Traveling to Thailand I got my first taste of the real Asia since my arrival in Singapore in September. While Singapore is a homogenized version of Asia, Thailand represents the real chaos that greets a traveler to Asia and Bangkok with its monumental traffic jams, infrastructure that is failing to maintain pace with economic growth and taxi drivers without a clear idea of where they are taking you is a typical large metropolis. That's not to say I didn't enjoy Bangkok in parts, it's just quite a jolt to the senses. While the city has a reputation for being wide open the Thai people themselves are conservative and extremely devoted to their King. His likeness is everywhere and the city hosts a magnificent Grand Palace compound and temple. In fact there are dozens in Bangkok to visit if the traffic doesn't kill you first.
In Bangkok, you are assaulted by a phenomenon that presents itself in all developing countries, the self-appointed tout. A person that gains enumeration by directing you to places you may or may not have attended to visit preferably by means of one of the innumerable Tuk-Tuks. These are the infamous three-wheeled taxis of Bangkok. While riding a bike you tend to dodge traffic, in a car you move along with the traffic, in a Tuk-Tuk you are immersed in traffic and the noise, the heat radiating from the various motors and the fumes clothe you like second-hand smoke.
Bangkok offers a number of day trips out of the city. Since this was my first trip to Thailand I decided to follow the normal tourist route so my first excursion was to the Thai Cultural Center. On this trip I experienced something that is quite common in Asia but considered an extravagance in Europe, the private tour. I was accompanied by an English speaking guide and my own driver. While this took a little getting used to it allowed me the opportunity to modify my tour to suit my needs. If I wished to extend my time at a particular location or had seen enough of the jewelry or handicrafts and wished to be off then it was easy to do. Another thing to remember on taking these organized tours you will see jewelry and handicrafts whether you want to or not. One wonders if they think all westerners cover themselves in jewelry or manage a gold horde instead of a bank account.
On the way there we stopped off at a Animal Park. In addition to a display of dozens of elephants on which you can ride, I saw a quite exciting alligator show with the performers literally putting their lives on the line by placing their head within the alligators jaws. Luckily the alligators were not too hungry that day though they have been known to chomp off a limb out of spite. The elephants on the other hand were restrained by what seemed to be flimsy chained to their feet. Chains that I am sure they could easily break if ever they so desired.
At the Thai Cultural Center along with the now obligatory elephant rides there were a number of local craftspeople set about the grounds plus some replications of traditional housing. Later in the theater I took in a show of juggling, kick boxing that ended with a performance of Thai music and dance. Getting kicked in the head by one of the boxers is sure to get your attention. There were also some shops where you can buy more handicrafts if your suitcase was not bulging already and at one of these I bought a very nice woven silk shirt which I wore in the evening for dinner back in the city.
When I hear people who complain or object to people in other countries, my first question is always “when were you last there?”. Almost always, their answer is “I’ve never been there”. It is easy to develop prejudices from afar, but it is difficult to do when you have met these people and have looked them in the eye.Aldous Huxley
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
The market is located at Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi Province, about 105 km from Bangkok. According to history around 1866 King Rama IV ordered that a 32 km long canal be dug at Damnoen Saduak. This canal would connect the Mae Klong River with the Tacheen River. Today it is a prime destination for day tours out of Bangkok and like any self-respecting tourist it was on my must-see list.While it does get crowded I found it well worth the visit for the color and atmosphere.
I arrived early in the morning and took a longtail boat along the canal before reaching the site of the floating market. All along the canal there are houses, from shacks to some that were quite nice. I understand that some homes are owned by city dwellers. It seems hard to see where the property boundaries were demarcated. The sellers were still setting up shop so I was able to get some good pictures. Later I got off the boat and walked along the market stalls lining the canal and had a little to eat watching the world go by. I was approached by a group of kids practicing their English for school. While their English was very simplistic they seemed to very much enjoy their studies. Luckily there seems to be a surplus of English speaking tourists for them to practice on. I wonder what the French or more problematic the Latin students do.