March 19, 2008

Thailand Vacation - Floating Market and Elephants

What a day this was!

We began our day with the amazing buffet breakfast at the hotel. It included fresh fruits and juices, fresh baked pastries, made-to-order omelets, the standard American breakfast fare (pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs, bacon, etc.), dim sum (Chinese), rice and fish and picked vegetables (Japanese), poori and aloo (Indian), and Thai pancakes and noodles. (As it turns out, this morning feast, while delicious, was quite unnecessary, since we would be eating all day.)

We met our tour guide, Mem, in the lobby at 7 AM. We had booked, by email/internet, a full-day tour that was to include a trip by air-conditioned van to the famous Floating Market (which Mike and Ilena really wanted to see) and the Elephant Park (which we figured would be fun for the kids), as well as some other sites. It turned out to be a terrific thing to do. While a bit touristy, we saw some really amazing places that we never would have figured out how to see on our own. (And, trust us, the prospect of figuring out how to get around in and what to see in sweltering Bangkok with Jacob and Lauren was not something we were interested in!) The driver pulled up, in a roomy boxy old BMW van, we piled in, and we were off. As we drove out of Bangkok and south towards the Floating Market, we passed a number of stunningly beautiful temples, scores of huge billboards with pictures of the King of Thailand (there are pictures of this guy literally everywhere), as well as many shanty shacks.

We first got out of the van to wander around a local street market, which had a dazzling array of fresh fruits and grilled fruits (like bananas). We got a bag of super-sweet pineapple. It came with a mixture of salt, sugar, and chili powder for dipping the fruit into. It was delicious. Thai food combines the salt and sugar tastes a lot (e.g., in lemonade), and while very different for Western taste buds, it is a very good combination.

After the street market, we went to the Coconut Tree Farm, where we learned how they make coconut sugar, tasted warm caramel-liked patties of the sugar, tried our hand at scraping coconut out of the shell (and tasted it), and looked at all of the various handicrafts they make out of coconut shells. (No part of the coconut goes to waste here). It was a fun little place to stretch our legs.

Afterwards, we drove a short distance to the dock. There, we embarked on a motorized long-tail boat ride through a maze of canals that ultimately connects to the Floating Market. It was one fast and fun ride as we zipped through the canals, whizzing by shanty houses on stilts with mini-shrines on the outside and many wild flowers (including orchids). Finally, we disembarked at the Floating Market.

The Floating Market is best described through pictures, which we will include below. The sights, and smells, and colors are just terrific, and it’s a picture in our mind that we will always remember. From boats in the water on the canal, people are selling Thai barbeque meats, fresh fruits, fried bananas, soups, and many other foods. All the prepared foods are made in the boats. There are also food items, as well as souvenir items, for sale along the shore. We sampled mangos, pomelos (like a sweeter cross between a grapefruit and pomegranate), and barbeque meats. It was a great place to wander around. Ilena bought a beach hat that converts into a fan. The culinary highlight was definitely the fried bananas. When you buy foods from the boats in the water, they send the bag to you on a hook on the end of a long rod, which also has a basket. You then put the money in the basket. The kids helped us to complete several such transactions.

After the floating market, we were taken to Royal Thai Handicrafts, which specializes in intricate teak carving. Really beautiful stuff. And compared to the U.S., where a machine made teak table set can be pricey, the prices (before any bargaining) were amazing. We were shown a movable teak liquor cabinet, with the cabinets carved in various designs. The showroom (which was powerfully air conditioned!) was really interesting to look around. We didn’t make any large-scale teak furniture purchases, but it was tempting!

After that, it was off to the Samphran Elephant Park, where we took in the elephant show and the crocodile show. Ever seen elephants play soccer before? (By the way, for a truly superlative blog, check out the Samphran Elephant Park link. Amazing blog about Thailand.)

We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon, and took a nice swim at the pool. We met a group of high school kids from Hong Kong who were on a rugby team together and playing some games in Bangkok. They were playing with Rugby balls in the pool, and welcomed Lauren and Jacob into their game. They were very sweet with the kids. Afterwards, we were speaking with the coach, who was from the UK, and we remarked what a nice group of young men they were. He replied: “Actually, I am a policeman, and met all these kids in my, er, professional capacity.” Turns out that all of the kids came from tough backgrounds and the rugby league was a sort of rehabilitation program. Well, they were pretty terrific playmates with Jacob and Lauren.

This evening, for dinner, we got specific directions to a nice Thai sit-down restaurant, weren’t able to find it, and again ended up eating authentic street-side cooked Thai food sitting on a rickety table by the side of the road. This time, we enjoyed real Pad Thai, Chicken with Cashews, Spicy Green Papaya Salad, and Lemonade (made with salt and sugar). Street food was simply our destiny in Bangkok. No complaints, though! On the way back, we walked by the restaurant that we had been unable to find, and just laughed.

After kiddie bedtime, Mike wandered out down Silom Road towards the evening markets and Patpong nightlife area (just to have a quick look!). Along the way, it was basically an orgy of all sorts of goods, sold from sidewalk booths that sprout up to line the sidewalks after 6 PM. The street and bars were packed, and Bangkok was just awash with people and energy. Hitting the bed back in the air conditioned room sure felt good tonight.


Julia said...
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Joe Smith said...

Thailand holidays are very exciting place many activities you can enjoy here. Thailand is also known as "Land of Smiles." You can also see Floating market, you cannot find such markets in all over the world. Next is Elephant park, Children and elders can also enjoy here. Elephant activities and elephant shown can also be enjoy here.