Last week I enjoyed a visit from another Xanga friend, David from London. While he doesn’t post as frequently as he once did, I’ve enjoyed his photos and entries from his travels around the globe and was glad he contacted me in advance of his visit to Thailand – his first return in more than a half-dozen years.
We drove to Samut Songkhram province (the smallest of Thailand’s 76 provinces) to visit the Amphawa nighttime floating market. I’ve been there and written about my visits many times before. Each new visit, though, provides some interesting sights I haven’t seen before. Plus, there’s lots for a photobug like David to shoot.
Samut Songkhram province is known, among other things, for its sea salt. Located adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand, the highway through the province is lined with evaporation ponds. This reminds me a bit of the giant evaporation ponds in the South Bay Area near San Francisco. While many of those ponds have been returned to marshland as part of environmental protection land-swaps, when I was growing up we would drive past these vast fields of water slowly changing hues as the water evaporated and different algae would flourish.
While is wasn’t harvest season in most of the ponds, there was one where workers were raking up the salt crystals into small piles and then carting them away. It is visually interesting to look at.
Upon arrival to downtown Amphawa, the small town that hosts the successful nighttime Friday-Sunday floating market, we explored one of the nearby temples. This temple, Wat Amphawan Chetiyaram, was built on the spot where King Rama II was born in 1766. There is also a nearby park commemorating his birth.
In and of itself, it is a temple like many others. But inside the main bot, or chapel, there are some beautifully elaborate (and well-maintained) murals. These not only depict stories from the Buddha’s life but also feature scenes from the early years of the Chakri Dynasty and life in Krungthep (Bangkok) in the late 1700s. In fact the mural behind the Buddha statues shows Rattanakosin Island, the “old city” of Krungthep. Just to the left of the main Buddha image you can see an open field that is still there today, known as Sanam Luang (royal field). To the right of the Buddha image is the Grand Palace and to the right of that, Wat Pho – the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
Outside the bot we watched a monk tend to the grounds. In my years here I have never seen a monk use a weed whacker.
Before the crowds grew heavy and the sun set, we hired a boat and went for a 90-minute tour of the Mae Khlong river (not to be confused with the Mae Kong which borders Laos) and the surrounding canals. Above, a ferry takes a group of secondary school students home.
We returned to Amphawa just as the action was picking up. This market is very popular with Thais, although I am noticing an increased presence of foreigners. Too many people reading this blog and adding Amphawa to their itinerary, I guess. (Yeah, right!) The market has a live announcer and DJ who plays traditional Thai music. There is also karaoke and this man (#66) was really getting into his song, dancing around as he sang.
David and I settled down along the footpath and started ordering food from the vendors who are on boats in the canal below. One of the vendors, a woman selling fruit, cried out upon seeing me, “Teacher Chris! Teacher Chris!” Startled, I had to take a second look. “It’s Ploy’s mother,” she said, referencing one of my birghtest and kindest sixth graders (pictured right) when I volunteered as an English teacher in the nearby village of Bangkhonthinai.
We had a nice chat and I was surprised to hear that Ploy’s already in ninth grade. Has it been so long already? I was also very happy to hear that she is continuing to study English and that it is one of her favorite subjects. When Ploy moved to secondary school (after sixth grade) she achieved the third-highest score on the English proficiency exam in the entire province, something I was very proud of. The fact that she’s still studying and enjoying it is a good thing.
I asked her mother to send my regards and suggested that Ploy should stay in touch. After I finished teaching, I continue to occassionally send postcards to my former students, hoping that this will inspire them to be curious about the world and, especially, the world outside their province. After teaching there for more than a year, I and the friends who helped with the teaching always hoped that at least a few of the students would be inspired by the experience and achieve more than their modest beginnings might otherwise inspire them to.
Anyhow, that was the fun trip to Ampahwa. It was really nice to spend time with David and to hear his stories and experiences. Hopefully once he returns to bitterly cold London he’ll post some of the pictures from his trip to Thailand.