Shopping for Coffee on Ratanakosin Island

After the last entry about the shooting in Cole Camp, I’ve been surprised by the number of people who were directed to my blog from a variety of sources including the Sedalia (Missouri) Democrat’s website, a local newspaper.  Along the way, I’ve received messages from several people who lived in and around the town and who knew (to one degree or another) the victims.  Many thanks to all who have visited and those who have left words of support.

Part of me feels like writing another entry, particularly one just about everyday life, is a bit trivial.  But life does go on and it is for the living, so I’ll pull another entry together and, with it, try to celebrate and honor the memories of all victims of violence.

Last weekend Tawn and I headed down to the “old city” – defined as Ratanakosin Island, the heart of the original city of Krungthep – to search out some coffee. 

Last October while we had a guest in town, I had about two hours to kill while the guest was conducting an audio walking tour of the old city.  Taking a break in a small family-run coffee shop called Mari Green Coffee, I got into a conversation with the proprietor and discovered someone who takes his coffee even more seriously than I do.

He chooses only Arabica beans grown in northern Thailand and is very picky, explaining to me in detail about the noticeable difference and quality and taste from one mountain ridge to the next.  He then roasts these beans himself in small batches about once a week.  Needless to say, the coffee there was great.

Months later, having finished up a supply of beans from the US – previously I was buying these wonderful fair trade organic beans from a co-op based in Chiapas, Mexico, organized and sold by Cafe Mam – I decided on a return visit to Mari Green Coffee and support the local coffee industry.  Plus, I’m starting to realize that I need to be more selective when deciding what to bring back from the US.  Five pounds of coffee takes up a lot of space in the suitcase.

For fun, we invited our friend Bob along, since he was also in the market for some more coffee beans.  Ironically, I didn’t get a single shot of the coffee shop itself.  Will have to do that next time.  While we were waiting for the owner to prepare the coffee order, we enjoyed some banh xiao – Vietnamese rice crepes – and explored the surrounding area.


The coffee shop is a few doors down from an old fashioned ice factory, where they take big blocks of ice, chip them, then deliver them around the city.  Tawn was a little chilly standing by the delivery truck.


A block over we found an intense bit of graffiti, something we don’t see a lot of here in Krungthep and never so elaborate.


Down the street across from the Tiger Temple was a tea shop (Mari Green Coffee’s competitor, I guess!) that had a huge white rabbit outside.  Tawn was born in the year of the rabbit, so a picture was inevitable.

We picked up our coffee, thanked the proprietor, and headed on with our day followed by the heady aroma of dark-roasted coffee beans.

Trip to Taling Chan Floating Market

On the to-do list for many visitors to Thailand is a trip to the floating market.  But the challenge is finding one that is reasonably authentic and is reasonably nearby.  All the pictures you see of floating markets in your Lonely Planet guide are of Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi province.  This is a strictly-for-tourists operation and isn’t particularly worth it.

There is also a nighttime floating market that operates Friday-Sunday at Amphawa in Samut Songkram province.  This is geared towards Thais and is great fun, but requires you to drive ninety minutes each way, which is a drag.

Closer to home there is the Bang Nam Phung market in Phra Pradaeng.  That’s weekends only and has a nice selection of food, but there’s nothing floating about it.  Still, you have to take a ferry across the river to reach it, so there’s at least some nautical action along the way.

A fourth market, Taling Chan, is one I’ve heard about before but assumed it was very touristy and had never sought it out.  Finally, this weekend I had the opportunity as Otto and Han were in town from Singapore with their friend Dixon in tow, all at the same time as Pong from Kuala Lumpur.

After meeting them all for dinner on Friday evening at a local place near the Lumpini police station, Pong and Dixon decided that they were game for some sightseeing.  I met them at Saladaeng BTS station on Saturday morning and we headed to the end of the line at Saphan Taksin.  Instead of fighting with the touts, I stopped at the travel desk inside the station and negotiated a 2-hour canal tour for the three of us with a stop at the floating market for 2000 baht – about $20 per person.


Above: Long-tail boats floating on the Chao Phraya River.

We headed up the river for about about twenty minutes, passing all the fancy hotels (Oriental, Peninsula, Shangri-La, Sheraton, Hilton), until we reached the area of the Grand Palace.  Across from Tammasart University, the “UC Berkeley” of Thailand, we turned into Khlong Bangkok Noi – “Bangkok little canal” and headed west.

Taling Chan

About ten minutes along the river we came to the Taling Chan floating market.  This is a combination of a land market and then a series of covered, floating platforms with seating areas in the middle of each.  Boat-borne vendors are moored alongside and you can order your food from them.

The crowd was mostly Thai, although I did see several other tour groups stop.  Our guide took the easy way out and left us to our own devices for a half-hour.  Perhaps if I had not made the effort to speak Thai with him, he’d have done his work.


Above, Dixon and Pong seated at the floating market.  The vendors are just over the side on the water.

We ate all sorts of nice things.  I didn’t take pictures of them all, but here is a selection:

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From left to right: gwuitiaw moo – mixed pork over rice noodles; satay gai – chicken grilled with coconut milk and served with peanut dipping sauce; gung ob wun sen – Baked shrimp with vermicelli noodles, normally served in a clay pot but here on a banana leaf.


Dessert – khanom buang.  A Thai taco with a crispy shell, a meringue-like paste (not from egg whites, though) and either shredded sweet pork or shredded egg yolks cooked in palm sugar syrup. 

Across from the market some children played in the water.  The canal is surprisingly clean, more so than the Saen Saeb canal.


Back on the boat, Pong poses for a picture.


We had a nice ride back, enjoying the breeze and continuing through the canals until we came back to the river about halfway downriver from where we turned into the first canal.  Even on a hot day, the temperatures are cooler when you’re on the water.


Above: a picture of the Thai Navy headquarters and, on the right, Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn.

Since we started so early, we were back at the Taksin pier before 11:00, plenty of time left in the day for other things.  I’m glad I took a chance on the Taling Chan market, though.  Well worth another visit.


A Whole Family of Visitors

Earlier in the week, we had the pleasure of entertaining a family of four from Hong Kong including two- and four-year old children.  There is nothing to make you look at your city through a different set of eyes than to see it with someone of an entirely different age.

But first, catching up on other news:

Kenny was curious what the flowers that Tawn buys and arranges look like.  I’ll try to include more of them over time, but here is the $2 bunch of orchids:


Also, from one of the English-language papers in town comes this advertisement about various elective medical procedures you can have done by the Pratunam Polyclinic, the same one that did work on Miss Tiffany Universe 2007.   Please note that the orchiectomy is no longer available.  Instead of just revising the advertisement they simply crossed it out.  “Nope, we sold ’em all out for today.”


Like me, you might wonder what an orchiectomy is.  A quick Google search removed the mystery: the procedure is more commonly known as castration.

Which explains why it is no longer available.  See this entry from April about the debate over teenage castration by young men who think they may end up being women.  (Interesting side note: when I browse through my blog’s footprints, at least a few times a week I find people who linked to my blog by performing a search similar to “teenage+castration” or “teenage+transsexual”.  That’s food for thought, isn’t it?)

Back to my guests.  Tehlin and I went to school together in California, studying the same major, and have stayed in touch throughout the years.  Tawn and I attended her wedding to Chris (same name, different bloke) in Manila in January 2002, where I actually did one of the readings.

After picking them up at 4:00 am thanks to a typhoon-delayed flight, I was back late that morning to meet them in their hotel lobby so we could set out for a little sight seeing.  They stayed at the Peninsula, a hotel so nice I felt guilty waiting for them in the lobby lounge.  Not so guilty as to forego an order of tea, served in this beautiful silver tea set:


The Peninsula is on the west bank of the Chao Praya River, opposite the core part of the city.  The hotel is designed so all the rooms have a river view, below:


We took the public river taxi to the Grand Palace and discovered that a nearly five-year old really isn’t interested in glittering spires and jade Buddhas.  Especially on a hot day.  Here are some shots from along the way.

Below, at the Oriental Hotel pier, directly across from the Peninsula, I saw what I thought was an interesting picture: a cross-river ferry completely surrounded by the water hyacinth that chokes many of the waterways in Thailand.


I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least twenty times but I try to find one new angle from which to view it each time I visit.  Here, a kinaree – a half-human half-bird creature, stands in front of four Khmer-style chedis.


Despite all the interesting things to see, Sam was most interested in the minnows hiding under the water lily pads.


By the time we finished with the Grand Palace, there wasn’t much energy left to see anything else.  We returned to the hotel for a rest and then went out to dinner at a riverside restaurant with a great view.

Not wanting to wait for the public taxi and hoping to add some excitement to Sam’s life, I hired a long-tail speedboat, below:


If you have enough people, it is actually a pretty affordable way to catch a breeze and zip around.  Sam was alternately thrilled, terrified, and tired.  Here’s a brief video:


While Chris and Sam went swimming at the hotel’s beautiful pool, Tehlin and I caught up and had afternoon lattes.  Forgetting my senses for a moment, I ordered an apple tart to go with the latte:



The next day we did some shopping as Chris and Tehlin were looking for home furnishings.  Having just spent a lot of time going through our own remodel, we had some ideas about where to take them.  Several hours later, passing through Central World Plaza, I decided to stop for one big bite of sushi:


Sam and Chris returned to the hotel after Sam took a rather nasty header running directly into a bench at the Paragon mall.  Don’t know why he didn’t see it, but he side-swiped it and did a forward flip, landing squarely on his back.  Chris and Tehlin decided it didn’t require a trip to the emergency room, though Sam did look sore the next day.  Hopefully he is back up to speed soon.

Meanwhile, Tehlin and I kept shopping and then stopped in the afternoon so she could see our house firsthand.  Isabel loved walking on the jute rug, after first being a bit cautious about its texture.


After an hourlong foot massage during which three staff members handled Isabel and kept her from injuring herself as she jumped from massage chair to massage chair, we headed out and regroups with Chris and Sam and Tawn for dinner.



So nice to have visitors in town.  In fact, the day after Chris and Tehlin headed back to Hong Kong, we were able to have dinner with Steve, who was in town from Los Angeles for business.  You can check his blog to see if he gives a fuller account of the pleasant evening.


Khlong Toei Market

Saturday proved to be a fruitful day for blog fodder: blueberry muffins, Khun Nui’s visit, the Independence Day celebrations.  I’ll squeeze one last entry out of that day based on the walk from the football pitch to the Skytrain station.


Since the weather was cloudy, breezy and relatively cool, we decided to hoof it all the way to Sukhumvit, a good 25-minute walk.  Instead of staying on the main streets, we cut through talat Khlong Toei – the wet market in the Khlong Toei district. 

Map_Khlong_Toei 2 Khlong Toei is a rough and tumble part of town, home to a number of slums that have sprung up on unused land owned by the port authority and the state railway. 

Located originally near the abattoir or slaughterhouses, the section of town provided housing for the poor workers.  To this day it is still known as place where the poor and destitute live. 

Once a year or so, a fire will sweep one of the slums, resulting in the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of thousands of people.  Amazingly, they rebuild quite quickly.  Sadly, the homes are never any safer.

In fact, there is the interesting story about the work of Father Joe Maier, an American-born Catholic priest that has spend more than thirty-five years working in this community fighting the ravages of poverty, disease, prostitution and drug addiction.  Here’s a link to a recent book about his efforts.

Unlike some of the other wet markets in the city, which are listed in the guidebooks as “unique” (but decidedly accessible) looks into the heart of the daily lives of residents of the Big Mango, Khlong Toei’s market sits in relative obscurity.

It is one of the largest markets in the city and if you eat at restaurants or street vendors anywhere along Sukhumvit or in Siam Square, it is certain that at least some of your food was originally purchased at this market.

Let’s take a virtual tour of some of the sights in the market:

Below is a look down one of the long aisles in the market. 


By late afternoon, almost everything is closed and vendors have cleaned up and gone home for a few hours of rest before their day begins again in the middle of the night.

The concrete footpaths are still damp from scrubbing.  Sunlight filters down through the tarpaulins.  The community of shopkeepers is tightly-knit.  Friendships are made and families intermarry.  True to the Thai ethos, despite the hard work there is always time for some fun.  And nothing is more fun that some chit-chat and gossip.  Well, except eating!



Above, a view of the khlong – canal – that runs through the market.  This used to be used as an open-air sewer, the tides flushing refuse out to the river twice a day.  While it still isn’t the cleanest water in the city, shopkeepers are now forbidden to dump anything into it.  From what I understand, most of them comply.  Quarters are close as houses are tightly packed but this part of the district is by no means the most humble.

Thai Buddhists love pork but rarely eat beef.  The taste of Thai Muslims is the reverse.  But poultry, below, is a favorite food for Thais of all beliefs.  Guaranteeing freshness, you can buy your chickens and ducks alive and kill them yourself at home, or if your condo doesn’t allow that, have them slaughtered and cleaned for you.


The market offers an interesting array of food and no shortage of people who were curious about the farangs walking through their world.  I want to go back in the predawn hours, when the market is at its busiest, and see how it looks then.  Probably a lot harder to take pictures, though.

If you’re in town, you should stop by for a look.  The market is a very short walk from the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre subway station.