Friday, June 17, 2016

EER R&R: Bangkok Part Two

Saturday was mostly a lazy day since my cold was settling in. I met my friend S from my UCT days for lunch at Din Tai Fung in one of the local malls. He's based on Bangkok working for an amazing humanitarian organization, and it was lovely to catch up outside the confines of Facebook. DTF is a Taiwan-based dim sum/dumpling restaurant, and they are quite tasty. After S left I had a mani/pedi at the mall followed by a wash and blowdry for my hair. I love pampering days. After that it was time to head back to the tailor for the first fitting. I waited a bit longer than I liked for my suit jacket to get there, but everything was on track before too long. I stopped for a tasty Thai dinner of pad thai on the way home and slept well.

On Sunday I embarked on my first Bangkok Food Tours adventure - the offbeat floating markets tour. It was fabulous. They picked me up at the hotel at 7:00, and within a few minutes all four participants were picked up and we were on our way. The first stop was at the Maeklong train market in Samut Songkram. The market is literally on the train tracks, and the train runs through numerous times a day. The vendors get a five minute train bell alarm and pull their umbrella awnings and products away, the train runs through, and then immediately it's back to being a market. The market runs about 400 m along the tracks and is a fresh market with a heavy emphasis on fish and seafood. The products that are low to the ground (mostly fruits/veggies) are left there, and the train runs right over them. Fascinating! We munched on some deep fried bananas as we walked the length of the market once the train went through, and then got back in the car for our next destination.

Tha Ka floating market was the first of our three floating markets for the day, and it was a lovely introduction. Built along a canal with most of the vendors living nearby, women bring their boats and cook a variety of dishes for the visitors to enjoy. The community is doing a lot to build up the amenities there (bathrooms, picnic tables, etc.) to market the experience and bring in tourists, but it was still overwhelmingly local visitors. We walked around and smelled and looked and took it all in before sitting down and feasting. We had tastes of several dishes as well as fresh coconut juice and had fun watching the day unfold. After that it was a ride along the canals in a wooden row boat and a visit to a coconut sugar factory. It was a hot, humid day, and the sun bearing down on the open boat was a bit much. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Next was Bang Noi market, essentially a small village on the Mae Klong river, with the bottom floors of stilt wooden houses 'floating' as market stalls. There has been a great deal of infrastructure improvements here recently, and they're trying hard to market to local and foreign tourists. I found it a lovely place to while away an afternoon, enjoying fried rice and tofu soup and Thai massage along with a lovely seaside breeze. My two favorite moments: a dog jumped in the river (with a strong current), and it was unclear whether he was enjoying a swim or struggling in the fast waters. He came close to the docks a few times (there were dozens of people trying to make sure he was okay and calling to him), but he just paddled and played and eventually crossed the river and came out on the far bank. I guess all was fine! The second was the 'restaurant' area where the cooks sing karaoke when they're not serving meals. They were all on the mature side and having a grand old time singing and playing maracas and laughing. We ate our fried rice in view (and hearing distance) of them, and they laughingly invited us to join in. They were not great singers, but the enthusiasm and fun was top notch.

Our next stop was a temple, Wat Bang Kun, built into a banyan tree. Also called the unseen temple, it was a very popular sight for worshippers, and there's a bodhi tree growing on one side of the temple as well. The buddha inside the temple is adorned in gold leaf by visitors and there's also several displays of statues commemorating wars and muay thai. I was fascinated by a display of rooster statues of all sizes. Our guide told us they date back to a Thai king who loved cock fighting and are given in tribute, but I am having a difficult time verifying that tale.

The day's final stop was Amphawa Floating Market, an afternoon/night market famed for its abundance of sweets and snacks (and people). It was quite hot walking through, and it was by far the busiest place of the day. We sat down at a stall where the fresh seafood was grilled on the boats on the river and handed up the docks to the waiters for serving. I enjoyed grilled calamari and a cold soda before we set off walking around. We tried a number of different types of snacks and did a lot of people watching before stopping for ice cream to end the day. After that it was a quick ferry trip back across the river to our van and a relatively traffic-free ride back into Bangkok. I ended the night with a foot/leg massage at the spa and some room service snacks.

Train market entrance, about eight minutes before the train is due to arrive.
Just before the five minute warning bell rings

Starting to pack things away.

Taking down the awnings
Moving out of the way. Note the wares lower than the rails stay put.

Here comes the train!

Fruits and veggies stacked to just the right height to not have to move

Putting everything back to normal!
Lots of fresh fish and seafood

Eels, before and after.

I loved this scene.

Frogs on sticks.

Tha Ka Floating Market

Dishing up a fresh omelette

A lovely day for a market breakfast!

Bananas and papayas!

Delicious Thai savory crepe

Interesting dish with mussels and tapioca flour

Lucky money bags

Fresh coconut water

Time for a boat ride!

Exploring the nearby canals

House shrine; note the rooster statue

At the coconut sugar factory

Palm trees growing in curves

Bang Noi Floating Market

Mae Klong River

Lots of renovations in process

Bored restaurant vendors sing karaoke to pass the time.

Rooster statues at Wat Bang Kun

Temple in the tree

Everybody puts gold leaf on Buddha. His head is a popular destination.

More gold leaf coverings


The temple's outside, in the tree roots

Lovely setting

Fried whole crabs

Making som tam at Amphawa market

Prawns ready for grilling in the boat

Busy vendor cooking up seafood

My delicious grilled calamari

Amphawa Floating Market
More seafood

The ferry to the opposite shore and the parking area