After a stint in the US, we’ve gone from South America to Southeast Asia. The churches have switched to temples, the maracuya has switched to bags of fanta, the taxis covered in Jesus paraphernalia have switched to taxis covered in Buddha paraphernalia, the pictures of James Rodriguez have switched to pictures of the Thai king, and the tuk tuks have switched to…well they are still tuk tuks, but you get the point.
We decided to stay in the same hotel that Ben had stayed in during his trips to Bangkok a few years ago. The hotel was located next to Khao San Rd. Over the years this road has become a backpacker haven, and now epitomizes the subculture of backpacking gringos that has taken stake in SouthEast Asia. The road is filled with clothing stalls, cheap hostels and bars, bookstores with selections like On the Road by Jack Kuerac, and locals encouraging a Chang beer or cheap massage for tired travelers. Although not the most authentic view of Bangkok, it deserves its place here nonetheless. This past week it’s been a nice reprieve after exploring the rest of the city, especially chaotic neighbors like ‘Chinatown’ which had my head spinning (particularly the fresh seafood market).
A couple days into the trip, while walking around town, we passed a poster that looked something like this. It stopped us in our tracks and we decided this is where we wanted to go next. These floating markets were the primary way people sold fish and produce, during a time when water transport played a major role in daily life.
After looking into it later that day I was a little disappointed to discover that, after being rendered an inefficient method to sell their goods, today they are mostly used as tourist attractions where crowds of tourists are bussed each day to take photos and buy souvenirs. Not exactly what I had in mind…
There was one market I found that seemed a little less contrived. It was in the town of Amphawa and was started in modern times to keep the tradition alive. Although touristy, it catered more towards locals, mainly those living in Bangkok who were interested in honoring their traditional ways of life. The town wasn’t too far and we decided to check it out the next day.
Our book about Thailand provided brief yet strange directions on how to get there. They seemed more like a giant riddle to be deciphered than directions, with phrases like “meander through the fresh market towards the river” and “find the pier where a ferry will be waiting” and “at the next town find a sleepy train station” and lastly, our favorite “at said town find a ‘sorngtaaou‘ that will take you to the end destination” …. with no explanation what a sorngtaaou actually was.
After reading through it a couple times, we decided to just wing it, with little insight into the many taxi, train, ferry, tuk tuk and sorngtaaou rides that were to come. We left around 11:00am for what we thought would be a 1-2 hour trip and didn’t arrive to the Amphawa Floating Market until 7:00pm that night. Although completely unexpected the trip there was incredible from start to finish.
For me it was a chance to see the Thai countryside. Our train passed through wet marsh lands, with swamp backing right up to each side of the tracks. It felt like we were riding on water. Then we would slice through a jungle with limbs and leafs spraying into the windows from each side. What we thought would be minutes on our second train turned into hours.
Occasionally we squeezed through small villages, riding so close to houses I could literally reach out the window and touch the rooftops. Each village we passed gave way to glimpses of daily homelife. Kids playing, mothers cooking, old men pondering…each time I locked eyes with someone a smile appeared.
When we got off one form of transportation, we would have to ask locals to point us in the right direct to the next. A women gutting fish in the market would stop and patiently listen to our questions, then point us along. We would continue on in this vague direction until we felt the need to ask someone again. Sometimes other people passing by would eagerly join in on helping us, everyone talking at the same time, waving their hands the same general direction, their smiles never ceasing.
After watching a bright pink sunset on the last train, we didn’t think we would make it in time, but we didn’t really care. We both agreed the trip itself was worth it whether we made it to the floating market or not.
But after a taxi ride to Wong Wien Ya station in Bangkok, a train across marshlands to Samut Sakon, shuffling through a market and finding a ferry across the river to Ban Laem, walking down a deserted road lined with fields and pagotas, to another train ride to Samut Songkhram, through another market, to a tuk tuk ride to the town of Amphawa, we arrived.
Lucky for us the Amphawa Floating Market was also a nighttime affair. By the time we got there and secured a place to sleep, we still had about an hour before it was over. We arrived starving, having not eaten since 9am that morning. We walked along the riverside where men and women were grilling seafood directly on their boats. Patrons sat along the edge, eating any and every kind of sea creature imaginable from squid, sting rays, horseshoe crabs to the completely unidentifiable. After surveying the culinary scene we opted for roasted corn and fried rice. I had spent too much time smelling raw fish in the markets on our journey there to crave any kind of seafood dinner. As we walked along the river and surrounding food stalls, we realized we were the only foreigners in sight, which was a nice change from Bangkok.
After about an hour we felt dead on our feet. It was our fourth day in Thailand and the time change was still a challenge. There are only a couple photos from the day. It was nice to just be in each moment without taking our cameras out. Hopefully our words will suffice. But we did get some great shots of the Grand Palace after returning to Bangkok.
Tomorrow we are taking a sleeper train 15 hours north to Chang Mai.