Our hearts and prayers go out to China and other parts of the world, and to the folks at home affected by the Corona virus. Many thanks to the CDC for their work on this virus and many others, including each year’s flu virus. I was sorry to hear of the death of Dr. Li Wenliang, a young Chinese ophthalmologist, who discovered the Corona virus in the early days of the outbreak and sounded the alarm in late December.
This is Part 4 of my series on our late October trip to Singapore and Bangkok. . It was truly the trip of a lifetime, so telling you about it will include several posts. I hope you will enjoy reading all of them. If you are following my blog via email, be sure to click on the link so you can see the pictures, or access any posts you may have missed. Enjoy!
Friday morning started early, with a fabulous breakfast buffet at the hotel. I was impressed by, and almost afraid to touch, the beautiful raw silk napkins at our places. The buffet included most American breakfast items, UK-style roasted tomatoes (Yum!) and forgettable sausage links (probably healthier), elegant cheese platter and charcuterie, breads and pastries, miso soup with many toppings to add: dried radish, chopped boiled egg, scallions, and unprocessed seaweed which looked like gunmetal tea leaves! There were intriguing Asian, Indian and probably African specialties that we didn’t try, many featuring fish. Over the week, I tried and enjoyed cappuccino. Needless to say, breakfast was our main meal, and we didn’t go hungry!
We met Lucky downstairs at the hotel at 7:30. She took us out to a black Toyota Camry, with air conditioning for our half-day tour of the Damnern Saduak Floating Market, with a promised stop on the way at a “sugar palm cottage industry,” which Lucky called the “coconut sugar factory,” and a long-tailed speed boat ride at the Floating Market. This half-day tour somehow became a full-day tour, with much learning for us on the way. When asked, Lucky explained that all churches are Buddhist, but all religions are respected in Thailand, and all faiths are welcome. The small chapels we’d seen at night, from dollhouse-sized to shed or pool house-sized, gilded and beautiful, were called spirit houses, and had been erected because the earth had been disturbed. Whenever she noticed one of these, Lucky had bowed her head and hands with a quick prayer, which she said was a sign of respect. We saw what I thought was a large spirit house under construction—Lucky said it was a renovation of a small temple, about the size of a deluxe dwelling in the US, but taller.
At our first stop, we walked around the Mae Klong River area and experienced the Railway Market, which was not included in our tour description. Lucky led us into a narrow market area, awnings stretched overhead against the sun and heat. She warned us to watch our step, and pointed out the train rails ahead. We turned and walked between the rails on concrete stepping stones, like stepping stones you might see in a garden, but we were walking on the railroad tracks! Lucky pointed out the train, sitting about a city block down, barely visible through the crowds and awnings. There were so many clothes, strange food and trinkets, everyone wanting to sell to us, but everyone polite, not overly pushy. Pretty soon, the train whistle blew warning three minutes to clear the tracks. All the market people worked together, scooting wares tightly back and lowering the awnings. We could clearly see the train when it whistled again; everyone crowded together and the train chugged by us, close enough for us to have touched its shiny metal sides. The train passed, and the tables of wares extended back out to the tracks, awnings back up, the neighboring businesses helping each other. This happens three times a day and would never happen in the states.
Lucky asked if we would like to ride an Elephant—she said we had time and it was on our way. We stopped at a parking lot, with a fenced area beyond. We got our tickets and joined a short line, soon we climbed a few steps and we were sitting on an elephant! Our driver sat in front of us, bareback, and the elephant followed his orders, walking through shallow canals. After a couple turns, we realized we were in a coconut grove—the elephant rides providing a dual usage for the land. This was one of the many times while in Bangkok that I noticed the great divide between rich and poor. The coconut grove/elephant ride employed quite a few people, who probably would not have had jobs without tourists wanting to ride an elephant.
We stopped by the Coconut Palm factory, which at first glance reminded me of a roadside vegetable market. Lucky explained how sugar, soaps and lotions are made from the coconut palm, and showed how every part of the coconut is used—coconut shells made in to artwork to be sold, unusable shells and other “waste” products of the coconut used to stoke the fire for their heat processing. Like some American roadway shops, there were bathrooms available. Lucky supplied the toilet paper, which had to be placed in a trash can, not the toilet, to protect the plumbing. There was an orchid hothouse beside the restrooms, and a small market area. We purchased a few soaps and lotion, which smelled good in the car the rest of the day.
We walked through the Floating Market at Damen Saduak, which Lucky said was a good place for souvenirs. I bought a few trinkets, silk scarves and a fabric elephant purse for a special little girl. Next we approached the river, and climbed in a Long-Tailed speed boat, the main feature of our tour. It had long pointy curved ends, and was powered by a pickup truck motor. We enjoyed seeing a variety of houses right on the water, which seemed canal-like. Some houses were grand, some ordinary, many shacks, but all of them were close together on the river. After a while, we entered the floating market, where many things could be purchased from neighboring boats, and from booths on land. We walked around, some parts of it reminding me of crafts fairs in southern towns, with whirligigs, paintings and other artwork, handmade jewelry, furniture and toys, many textiles, some with the artist on site. Lucky picked some starfruit, growing wild and hanging over the river, and gave it to us, saying it would just go to waste—we tried one, after washing it well, but left it in our room, with other fresh fruit.
Lucky walked us to some very nice looking shops, although nothing like American shops (no air conditioning). One side was an open-air market, but as you walked further in, it was a hard-sided building. We purchased some small “jade” elephants for the girls, and a white one for me. (Lucky told us they were not genuine, and they were priced accordingly.) Along the back were textiles, some clothing and silk cloth sold by the meter. My wonderful husband got me to choose two, and wouldn’t let me look at the clearance rack! While those were being cut, he said, “Now, go look at clearance.” We found a pillow cover we liked as well. Mr. H. engaged in Lucky-encouraged bargaining! I really will have to get back into sewing regularly!
Lucky asked if we were hungry. We stopped to wash up at a vending machine that had wrapped damp washcloths, then she took us to another long-tailed boat with a propane tank and burner on board—Lunch was noodle soup cooked on-board by a husband and wife, helped by their daughter, who washed the dishes. We sat on steps overlooking the river but below the shopping booths and enjoyed our wonderful lunch. I don’t usually like to have hot soup in hot weather, but that day it was great! After lunch, Lucky showed us booths with an array of spices, herbs and healing ointments. She said that the ointments were very healthful, but we didn’t buy any. We enjoyed the many wonderful spices though! Lucky said we needed to try “Mango & Coconut Rice,” a popular Thai dessert, which tasted just like its name, with rainbow colors from natural plant dyes, including a cobalt blue blossom she’d shown us the night before. We remembered seeing this dessert advertised on photo-menus at home, but we were sure it had artificial flavorings then. This tasted naturally delicious!
As we retraced our path to Bangkok, we noticed the elephant/coconut farm, the coconut palm factory, and probably napped a bit. Lucky asked if we would like to stop at a special jewelry shop and at a tailor—she knew the best places to take us.
The jewelry store was as unobtrusive as our hotel, the entrance hidden in a small alley with a parking area. We entered the building through an attended foyer with a fluffy big dog I was allowed to pet, and when they saw Lucky they opened the interior door. Inside it looked like a typical small–town jewelry store, but bigger, then we turned a corner to a much bigger room. Toward the back, there was a carved wood staircase to another shop upstairs where I found an embroidered scarf and the best tee shirts I’d seen so far. I got two, with elephant designs. There were also some batik elephants similar to the one in our hotel room that I couldn’t resist getting for our daughters. I do like elephants!
Our next stop was at a Tailor Shop on a busy city street. Lucky introduced us, and we were greeted like royalty. It was a small narrow shop, similar to those in small southern town squares, with many bolts of beautiful cloth edging the walls, mostly men’s shirting and suit fabrics, more than I’d ever seen, with one small section of floral silks. There were couches for Lucky and me, with plenty of dress pattern books, which I was asked to peruse, and other magazines. The tailor wanted to make a custom suit, but Mr. H. only wanted a jacket. The tailor explained how, once they made the measurements and pattern, it was more economical to cut a second coat at the same time. They discussed price a good bit, I was consulted on the fabric choices, and a solid-color, silk-blend dress for me was included in the deal. I chose a rich medium blue over the red they were advising, and two patterns were combined for a princess-seamed dress with a modest squared neckline. (I’ve enjoyed wearing it a lot!)
We rode an elevator upstairs to another open area where we were measured by young assistants, male and one female, and an agreement was signed. Then our private car magically appeared, the young tailors escorted us through driving rain with large black umbrellas. We returned to our hotel, said good bye and God bless to Lucky, feeling we’d made a friend, and she gave us her phone number in case we were in Bangkok again. We had just enough time for refreshing showers and a quick pizza dinner in lobby bar, before a young tailor came to escort us via taxi back to the shop for fittings. They called a known taxi for us, and prepaid the bill, a safer way, as many taxi drivers, this one included, did not speak English.
Saturday morning, we had another lovely breakfast at our hotel, and our clothing was brought to us by the same young tailor at 11 a.m. We tried them on, and thanked the young man who had delivered them. We added them to our suitcases, closed our bags, and headed to the airport in a leather-lined van with uniformed driver, pre-ordered by the hotel. Our driver inquired if we’d had a good visit, and laughing at our comments, asserted that their new king was middle-aged, but said he looked so young because of his athleticism and healthy lifestyle. It was a pleasant drive to the airport.
We got to the airport too early to enter check-in, which one is allowed to enter no sooner than 3 hours before scheduled flights, with no restrooms available until after security. We tugged our luggage around for an hour, but were glad because we needed all that time to receive tax refunds for the items we’d purchased, an annoying process that took up most of the time we had. We both had problems getting through security, got fingerprinted and questioned multiple times, and were so thankful to find restrooms once they were available in the main airport building. We had a delicious lunch at a noodle shop near our gate, with a girl hawking loudly (possibly in Japanese) at the door. We were fingerprinted again at the gate, then allowed to get on our Scoot Airlines plane, which was extremely minimal service, charging extra for everything but the restroom, with unusual limits on checked and carry-on bags, but was a quick trip back to Singapore. We had a late dinner in the lobby bar of our hotel, spicy chicken salad for me, a sandwich for Mr. H., with our good friends, Steve and Lisa. We checked in with our daughters on What’s App around 10:00, then quickly to bed. Somehow it had seemed like another long day.