Saturday, September 2nd

Bangkok, Thailand

Breakfast was a bit exciting this morning when one of the diners told us that they had spotted a boa (snake) in a tree right outside the window. We were not able to spot it but they were quite adamant.

Mel and I had agreed that today we would go to a floating market. These are largely a relic of the past with many now more for tourists than locals so we were hoping to see something a bit more authentic than a theatrical performance. We had read about the “Taling Chan Floating Market” that, although small, is still quite authentic and, as a bonus, was only a short distance away. When we talked with the concierge about what we were thinking he attempted to convince us to visit a larger floating market about an hour and a half away but we eventually had him flag down a cab to take us to Taling Chan (though the first taxi smiled and drove off without us when he found out where we were going - I guess not enough money in it?).

The 25 minute (85 baht; £1.95) trip took us over the largest river in Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River, on the older “Somdet Phra Pin-klao Bridge” along a busy highway then through a residential area to drop us off on a non-descript street corner and pointed in a general direction. The busy street barely had any pavement so we had to step out into the roadway to get around, following the signs to the floating market which was, thankfully, only a short distance away.

Along the road leading into the market were a large number of stalls selling exotic looking garden plants and others selling fresh fruit and vegetables - Green mango, green oranges, dragon fruit, kumquats, bitter melon, herbs of all kinds, lotus seeds (helpfully labelled or we would not have had a clue), apples, multi-coloured cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, and many others we could not identify.

There were, of course, the street food vendors with their skewers and other visions of tastiness. It was all very lively and everything looked so nice. We watched quite an unusual looking stall owner (perhaps a “ladies boy”?) quickly cooking up thin egg pancakes with various fillings.

We passed through a covered section of the market that led us to the waterfront. I had read up on the market and knew there was a boat trip on the local canals that left at 10:30 and it was about that time now. By luck we found the ticket counter and picked up our ticket (79 baht each; £1.81) before making a mad dash through the “floating” part of the market to catch the boat before it left, a bit of a distance away stopping only to catch some fleeting glimpses along the way of large numbers of fish in the water, covered communal eating areas, boats with people cooking on them…

It was only a few minutes to wait for our boat to arrive on a dock under a concrete road bridge - It was a long thin boat seating about 20 passengers, two abreast on wooden benches under a rainbow-coloured plastic roof and powered by a what looked to be a car engine with a 10 foot long propeller shaft sticking into the water off the back of the boat steered using a long pole attached to the engine by a gentleman sitting on a box high enough to see over our heads.

As we pushed off and quickly got up to speed (and it was fast, yes) what struck me was how lush the shoreline was. Picture postcard wooden houses on stilts with copious amounts of trees and plants in between. Access to the buildings, none more than two stories high, was obviously by boat with steps leading to the water at each spot along the narrow canal lined with utility poles. Everywhere you looked was interesting with each ramshackle building different from its neighbour with the occasional satellite dish poking from a roof to remind you that this is the 21st century. We passed all the trappings of a living community: Various temples, shops, and schools all along the water. Occasionally side canals would meet with our larger strip of water that we could see were also lined with buildings. It was not all pretty with the occasional concrete apartment block but for the most part it was small wooden structures poking out of the water.


So many people seem to take pride in their houses with large quantities of beautiful plants in containers but we were reminded these are actually people’s homes with laundry hanging outside of windows above the canal to dry, dirty children playing on a dock, groceries stacked on a patio, post boxes attached to the sides of buildings in various guises (some little more than a bucket), someone waiting for a lift sitting in a small covered “boat stop”…

The dark water is surprisingly clean here with mats of plants frequently floating about along with a number of fish visible just below the surface. Nowhere more so then where we briefly stopped on the first leg of our trip. Fifteen minutes into the tour we stopped at a concrete pier beside a canal-side monastery where a number of monks sat at a table having something to eat. It took only a few seconds it was clear why we were stopping as the water around us started to boil with thousands of large catfish. Several people were selling food for the fish who reacted with great enthusiasm when it was thrown to them with fish literally jumping out of the water and swarming over each other everywhere you looked.

Quite an incredible sight.

A few minutes up the canal we reached our destination: “Wat Kor” a small Buddhist Temple found where two canals meet. We were given fifteen minutes to walk around. Surrounded by trees it was obviously very well used and not really a tourist destination. Very ornamental chickens were everywhere much to Mel’s delight as were some somewhat less appealing flea-bitten dogs which at one point were howling away to the music being played by a monk.

The small buildings of the complex were still quite garishly painted with yellow walls and the fancy trimming we are now getting used to seeing. Getting near to the heat of the day many local people could be seen out of the heat under the trees or laying down for a short snooze. Some orange swathed monks were ignoring us and talking amongst themselves over some food while Mel and I stalked the chickens (well, Mel stalked the chickens to take pictures and I stalked Mel to take pictures of her stalking the chickens…). At the top of the hour a dong rang out shattering the quiet for a few seconds.

It was getting hot as we returned on the boat to the market going at quite a faster pace than on the way out making me wonder what the locals think of the “tourist” boat speeding by all the time leaving large waves in its wake. I guess they must have gotten used to it over the years. Leaving the temple we turned back onto the Chak Phra canal to return to the market. This was a fascinating boat ride that was pleasant without any commentary or pretence at tourist comfort. I think we really saw what many people really live like here in the city - Amazing.

Back at the market we were helped off the boat and left to our own devices though we had had some time to think about what we wanted to do. First we headed back to a section of water separating the floating foot boats from the market on the land where we watched as people fed a large shoal of catfish. They are quite fascinating to watch. Mel bought some bread for 12 baht (£0.28) to feed to the fish that was obviously there for this purpose.

They were also selling some brightly coloured puffed snacks that several women were feeding to the fish as well, the orange and pink pieces dancing on the dark grey surface as the black fish clambered over themselves to get at them. Quite mesmerising.

It was close to lunchtime so we walked back out onto the pier then onto a long covered seating area in which low tables were set out. In the water alongside were a series of narrow boats tethered up cooking various dishes.

How it worked was you sat down at one of the tables then you were given a set of menus by a “waitress” who took your order then gave it to one of the boats moored up alongside. We were not really that hungry but sat down to try a few things. We ordered 16 satay chicken skewers (60 baht; £1.38) - served on a banana leaf with two wonderful dipping sauces; a mussel omelet (40 baht; £0.92) we had been watching a little old lady cook with amazing dexterity in a large round skillet - served with fresh bean sprouts, coriander and spring onions with a spicy dip, delicious and not in any way fishy; and, of course, several cold soft drinks in an attempt to beat away the heat. It was unlike any food court I had ever been in before (the lizards climbing around the interior of the roof being another unique selling point) and the people were just so nice!

Leaving the dining area we followed a small dock running parallel to the boats to get a closer look at the chefs at work. It is amazing to see how organized the whole thing is. One lady was sitting in a boat cooking on a barbecue various seafood including some nice looking prawns while she was simultaneously cooking a dozen or so fish stuffed with leaves on a separate boat, or rather, narrow, floating barbecue that she would periodically pull or push to get at the fish as it finished cooking placing it onto several bamboo leaves and delicately peeling off the flesh for diners.

By now the rest of the land-based section of the market was quite busy as we made our way out to arrange transport back to the hotel though not before first stopping in a local 7-11 for some drinks (sadly, not a REAL 7-11).

We had been thinking about catching a tuk-tuk as this is something we have not yet done here in Bangkok. We bickered with a solitary driver at the entrance of the market but frankly he wanted too much money starting at 200 baht we got him down to 150 but we were more interested in 100 or 120. We gave up and instead found a taxi (93 baht; air conditioned so perhaps a better choice anyway in this heat!) who took us a completely different route that finished in us crossing the large modern bridge near the hotel.

The rest of the day we spent around the pool in the hotel which we had woefully neglected during our stay (given the fact we have been so busy, this is hardly surprising). We were approached by a couple, Chris and Marie from Australia who we learned are going to be on our tour. So for the next few hours we had a few drinks and chatted, only leaving when it looked as if rain was going to be coming (it never did). We read in the room until about 6 then headed down to the foyer for the welcome meeting for our tour. We milled around in the lobby for a few minutes until we met by our tour leader, a small young Cambodian lady by the name of “Rous” who ushered us all into a meeting room off the lobby. Sitting in the office chairs we were asking to go around the table and introduce ourselves:

  • Tony and Sally - From Australia (New South Wales)
  • Loretta - From Australia (Victoria)
  • Marie and Chris (who we had met earlier at the pool) - From Australia (on the coast north of Sydney)
  • Carl and Rachel - Originally from Australia but now living in New Zealand
  • PJ and Stephanie (likely the youngest in our group) - Who work together in the medical profession in Abu Dhabi but are both originally from the US
  • Marilyn - A rather eccentric older lady who lives in Western Australia and is working her way around the region

Over the next half hour Rous told us a bit about what was immediately ahead for us then had us giving her various pieces of documentation including our visas for Cambodia (most of us that already had them though you can also purchase them at the border) and our insurance details. She also broke the news that we were going to have to meet in the lobby at 6:15 tomorrow morning for the bus to Cambodia. Yikes. What is even more painful is that we will want to be down earlier to checkout.

Rous suggested we might want to all go out for dinner which everyone agreed to. She took us to quite a touristy place - “Canal View” - right beside the hotel that Mel and I had passed by several times while walking along the canal-side path. The menu was, for Bangkok, frankly uninspiring but really we were here to get to know the other people on the tour. I had the papaya prawn salad and mango juice while Mel tried the chicken and cashew stir fry with a Chang beer - Yeah, told you, not really all that Thai this meal and at 290 baht for two of us this was one of our more expensive meals here! During our meal two of the servers came out in “traditional” dress and danced for us so talking was a bit tricky. I think most of us are just anxious to get on the road and start our trip.

Back in the room we began to gather up our stuff for the trip tomorrow. Exciting! It seems we have been in Bangkok for both a long time but also a short time…I am certainly interested in returning to see more.

>> Sunday, September 3rd