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Published: March 17th 2013
We have come to the end of our month long stay in Bangkok. We have enjoyed our visit and while we will be sad to be on our way, we are excited to continue our travels further into Southeast Asia. Because Bangkok is the hub of everyone’s travels in this area of the world, we know that at some time we will be back and we look forward to our next visit to this busy and exciting city.
Bangkok has been a great place to get to know with its seemingly unending variety of things to see and do. Bangkok is busy and it is hot, and might not be everyone’s favorite place, but like most great travel cities of the world, it is filled with helpful and vibrant people and almost non-stop movement. To be bored in Bangkok does not seem possible.
We leave tomorrow and head south by train to Malaysia. Our train will take almost 24 hours and will take us to the seaport town of Penang. This will be our first long distance train trip and hopefully it will be filled with adventure and will give us a chance to meet fellow travelers. We have
scheduled 2 weeks in Penang, which will be our shortest stop anywhere during our trip. We will also be changing our mode of travel slightly, in that we will be staying in a guesthouse instead of our usual private apartment. I’m sure we will enjoy it and it will be good practice for the places we have planned to visit in the future.
We had an interesting day going into Bangkok to get our train tickets and necessary guidebooks and maps for our trip. While we were at the Hua Lamphong train station where we will be travelling from, we spotted a line of barbers cutting hair for waiting travelers. We needed a haircut and decided to take our chances after finding out that it was a local barber school cutting hair for practice. We pulled up a plastic chair on the side of the tracks and tried to explain what we had in mind. The lady barbers had quite a laugh since even though we were sitting in a chair they still had to stand on their toes to reach the top of our hair. All in all, it was a fine haircut and the best part was
Amphawa Floating Market
It's been a long, hot day!!
when we went to pay and were told it was free. They wouldn’t even take a tip.
We had not ventured too far off of the well-known tourist track since we arrived in Bangkok and decided to get a little off of the guidebook suggestions for our final week in Bangkok. We both enjoy watching the American TV show, “Amazing Race”, and decided to look up some of the places they had been in visits to Bangkok. In one episode they visited the busy Bangkok flower market near the Chao Praya River. We decided to plan one day’s travels to explore the area near the market.
The flower market is open 24 hours a day and is primarily for wholesale business. It is located not far from Memorial Bridge, one of the many bridges that cross the Chao Praya in an east/west direction. We read that the best time of day to visit the market was early in the morning, so we got an early 5 AM start so we could catch the first shuttle from our house to the Skytrain station closest to where we live in Thonburi. The Skytrain took us across the river and to
the Express Ferry that would be our transportation to the market. We reached the ferry landing while it was still dark and surprisingly quiet for Bangkok. We watched the sun rise from the ferry landing while we waited for our boat to arrive. We actually got a seat on the ferry for the first time and made our way up river to the market.
While the rest of the city was just getting started, the flower market was in full motion. Trucks and motorcycles were coming from every direction carrying produce and flowers to and from the market. Every color of flower imaginable was available and some types that we had never seen before. Many people were making intricate bouquets and arrangements that would be taken as offerings to the temples later in the day. After about an hour and a half of perusing the aisles we made our way back to the ferry landing to continue our day’s adventure.
We took the ferry a couple of stops upriver and then caught a cross river ferry to Wat Arun. Wat Arun was quite beautiful in the still early light with it many porcelain tiles lit by the morning
sun. The porcelain tiles were used as ballast on the Chinese ships that visited the city while the Wat was being built. We climbed the stairs to the top of the temple and had a fantastic view over the river, city and especially the Grand Palace in the near distance.
While it was still barely noon we decided to end our day at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Part of the old wing of the hotel is restored and contains the famous Writers Lounge that was visited by many writers of the past, including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell, on their travels through Bangkok in earlier days. We decided to have a beer at the excellent Bamboo Bar in the hotel. The bar was a classic tropical bar where it was easy to imagine Humphrey Bogart having a drink in the corner and listening to “As Time Goes By” in Casablanca. Even though it was only a little after noon, because of our early start it was the perfect end to our days travels.
Staying with the Amazing Race theme we also spent one morning visiting M. R. Kukrit’s traditional Thai House. Kukrit was a famous
writer and sometimes actor who also was a Prime Minister of Thailand for a short time during the 1970’s. He brought several classic Thai houses from the countryside and had them reconstructed on his property in the middle of downtown. Each tiny house served as a room for himself or his guests as well as his extensive collection of art and books from his travels of the world. As we stood on the back lawn, it was quite a contrast between the old style of his house and the many towering condominiums and office buildings that now surround his property.
Since we have been in Bangkok we have wanted to go to one of the famous floating markets of Thailand. The markets used to be held along the many waterways of Bangkok, but as Bangkok has become more oriented around its many roadways, the markets are now mostly found in the countryside around Bangkok. The floating markets are held on weekends along the Khlongs (small waterways) in towns and are basically where Thai farmers and fishermen bring their products by boat to sell to waiting townspeople. The most famous market is at Damnoen Saduak south west of the city,
but we had heard that is not quite as authentic as it once was and perhaps we would rather visit one that was still more locally visited. We decided to go to Amphawa which is located about 60 miles southwest of town near the Gulf of Thailand.
We again got an early start and headed by taxi to the nearby Wong Wian Yai train station located here in Thonburi. We arranged to catch the next train heading west on the Marachai line towards Samut Sakhon. It was still dark when we left the train station travelling 3rd
class and we were surprised to find the car was air conditioned. We were even more surprised when the conductor asked us for our ticket and we found out that we were not in fact in the correct car we had paid for. We made the harrowing trip back a couple of cars to where we were supposed to be and quickly found out why air conditioning cost more money as our cars were much warmer despite the early hour.
It took about an hour to reach Samut Sakhon. We passed through many shantytowns along the tracks and enjoyed waving at
the kids getting ready to start their day. In Samut Sakhon we had to get off the train in a crazily busy market and make our way by ferry across the river to catch our next train. We stopped for a few minutes to walk around the market and were amazed at the array of produce and meat being sold. It was hard to believe so many people were shopping and it still was barely 8 AM.
We found our river ferry easy enough and walked through the streets of Ban Laem on the way to the small station where we would catch our next train. We waited about 1 ½ hours for our train. There was a single car parked on the tracks that appeared to be broken down and blocking the station. The workers were taking their time, but became more frantic as the time approached for the next train to arrive. They finally managed to get the train started, but only moved it about 200 yards before it died again. They ended up having to jack the train up and change an axle, apparently a job which required more time.We ended up having to walk a
short distance to get to where our train could safely pick us up.
After passing through some beautiful marshland countryside filled with cane fields, rice paddies, fish farms and salt ponds we reached our destination of Samut Songkram. Samut Songkram is famous for having a market that is located right on the train tracks. The vendors have cleverly made stalls that can be quickly moved back from harm’s way when the train approaches. It is quite amazing and is worth looking for on a YouTube video that was made about the market.
After watching the train leave the station and pass back through the market stalls we caught what is called a Sorngtaauo to Amphawa. A Sorngtaauo is basically a pickup truck with a camper top and seats arranged in back to sit on. Our truck had full seats so we rode on the conveniently widened back bumper that had hand rails welded on to it. We felt like firemen riding on the back of the truck as we made our way down the highway on the 10 minute ride to Amphawa.
Amphawa turned out to be a fantastic market that was probably the best thing
we have done since we arrived in Thailand. Both sides of the river are lined with restaurants and food vendors selling all kinds of delicious treats to eat and drink. We somehow managed to bypass all the wonderful things on land and made our way to the boats that lined the waterway and held an unbelievable array of seafood oriented treats cooked right on the boats. We pulled up a small seat on the steps and began pointing to the various vendors in the boats when we saw something we liked. Everything was very fresh and was cooked right before your eyes. Crab, squid, shrimp (some the size of small lobsters), fish, chicken and a huge variety of rice and noodle dishes could be ordered. We have enjoyed delicious Thai food everywhere since arriving here but nothing compared to this. We ate huge shrimp, squid with spicy dipping sauce, chicken with satay sauce and an excellent dish that they called Pad Thai but was more like a seafood salad with papaya, bean sprouts and peppers with a sweet sprinkling of some kind of goodness on top that was absolutely to die for. We pigged out at dockside for a good
45 minutes and still didn’t spend 10 dollars. It was delicious and a highlight of our trip so far.
After our delicious meal we walked along the busy boardwalk and enjoyed some tasty coconut ice cream covered with black jelly and coconut rice. Yum. After exploring for another hour we were quite hot and full and just couldn’t get psyched up to recreate our morning journey and decided to opt for a convenient air conditioned minibus for the hour long ride back to Bangkok. By far this was the best thing we did since arriving and we were so glad we had a chance to visit Amphawa on our last weekend in Thailand.
It’s time to get packing for our trip and eat up the last of our groceries before we leave for Malaysia tomorrow. We have a long journey ahead but if it is as enjoyable as our time in Thailand, we can’t wait to get going.
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