Thursday, July 07, 2005

Overwhelming and exotic Bangkok: Day 2

My friend Preethi and her in-laws raved about the Damnoenssaduak floating markets, saying this was not-to-be-missed. So for our second day in Bangkok I booked us all on a full-day tour, complete with aircon bus and guide.

And a full day it was. We left the hotel at 6:30am and got to experience a weekday morning in Bangkok. As ordinary as that sounds, I found it fascinating because the streets were a picture in controlled chaos. Wok slingers cooking for their first customers, parents taking kids to school, saffron-robed monks collecting alms and offering benedictions. And the truly insane, orange-vested motorcycle taxis zipping passengers to work, some even with ladies riding side-saddle!

Damnoenssaduak was about a two-hour drive from Bangkok, so it was late morning when my mom and I found ourselves sitting next to each other in a longtail boat careening down a canal to reach the floating market.

Just as we take a cart through the aisles of Dominick's, the floating markets used to be how local Thai shopped for groceries in the morning. Only they paddle a boat through a canal.

Now the floating market is mainly for tourists, with the same old souvenir scene that seems inescapable no matter where you go. No matter, it was still a site to see.

After the floating market, we piled back onto the bus and went to a teak woodcarving village and then the first Buddhist temple built in Thailand. Along the way, the tour guide explained to us some of the grammatics/phonetics of Thai language (very similar to Mandarin), as well as some detail about Buddhism in Thailand. For example, he and our bus driver used to be monks! As he explained it, most Thai men at some point in their lives become monks to honor their parents. And after a few years, they can rejoin their family, get married, have kids, and start a totally different life.

Our final stop was at the Rose Garden, a beautiful estate that has the distinction of being where Jean-Claude Van Damme got married! You might remember him as the legendary Frank Dux in the hit movie "Blood Sport". When Jeff and I were in Bangkok for my birthday, I was desperate to see a muay thai boxing match, but never did (Jeff was scared). I really miss my boxing class in Chicago. I hate that I can only find sissy cardio "kickboxing" in Singapore.

OK, enough of my aggressive rant. While at the Rose Garden, I got to ride an Asian elephant! Yes, it was a little like riding the ponies at the zoo, but I thought it was the coolest thing ever!

After that, we saw a Thai village culture show with folk dances like the fingernail dance. Plus, there was a mock thai boxing match and hand-to-hand combat with swords and stuff. I think my brother Matt would have liked that.

And finally, our aircon bus took us back to Bangkok where we got to experience city traffic jams. Oh my, I thought rush hour on the Ike was bad! Bangkok has very poor mass transportation for a city of 10 million and being caught in it requires a lot of patience. I don't think my parents or I will soon forget Bangkok traffic.