a photo. 

 

                                                                             
Upon exiting the market, Tuk stopped at a street vendor’s booth.  The lady was dipping a beautifully designed “branding iron” into a thin batter and then plunging it into hot oil.  The batter immediately puffed up and with a little shake, she freed the branding iron and the puffed concoction kept it’s shape and design.  Tuk bought five of these light deserts sprinkled with sugar for us to try.  Delicious.

                                                
Near to the floating market (the #2 rated sightseeing spot in Thailand after the #1 Grand Palace) we joined other tourists getting into long tailed boats on a canal.

Again it felt like a Disneyland ride, almost as though we might be connected to a draw-chain under the water.  This was disproved as our longtail boat had to stop for gas.  No gas station per se here, just one of the modest bamboo huts along the canal’s bank with an entrepreneurial resident with a watering can shaped container and a funnel.

It took about a half hour of traveling by canal to get to the floating market.   

Long tail boats are well designed for maneuvering these waterways. A car engine is mounted at the back of the narrow long boat, a drive shaft runs through a very long pipe (about 10 feet) to a propeller which has a protective railing shaped like an “h” on the bottom to protect the blades from hitting the bottom of the water ways.   The shaft can be easily maneuvered by the operator.  It can be taken completely out of the water and it can be turned in a 180 degree swing.  To manage a tight 90 degree corner the operator simple lifts the shaft from the water, turns it 90 degrees and puts it back into the water and the boat makes a sharp turn.  Most of the time while the boat is going straight or making slow wide turns, the operator manages the steering with one leg hooked over the long control handle. 

                                                       
Since motors are not suppose to be used in the market and the boat we were in was too large, we changed from the long tail boat and got into our own flat bottomed boat ... the same style being used by the peddlers floating in the market.  We joined the current of sellers and buyers as others have done for more than a hundred years.  The boats, piled high with local fruits, vegetables, meats, housewares, noodle soup and other cooking items plus souvenirs, were so close that one dare not put their hands outside the confines of the boat for almost certainly fingers would be crushed by the next boat passing in whichever direction.  So tight were the boats that one seller would reach inside another’s boat and push or pull because room for a paddle or push-pole was not available.
                                                                          
If there was any open water, ie: a foot or so, a merchant would pull out a hook, grab the side of our boat and pull us sideways to their boat so that we could see even that much closer the objects they were peddling and negotiate a price. 
 Tuk bought us a fresh coconut and we shared the refreshing liquid.  Sherrie negotiated for some postcards but the vendor didn’t get low enough, so she bid him a cheerful goodbye and the pole pusher on our boat made us go further, then with a hoot and a tug Sherrie was facing the seller again as he agreed to her price.  The experience was outstanding and is recommended highly.  Our camera clicked like a train on an old set of tracks.  Ted was on board taking it all in and enjoying the recognition he received.  
Most lady vendors in the boats wear a “lamp-shade” type hat, like a volcano-mountain with the top blown off.  Inside a circular basket sits upon the head allowing lots of air circulation below the brim.  “Most of the sellers are older ladies,” explained Tuk, “because young people are getting educated and moving to jobs in Bangkok.”  

Our driver was waiting for us just outside the market so it wasn’t necessary to return the way we came by longtail boat. 

                                                     
We declined going to some of the other local attractions (ie: the snake farm) and headed back to Bangkok with only one stop at an obligatory tourist stop that sold wood carvings.  Most were not the type of item you would buy as a souvenir to tuck in your suitcase.  There were life size carvings (one destined for Vancouver) and ornately carved furniture going to people (according to the prices, size and weight) around the world who could afford a troop of muscular pool boys to move the chairs as needed.  

The traffic thickened as we got closer to Bangkok.  Tuk fidgeted in the front seat and spoke with the driver.  Traffic started to crawl and Tuk kept checking her watch until she turned and said, “I’m supposed to be meeting my next tourists and we are still far away from your hotel.  Would it be okay if the driver took you to the hotel and I take a motorbike taxi to meet my people?”  When we indicated that it was fine, she added, “You won’t be mad with me?”  We assured her no, thanked her for her time and said goodbye.  We saw her run across the busy multilane highway, dodging slow moving traffic and calling out to a motorbike taxi that didn’t seem to hear her until she almost reached out and touched it.  A few sprinkles of rain hit the windshield and we wondered how long it would be until she was undercover.        

  

continue to November 6 - 11, 2005

 

back to Asian Experience home page