The Flooding of Amphawa

While some guests were in town, we took a trip to Amphawa, a town in Thailand’s smallest province, Samut Songkhram, to visit the weekend evening floating market that is there.  We arrived late afternoon and had no trouble hiring a long-tail boat and heading out on a tour of the khlongs, or canals, of the province. 

For those of you who have never been, here is a three-minute video with commentary to give you a sense of what such a boat ride is like.


Above, a flower vendor about to set out for the market.


One of the buildings at Wat (temple) Chulamanee.  This building, interestingly enough, was not the main Buddha image hall.  Instead, it was a recently built building that houses the remains of the temple’s former head monk, who was apparently highly revered.


Inside the building there is an altar like display, a wax effigy of the monk, and his mummified body in a glass coffin.  Uncommon as in Buddhism bodies are normally cremated, but I’ve seen this a few times before.


Wat Bang Khae Noi, another temple on the western shore of the Mae Khlong River.  This one has beautiful teak carvings on the interior walls depicting the stories of the Buddha’s previous lives.


A new, more modern arrangement of statues at the temple, overlooking the river.  The kneeling figures are not Buddhas but are disciples, praying to the Buddha image in the center.  On the right is the depiction of a Buddhist angel.  This display wasn’t here last time I was at this temple a year or so ago.


Bruce and Howie enjoying their ride along the river.


Sunset along the Mae Khlong River.  (Note that this is not the same as the Ma Kong River, which runs between Thailand and Laos and Thailand and Cambodia.


The flooding in Samut Songkhram province has been very severe.  They had just experienced three days of heavy storms and the water level was very high.  To get an idea of just how high, notice that in the picture above, the customers at the floating food stalls are sitting on benches that go down one or two steps.  Compare that to the picture below, taken in July, when there were at least ten or twelve steps above the water, consistent with where I’ve seen it on all my previous visits.



Top Secret Assignment Day 4

Agents E and C continued with their last major assignment, a reconnaissance mission to scope out the markets and wildlife of central Thailand.  Their destination: the Samphran Elephant Grounds and Amphawa Floating Market.


We drove about an hour west of Bangkok to Nakhon Pathom province, home of the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo, a popular sightseeing stop both for foreign visitors as well as Thais.  I guess we could invite the animal rights experts to debate the merits of this type of attraction, in which elephants and other animals are on display and put through their paces in shows.  The upside is that it gives people a chance to interact with and, hopefully, appreciate these creatures and why it is important that their habitats be preserved.


Agents E and C didn’t have any particular assignments at this first stop, other than to feed the elephants.  It is easy to be awed by how strong and how smart these animals are.  They are also very playful.  One of the adults liked dancing in her pen to the rhythm of the music playing from the magic show in the nearby stadium.  She was doing this on her own, with no guidance from her mahout, or trainer.


Agent C got on well with one of the baby elephants…


…but I think she got a little “carried away” by the baby’s mother!


A unintentionally psychedelic photo when I had the wrong setting on the camera and twisted it while taking the picture.


One of the babies (nine months old, in fact) hoped to borrow my camera.


Even Tawn got into the act, getting a big hug from one of the elephants.


In the elephant show, we learned about the history of elephants in Thai culture, including their use in logging, an occupation that is pretty much extinct, leading to the problem of too many elephants and too little designated land where they can roam wild.


We also learned about elephants’ role as weapons of war, featuring a silly little skit complete with low-tech pyrotechnics to simulate the Thais’ victory over the Burmese.  Actually, at that point in history it would have been the Siamese’s victory.


The park also featured crocodile pools and a show with two “croc whisperers” who perform all sorts of feats with the large and lazy reptiles.  No doubt the water is kept at a temperature that fosters a sedate mood, lessening the chance that one of the handlers loses a hand…


…or a head!


One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Agent E and C’s visit is that it is the small things that really provide young people with the most fun.  A half-hour spent paddling around the lush landscaping in an aged paddle boat provided an adventure for them and a respite for the adults.  The swan looks like it has had some plastic surgery, maybe a beak job.


After the elephant grounds, we hopped into the car and drove through a small rain storm on our way to the floating market in Amphawa, Samut Songkhram province.  Along the way we stopped at a roadside cafe that I used to frequent in the days when I volunteered as an English teacher in this province, so as to enjoy several types of fried rice.


Because there were a lot of other events going on this weekend (including World Cup) the market was busy but not overcrowded as sometimes happens.  As the sun was setting, we rented a long-tail boat and took a tour along the canals and river for a chance to see what country like along the water looks like.


Along the way, we were able to find many trees and bushes along the banks that were full of the fireflies for which this area is famous.


Back at the market, everything was bustling as people ate dinner and snacked on local specialties, including grilled prawns and squid that are among the freshest you’ll ever eat.


The bulk of day 4’s assignment was to try new fruits, foods, and desserts, of which the market has plenty.  We went from vendor to vendor, looking at the many different items for sale, trying to guess what they were, and sampling many of them.  Above, Agents E and C, along with their father, try some fresh young coconuts.


Uncle Tawn picked up several types of fruit for them to try.  By the end of the evening, the agents had fulfilled their assignment and had tasted (although not always enjoyed) many new edible items.

We headed back to Bangkok that evening with full stomachs, heavy eyelids, and many new memories.


To Amphawa Floating Market with David

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.

Ploy 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.


Another Trip to Amphawa

Sunday morning after a breakfast of homemade buttermilk biscuits and French Press coffee, Tawn, Bob and I set off to Samut Songkhram province, some 90 km southwest of Krungthep, for a visit to Ajarn Yai.

You may recall that Ajarn Yai (literally, “Big Teacher”) is the retired director of the small elementary school where I volunteered as an English teacher back in 2006-2007.  Because she was so welcoming both to me and my family and friends when they visited, I have stayed in touch with her.  Every month or so she calls, eager to tell me that while she was out and about she saw a farang (foreigner) and thought of me.  (The truth is, all of us white people really do look alike!)

One thing she really wants is to take a visit to the United States.  As a young lady, she was accepted to study at a university in Michigan, but her parents felt it was too far to send a woman to study, so she instead attended school locally.  She now has three Master’s Degrees, including one in Special Needs Education, and even in her retirement serves as a mediator for the local courts and also as part of an adult vocational needs training program in this rural province.

She still asks, though, when I’m going to take her to the United States to visit my family.

After a nice seafood lunch at a small, riverside restaurant, we drove to the community of Amphawa, where a popular weekend floating market is located nearby the birthplace of King Rama II.  This market is supposed to be a nighttime market, but due to its popularity, by early afternoon the boats were out and tourists (almost exclusively Thai) were strolling along the crowded sides of the canal.


The area of the market has been expanded to the north, opening up more space for the overflowing crowds of tourists.  Dozens of weathered buildings have been unshuttered, turned into restaurants, gift shops, homestays and boutiques.  While this is good economically for the town, the crowds threaten to make the quality of life less pleasant and relaxed.  Signs, both in English and Thai, have been put up warning people to be aware of pickpockets.  Amphawa, at least this small section of it, may end up being a victim of its own success.


The heat was intense and muggy, no rainstorms in sight to offer so relief, so instead we ducked into one of these new cafes and enjoyed a shaved ice dessert.  You could choose three “add-ins” from things like corn, Job’s tears, kidney beans, hearts of palm fruit, etc.  These were topped with a mound of shave ice, a drizzle of flavored sugar syrup and, if you like, sweetened condensed milk.

Cool and sweet and tasty and refreshing…

After a bit more visiting we dropped Ajarn Yai off at her home and headed back up the highway to the Big Mango, glad to be in the air conditioning.


Visitors from Montreal

This past weekend I had some visitors in town from Montreal, Joe and Daniel.  This was an opportunity to take a trip down to the Amphawa floating market in Samut Songkhram province.  This is the same place I went with Bill and his mother and Ken a few weeks ago.  Fantastic place to take guests so if any of you come visit, let me know.

P1040254 Thanks to Tam’s help, we rented a comfortable commuter van and had room for a crowd.  In addition to myself and Joe and Daniel, Markus and his mother came along, Markus’ visiting boss, Kobfa, my Thai tutor Kitiya, and Kristina, another lady whom Tawn and I met at Loi Khrathong in November.  Quite a diverse crowd!

From left to right: Kitiya, Markus, his mother Grace, Joe, Daniel, Markus’ boss Dave, and Kristina.  Kobfa was in the front seat of the van, listening to his iPod.

Below: The view on a clear Saturday afternoon as we cross the Rama IX Bridge.


094 Our first stop once we arrived in Samut Songkhram (after picking up Ajarn Yai, of course) was the temple at the birthplace of King Rama II.  The interior of the bot, or main chapel, has beautiful murals showing the history of the King’s life along with four murals illustrating scenes from novels that the King – who was a noted author – wrote.

We were fortunate that there was a young monk who was able to give us a tour of the temple, telling us about the murals in detail which we then translated into English for all the guests.  The monk had two small tattoos of his dolphin, one on his shoulder blade and another on his wrist.  Upon asking, he explained that when he was a teenager he was quite keen about dolphins.  Not something you see every day.  Can you see one in the picture?

Below: The group in the temple.  Ajarn Yai is sitting to my right.


After the temple visit, we went to the market and perused the offerings and then had dinner.  There are all sorts of fantastic khanom – snacks – for sale and one could skip dinner and just nosh your way through the stalls.

Below: A very Thai dessert in which egg yolks are drizzled into a pan of boiling palm sugar syrup.  Now why don’t they make a whole wheat version of that?


Below: One vendor dressed her daughter up in a traditional Thai outfit with her hair pulled into a small bun, to advertise her goods, which you can see are now sold out!  


P1040272 Among the great foods we ate were grilled river prawns and fresh calamari, fresh seafood omelet (left), stewed fish and fish curries.  There’s no shortage of tasty things!

After dinner we went for a canal and boat tour.  Last time I was in Samut Songkhram (with Ken, Bill and his mother) we did a daytime tour of the canals and actually got stuck in the mud during low tide!

This time, we decided to take the nighttime tour to see famous hing hoi – fireflies – of Amphawa.

The ten of us piled into a long-tail boat, powered by an old Toyota pickup engine, and headed off into the dark canals to see how many fireflies we could find.


Unfortunately the winds were quite strong and this is not favorable for firefly viewing, or so I’m told.  We did find some areas along the river where there were clouds of fireflies twinkling in the trees.

Some interesting observations: Fireflies only stay in the deciduous trees, not in the neighboring palms.  The entire swarm in any one tree blinks synchronously, giving the impression that they are actually a string of low-wattage twinkle lights.

Frankly, it was a little underwhelming.  With all the holiday lights up in Khrungthep and the general Thai propensity to decorate with twinkle lights, the natural beauty of the fireflies pales in comparison.  That’s pretty sad, isn’t it?

Below: Another boatload of visitors heads out from the floating market to find the fireflies.



P1040396 Monday was Daniel’s birthday so I had helped Joe arrange for a half-day at the spa for a full range treatment: body wrap, facial, scalp massage, full body massage, pedicure, manicure, etc.  Sounds nice.  I’ve never actually done that.  Maybe one of these days…

Anyhow, Tawn and I met Joe and Daniel for dinner at Mahanaga restaurant.  This Thai fusion restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 39 was designed as Ble, our friend who designed our condo.  It is a very nice restaurant and a pleasant way to conclude their visit.

Right: Daniel and Joe and the “very Thai” brownie and ice cream.

Below: A variety of fusion desserts.  Top – passion fruit ice cream, Middle – deep fried bananas, Bottom – a fancy take on the traditional Thai dessert of sangkaiya faktong – an egg and palm sugar custard served in a pumpkin.  Normally this dessert is served in a small, hollowed-out pumpkin but big points for presentation here.






As the week continues, we’ll head Friday to Chiang Rai for Pune and Detlev’s wedding.  So it may be a few more days before my next entry but there will be interesting things to see and read.


Another trip to Amphawa


Friday night I drove Bill and his mother, Pat, to Samut Songkhram.  Ken joined us.  Bill is an American from Florida who has a Thai partner, Kom, and would like to move here.  There seems to be some challenge in balancing his responsibilities back in the United States with his desire to live here.  Right now, he’s in the midst of a several-month stint here of which is mother has joined him for one month.

Unfortunately – and not to disclose too much personal information but this is relevant to the story – on her first day here, Pat had a mishap with a water feature in the lobby of the Marriott Mayfair on Langsuan Road.  Thankfully, the injury was not as severe as it could have been, but it has limited the amount of travel she has been able to do.

I offered to take them to Samut Songkhram province because there is an evening floating market at Amphawa.  This is a much more local market held only on the weekends, and it has many fewer steps, is less physically demanding, and it is much less touristy.  Or, at least, much less geared towards foreign tourists.


P1030256 We met up with Ajarn Yai and then proceeded to the market, which was just getting started when we arrived about 4:30.  Despite her unsteady legs, Pat agreed to a boat tour so we spent about an hour heading up river on the Mae Khlong and then turning in on a smaller canal that led back to the main market. 

Unfortunately, it was low tide and our boat ran aground in the shallows of the khlong.  (right) Pushing with a stick wasn’t sufficient so our driver had to roll up his pant legs and get into the water, which was knee deep.  The theme to “Gilligan’s Island” kept playing in my head.

Along the way, Ajarn Yai recognized a colleague so we stopped for a few minutes and visited.  Then, back at the market, we ran into one of our former students, Wanwisa, who had graduated sixth grade last year and is now a student at the secondary school located next to the market.  We ran into yet some more colleagues of Ajarn Yai’s later in the evening, reinforcing that this really is a local attraction.


P1030266 The market gets busy as the sun sets, with vendors serving mostly food and snacks to people sitting on the steps, above.  There are also some khlong-side restaurants, which is where we set up for dinner and where I took the picture at the top of this entry. 

Left: Ken, Pat and Bill standing along the canal after our boat ride.

There is no shortage of good food in Amphawa, although I think some of the dishes were a little spicy for Pat’s taste.  That’s understandable, so we ordered a big plate of khaw pad goong – shrimp fried rice – to fill everyone up.  Sorry, no pictures of that!

We strolled for a little while afterwards, looking at souvenirs and desserts.  One Thai woman who spoke beautiful English – it sounds like she was educated in the UK or Australia – stopped me and asked where I was from, to which question I responded without thinking in Thai.  Ma jag phratet America khrap.  I am from America.  P1030287 Strangely, she said how she never sees any foreigners there.  Strange, I say, because while there aren’t many, I had seen at least a half-dozen others over the course of the early evening.

Our finally stop before heading home: ice cream!  The ice cream vendor (right) was busy, offering both chocolate and coconut flavors, in a bowl, on a cone, or in a sweet roll.  You could have it with chocolate syrup, evaporated milk, corn, sticky rice, or beans. 

And two little boys looked on, oh so eagerly.  “When will it be my turn?  When do I get my ice cream?” they seemed to ask.


Other random photos from the week

Here are some other pictures from this week in Khrungthep:


Above: The pedestrian bridge over Asoke Road along Sukhumvit has been put up.  Still several months of work to do, but eventually we’ll be able to connect from the Asoke BTS station to the Exchange Tower building on the southeast corner.  Below: Khruu Kitiya smiles for a photo after class.



Above: Two things that don’t mix, electricity and water, are mixed on the sidewalk here in Thailand.  A bucket of water sits with an electrical cord running into it.


Taking Fu to the Floating Market

You know it is a small, digital and virtual world when you start receiving guests who are friends of friends, when all the parties have met through the internet and, in the case of the friend and the friend of the friend, they’ve never met in person!

So it was this week as I had a visitor who was recommended to contact me by Curry.  After completing five years studying in Hiroshima, Japan, Fu was traveling around Asia on his way back home to southern Malaysia.  Nice guy and this is his first visit to Thailand.

Originally, Curry had recommended Fu contact me so I could take him to Pad Thai Ari.  This ended up not being part of the plan as Fu was in his final days in the country and was interested in seeing the floating market.  There are several floating markets but the only one that runs every day is the one in Damnoen Saduak (“convenient pathway”) which is near the school in Bangkhonthiinai.

I met Fu at 6:30 so we could beat the crowds and we arrived at the market just after 8:00.  Things were still cool and uncrowded and I negotiated a two-hour ride in a dugout boat.  Tawn suggested that I use this negotiation technique: after rejecting the original quote out of hand, I was to say “phom mai bpen muu” – I am not a pig, a reference to the slang term of someone who is an easy mark.

The lady running the boat tours thought that was funny and decreased the price a bit.

The two hours were nice, the occasional annoying buzz of a long tail boat (which are powered by old Toyota pickup engines) breaking the otherwise tranquil nature of life along the canal.  Of course “life along the canal” means people who sell tacky souvenirs from shops in front of their homes.  Each shop is the same as the next, some selling vaguely “Thai” souvenirs and others selling things that are totally incongruous.



Above: Sampling some khanom khrug – a rice flour pancake that is a little sweet and a little savory at the same time.  Below: Along the way, I purchased a few bottles of local honey from this lady and her young daughter.



Above: Even Thais come to see the floating market!

By the time we were wrapping up after 10:00, the Russian tourists had arrived by the boatload and things were less pleasant.  It was a good time to be finishing.



After taking some pictures from the shore, we headed to Bangkhonthiinai for a quick visit.  I wasn’t sure if the school was back in session after their winter break, but everyone was there (except for the now-retired Ajarn Yai) and so we spent about an hour with the children, practicing basic questions and answers.  Hopefully a good experience for Fu.

Of course, the grapevine works quickly and by that evening I had a call from Ajarn Yai, pretty much along the lines of, “You came to Samut Songkhram and didn’t call me?”

Oh, you can’t win.


In other news, our contractor Khun Guang assures us that we’ll have access to the house next Friday.  Still some fixturing after that, but only small things.  That should give us two weeks to get moved in.  Below: Tawn test-drives some mattresses.