Friday, December 11, 2009

We got mangoes and bananas you can pick right off the tree

The railway station in Bangkok may be a historical landmark, but boy, were there a lot of cockroaches. I mean a LOT. And they were everywhere. I took the kids to go get a treat and, watching the cockroach highway trooping along the front of the Dunkin doughnuts display, I promptly went on a diet. Ugh.

The kids claimed their doughnuts were tasty, and Mike enjoyed his coffee.

More power to them.

We fell into the hands of a tout group, as I had made no arrangements for a ride to Kanchanaburi. Our usual luck held and we ended up not terribly ripped off and in a comfortable taxi with an understanding that we would stop on the way at the Damnoen Floating Market, a place I really wanted to go. The trouble was our luggage.

Travelling light meant that we had only one suitcase and a backpack apiece, but we still needed someplace to put them and someone to watch them for us while we were off gallivanting around. Our driver spoke almost no English, but once on the way he showed me a brochure for the market. I agreed that this was where we wanted to go.

Silly me, he took us to a trap-like place. It was lovely, banana trees, absolutely charming, but as we got out of the taxi we were greeted and then gently informed by the slight hostess that there would be another 1500 Baht charge for the tour of the market. I had already paid something like 3500 for the ride (about $100), and threw a hissy fit.

Mai chai, mai chai I said over and over again, throwing up my hands in true disgust and making as if to put the kids back into the taxi. Apparently it was convincing enough that the price dropped to 1000. Thirty bucks for a couple of hours: the market, the village, feeding fish at the temple, and please enjoy our welcoming drinks.


Thomas pointing to a bunch of "bee-nanas!"

Once it was all settled to everyone's satisfaction I was as pleasant as a little lamb. We drank deeply from coconuts, scraped out some of the tender white meat from within, ate bananas right off the tree, and boarded our longtail boat.

Now, a longtail boat is a canoe-shaped craft with a big engine on the back and from that sprouts a very long shaft out over the water with a propeller at the very end. The shaft is nearly as long as the boat, and with the noise from the engine and breeze from the movement blowing our hair around, we were off on the grey-brown waters to the market.

The boat was surprisingly maneuverable and good thing as it wound through the mazes of river, steep long-grassed or muddy banks on either side, piles of coconut husks, and occasional houses up on stilts fronting the river. As in Venice, transport is either by river or on foot.

We all worked hard at keeping our mouths closed whenever the water sprayed up into our faces, Bethy at the age where she was having a hard time deciding whether that was cool or gross.

Yeah, me too, and I know better.

Soon we came upon the first of the sellers, this woman, selling coconut beer. Coconut beer? Seriously?

She was so cute, flirtatious even. We really should have tried some, but we were still in "no buy" mode.

We did purchase some palm sugar, a kilogram bag of large round lumps that looked like drop cookies for 40 baht, after we watched them whisk it in a very distinctive way, doing a dance as they worked, in a large wok-like bowl over a fire. They even let the kids try stirring it. The result is not unlike brown sugar, and I couldn't wait to try it in tea.

Later, watching a Discovery Channel program, we found out how hard they have to work to harvest the stuff and knew we'd gotten a seriously good deal.

The market is partially on the water, almost exclusively women, steering their crafts around one another, selling mostly fruits; bananas, pomellos, rose apples, dragonfruit, and mangosteens. The other sellers are alongside the river in skinny shops just above boat height, crammed with touristy goods and handicrafts.

We bought all of one charming wooden windchime, paying far too much for it by market standards, I am sure, but who cares? It was fun.

We arrived late, by market standards, thus the canal wasn't choked with sellers and tourists, which was fine by us.

Other boats had the women cooking delicious smelling foods like eggrolls and satays, and we kept thinking we would eventually stop and get some when suddenly the market ran out and we were going through the residential areas along the river.

Gaps between the homes were filled with river plants, and I was probably disproportionately excited to see Jacana birds. These birds have such long toes it distributes their weight over a large area, and voila, they can walk on lilypads, and there they were doing just that.

My enthusisam for wild critters was shared by the other members of my family each time we spotted the shape of a Monitor lizard swimming low in the water like a crocodile. These creatures can grow to nearly 10 feet in length, and there was no doubt that the ones we saw could definitely eat the little yapppy housedogs we saw on people's porches. I asked our guide about the Water Monitors, and I could swear he said they were good eating, though I read later that they are protected. Either way, they were very cool to see.

I adored the little red mailboxes at each house, and some of the houses were very, very nice. I wondered a little bit about bugs, living with the river flowing beneath you, and for the millionth time and then some, thought about how different all our lives are.

Our last stop was another stunning temple, Wat Damnosen, where the kids fed fish. They bought bags of food for a pittance and set about feeding the churning multitudes below.

Much of the food fell to the dock instead, and fed the sadly skinny puppies that were obviously hanging around hoping for such. One thing I didn't like the entire time we were in Thailand was that animals who desperately needed either medical care or to be put down simply wandered free, suffering, until they died. This could have been due to poverty, or to the Buddhist practice of valuing all life, I do not know. I appreciate a culture that understands the necessity of mercy even in the desire to preserve life and not kill.

A monk gave Bethy a piece of gold foil to place upon a statue, which she did, wa-ing prettily and thanking him: Kahp-khoon-kha.

I was so proud.

Our boat driver, ever patient, took us back to the dock and, fending off souvenir plates with our photographs on them, we boarded our taxi and headed to Kanchanaburi.

And is this not a fabulous hat?

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