Floating Market Town

Trip Start Nov 08, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Saturday, June 19, 2010

     My British friend, Debbie, is a real go-getter when it comes to making the most of her weekends.  Dane and I work weekends, and our days off during the week are spread out, which means we don't get out of Bangkok very often during our busy season at work.  But when Debbie invited us to go with her and her boyfriend, Peter, to a floating market town, I thought it was worth scheduling off work.  Debbie is awesome at finding out about cool Thai destinations – the places off the beaten path, unknown to most foreign travelers.      

     This floating market town, called Amphawa, is built on the Chao Praya River delta.  It has lovely Old World charm, maintaining the architecture and customs of the traditional Thai way of life.  The town is full of canals, and the people travel by boat as much as they do by car.  The houses are wooden and built on stilts to accommodate the rising tides and frequent floods. 

     By bus (which is the way we returned), it’s only about an hour and a half away from Bangkok, but on the way there we took the train.  It takes longer, but it allowed us to stop along the way at an interesting market set up along the train tracks.  I’m not sure why they chose to set up a market on the tracks.  Perhaps it’s rent-free space.  But trains pass through regularly, so they’ve had to adapt to this occupational challenge.  As the train rolls in with whistles blowing, the vendors quickly pull their tables back and fold in their umbrellas and tarp poles.  The train passes literally within inches of them.  And as soon as it has squeezed by, everything unfolds and sets back out again, seriously in a matter of seconds.  Everyone is back to hawking and shopping in the blink of an eye.  They’ve got it down pat.  It was crazy to see. 

     After witnessing the market on the tracks, we made our way to Amphawa.  The best thing to do in Amphawa is sample the different food the boat vendors are cooking up.  We walked along the canal and bought up one of practically everything from every boat.  It is amazing how they make a tiny rowboat function as a full kitchen – cooking seafood over hot coals, chopping fruit, making soup – they do it all.  There are even waiters who shuttle the food and money up and down the steps from the boat to the boardwalk.  We took our food back to the guesthouse and ate it on the patio, overlooking one of the canals.  It was very atmospheric and quite delicious.  The seafood was fantastic and amazingly fresh.  We had a smorgasbord – squid, fish curry, chicken sate, papaya salad, Thai omelet, some kind of seafood and egg concoction, and pastries.  Oh, and this strange but wonderful thing called Mien Kam.  It is made up of dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger, lime and chili all wrapped up together in a banana leaf, and it has this delicious sauce.  It’s a crazy mix of strong flavors (salty, sweet, sour, and spicy), but somehow all together it tastes soooo yummy!  We were previously told by our Thai friends that it’s a traditional rural dish, now considered low class, so it can be hard to find, but when you do, it’s only about $1.

     After dinner, we took a boat ride along the canals and river.  In the evenings, the fireflies cluster in the trees along the riverbanks, blinking and twinkling like Christmas lights.  It was very cool to see but unfortunately doesn’t show up well in photos.  Then we walked and checked out the shop fronts along the canals.  I love the old wooden buildings with large shutters that fold back to allow the breeze to flow through.  The light from oil lamps glowed warmly on the wood and played in the ripples on the water below.  There were quite a lot of tourists, but most of them were Thais who escaped Bangkok for an afternoon to gorge themselves on seafood, so the place still feels somewhat authentic.

     The next morning at our guesthouse, we sat on the pier, sipped coffee, and enjoyed a breeze that felt like it was straight off the sea while we watched kids swimming in the river and boats rowing door to door, selling fruit and prepared food.

     And all of this is about 40 miles outside Bangkok.  What a world we live in!
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