Stickman's Weekly Column May 27th, 2007

A Trip To The Floating Market


The naughty boys had probably just put their head down for the night, and even the monks had only just started getting ready for the alms runs while Miss Udon and I were screaming down the motorway, destination Rachaburi.

I might have been to Ayuthaya more than a dozen times, the river and the riverside temples on more occasions than I can count and even the over-priced Grand Temple at least half a dozen times, but there is one major tourist attraction not far from Bangkok that I have never checked out, one which has somehow eluded me. And to make matters worse, it is one of the most famous attractions. Many tourists who have only spent a few days in Thailand have seen it, and it used to be on the promos for CNN. Yet I, a resident for a fair few years now, still had yet to check it out. That was until today.

Of course Rachaburi’s most famous tourist attraction is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, the often photographed market where old ladies are seen peddling their wares from boats in narrow canals. Damnoen is high level language for carriageway and saduak means convenient so Damnoen Saduak means the convenient carriageway, no doubt a throw back to the days of old when the major means of transportation in not only that region, but much of the country, were the many rivers and canals.

The floating market is located about 100 km from Bangkok and takes a bit over an hour to reach by car if you leave early, which is recommended.

I have always been impressed by the Thais’ willingness to erect street signs nationwide in English and even in the most far flung corners of the Kingdom, signs are almost always found in both English and Thai, at least the street and most place signs are. Signs referring to the rules of the road are curiously almost always displayed only in Thai! Anyway, despite there being signs in both English and Thai, they may as well not even have had a sign for the floating market, for the sign for the turn off was placed AFTER the turn off itself. Yes, there we were, sailing down the road, looking for the sign, when we see it, and realise that the turn off was about 200 metres before the sign itself. Despite contemplating breaking the road rules and pulling over to reverse 200 metres up a major intercity road, commonsense prevailed and we decided to proceed to the first U turn and double back. As is Murphy’s Law, the next turn off was not for several clicks.

We finally managed to get back on track and this time managed to find the correct exit. But it was only a few kilometres before we were once again felled by the lack of signs when we came to a fork in the road with three possible choices and no sign for the floating market, nor highway numbers! The friendly boy in brown manning one of those silly little helmet shaped police booths pointed us in the right direction, informing us it was a mere 18 km further down the road.

After 13 kilometres we saw a large sign saying Floating Market in English. Some clever person had erected a beautiful large, clear sign. We pulled off the main road and into what turned out to be a large car park. We could see a canal over the back but there was no-one to be seen. We looked around before realising that this was not the main entrance to the floating market at all, but an agent selling tickets for it! Throwing the car into reverse we exited before we were accosted by one of the staff who had been making a beeline for what she thought were her first catch of the day.

Muttering and mumbling about the practice of agents and their sneaky signs, another kilometre or so down the road we saw a large sign with floating market, but this time it was in the standard blue and white text as are most signs for tourist attractions in Thailand. We pulled off the road and this time it only took a split second to realise that again we had been suckered into the car park of an agent AGAIN! Before anyone had a chance to come outside, we were out of there, speeding down the road, and passing agent after agent, all of which had large signs outside simply saying floating market.

Now just what these agents do, I do not know. They all have a large car park out the front so I guess one can leave their car there before being carted down to the market where no doubt the agent will try and arrange everything for you while putting some fee on top of everything. It probably wouldn’t work with the Thais but for a timid farang or other foreigners, it could be a real money spinner.

We continued another few kilometres before reaching a large archway and what this time really did look like an official sign. Looking at the odometer, we had finally reached the 18 kilometre mark so this must be it! We continued down the side road, passed a canal and there it was, our first sighting of the floating market!

We were the only car in a large car park with room for hundreds of cars. It was admittedly quite early, a little after 7:15 AM.

The first thing that strikes you is the colours. The multi-coloured clothes so popular with older Thai women give way to bright yellow mangoes, succulent red lychees, brilliant green guavas and other high quality export grade fruit that has been lightly sprayed to enhance its colour and shine. The TAT is not wrong when they say that Thailand is a photographer's dream.

Resisting the temptation to start snapping all and sundry, we sit down and just take in the scene in front of us. There wasn’t another farang in sight. All we could see were older Thai women, gently paddling their canoes up and down the main part of the canal where the centre of the market is found. Some were nibbling on their wares, others were chewing on beetlenut. Smiles were beamed at the one and only farang and he was like a mirror, beaming straight back at them. If you looked away from the road, and were able to forget your surroundings for just a moment, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had taken a trip back in time, into the Thailand of old. A time when every Thai really did smile, when gooey deow was a baht a bowl and when the sight of a farang really would have for the locals talking.

We wandered around the main market area which is really just a 100 metre or so stretch of canal before we saw that there were more canals, bigger canals, side canals, all like a bunch of sois and sub sois. It was time to explore so we found a healthy looking boatman (Miss Udon felt it cruel to hire one of the old ladies). 50 baht per person to share a boat with others, or 200 baht for the whole boat for an hour journey. 200 baht an hour is a bargain so we settled on the boat to ourselves.

As we slowly made our way around the network of canals, we were fascinated, even transfixed, at the sight of older Thai ladies, some who must have been well into their '70s, and the gracious and almost majestic way that they paddled their boats around the network of canals as if they had been doing it all their lives – which they quite possibly had. Just why it was women paddling 95% of the boats, I just do not know. Where are all the men?!

As we got further from the main area and down into some of the side canals only reachable by boat, we started to see vendors selling tacky souvenirs, the sort of crap you see in all of the different tourist areas of Thailand. It doesn’t matter where you go, you see the same junk. Perhaps that is being harsh, but I have to wonder just who buys it? Those wooden frogs for instance that you run a piece of wood over the top of and they supposedly make the same sound that a frog does. Do people actually buy them?

The boat reached its turn around point and we were taken back the way we had come. The sun was rising and it was starting to warm up. It's May and even though it wasn't yet 9 AM, it was starting to get sticky, uncomfortably hot. As we made our way back to the central section of the market, we notice more and more tourists had descended upon Damnoen Saduak. The daily farang invasion had begun.

Tour bus after tour bus was pulling into the car park and it wasn’t long before all of the parking areas near the market had filled up. There must have been close to 100 tour buses and countless minivans and Bangkok taxis.

Standing on a bridge overlooking the main canal where our minds had wandered to the traditional Thai way of life of the past, we saw that what can only be described as reua did – or a boat jam. The canal was totally jammed with boats and locals were yelling and screaming at the top of their voices to one another about just who needed to do what for the boats to pass. There were tourists everywhere and where we had earlier heard old ladies chatting and laughing we now heard all the languages of the Western world, loud and brash to a cacophony of camera shutters going off. Any sense of tranquility had been shattered.

What had happened to the lovely, almost serene scene we had enjoyed not much more than an hour earlier? I couldn’t possibly dream of the Thailand of yesteryear now with these huge white creatures trampling through the place, picking through tacky souvenirs that were being sold from a whole riverside of shops that we hadn’t even seen when we arrived.

It seems that from around 8:30 AM onwards the tacky souvenir stalls start opening as the daily hoards from Bangkok arrive and the illusion of the serene Thailand of yesteryear is lost, replaced by that of a mass market tourism hot spot.

Disillusioned at the scene before our eyes, we sneaked away from the masses and headed in the opposite direction. Extricating ourselves from ground zero, we found some alleyways leading through to canals that didn’t seem to have any white faces, where the locals were going about their daily business as if they were a million miles away from a world renowned tourism hot spot. After finding a quiet spot and a garfair borarn (old fashioned Thai style iced coffee) vendor, we were once again able to look out cross the network of canals and reminisce about the Thailand of old.

It's ironic that the floating market depicted at Damnoen Saduak has largely been preserved by the tourist trade, but so has it been ruined by tourists too. It would not function as it does now without the benefits of tourism.

You still can find traditional canal floating markets in Rachaburi province where, if you’re lucky, you really might be the only white face. Tha Kha is one such spot where the locals really do venture to the floating market to buy their daily food needs. Sadly though, it looks as though that is going to go the way of Damnoen Saduak and there is talk of changes afoot to attract foreigners there.

I was told that the best way to see Damnoen Saduak Floating Market was to get there as early as possible. I was never told why, but now I know. That was the best possible advice I could have received. Early morning it is a quite fabulous attraction. But once the throngs of tourists descend upon, it changes into a fascinating, but ultimately tacky over-touristed spot. Get there early and it really is something else.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on Sathorn Road heading towards the Surasak BTS station. Where is this week's picture? Bangkok at sunset, or is it sunrise?! There are five prizes each week and the first five people to identify where the picture above was taken and email me with the answer win a prize. You can choose from a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod OR a giant burrito at Sunrisetacos OR a 500 baht credit at Lennie's OR a 500 baht credit at Catz Gogo OR a 500 baht credit at Octopussy Bar in Hua Hin. Each of the prize providers is in a different area so please specify which prize you would prefer. Oh My Cod – Khao San Road area. Sunrisetacos – Sukhumvit Road. Lennie's – Pattaya. Catz – Pattaya. Octopussy – Hua Hin.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II)

The advantages of residing in a hotel.

Your column on dealing with banks, including paying bills or buying property, makes living in a hotel on a long-term deal sound very inviting. No utilities, property taxes, insurance, repairs or cleaning. They even throw in breakfast. If you want to move, or flee the country, no problem. And best of all, if you get a divorce, your ex can't take it from you – and you wouldn't care if she did.

Japanese vs. Thai women.

In response to the reader who said that in other parts of Asia being a foreigner has lost his luster, he is right. But that said now it is not a problem getting a Japanese woman as a "gaijin" is not a big no no or a shock to anyone in Tokyo. It is pretty commonplace for a girl to have a western boyfriend. Now let's compare Japanese divorcees and over 30s to Thai women. Japan is a country where the women who come from poor families can still get a decent job and they don't have to work in a field or slut themselves out. They can still go to at least junior college or a training program. They take better care of their skin and some of the over 30s are magnificent women. Some are unmarried because they waited too long in a youth obsessed country. They wanted to keep making money as being a housewife and raising kids is not a community and family helping out situation akin to Thailand. Office ladies here are hot with wet ones waiting. There are exceptions everywhere but you don't have to pay sin sot or buy them gold. They have it between the legs.

Black men not to the Japanese women's taste?

I've spent a lot of time in many different Asian countries, and Asian women, on the whole, just aren't interested in black men. With the exception of prostitutes (or occasionally poorer women with a wealthy African American boyfriend) it is rare to see Asian women with black men. Even many prostitutes choose not to go with them. This is also true with Indian men. Just because one Japanese starlet wrote a book doesn't mean large numbers of Japanese women desire black guys. Living in Japan for two years, I could count the number of Japanese women with black guys on one hand.

Clueless about customer service.

I've been spending more time in Indonesia. When I go there, I stop at this coffee / donut place almost every day. Just about every time that I go there, the regular employees (not management) give me free donuts. Even if I just order a coffee, they throw free donuts my way. Do you think that would ever happen in Thailand? Not likely! The Thais are clueless about customer service!

Bad blood between the Thais and the Singaporeans.

Your piece about fake dodgy monks in Bangkok made me think about seeing them a lot in Singapore. There have been complaints in newspapers about them operating on a large scale down here. I have seen them all over the place, in food courts in Chinatown, hanging around the Bugis Mall but the place I see them most is Golden Mile Complex (Thai Town). In Chinatown I have seen them going from table to table around the food court and really putting the bintabaht bowl under the nose of diners. One came to my table and really disturbed the elderly Chinese woman sitting at it. I just looked at him when he came to me and said "kee gong phra" <cheating monk> and he cleared off quickly. The Chinese lady asked what I said and then explained they are there all the time. This was in the middle of the afternoon, well past bintabaht time and they will take cash form a lady's hand. If I go to eat at Golden Mile at lunchtime or to the supermarket for Thai ingredients I always see 4 or 5 of them about and guess where mostly – at the Thai remittance shops set up for the Thais to send money home at very little cost. Now these do a roaring trade on a Sunday, the traditional Thai workers' day off here but during the week it's only the working girls and the monks to be seen there. A lot of Singaporeans have a viewpoint of never trusting a Thai. One guy I know who is quite wealthy will never do business with a Thai even though he has business interests all over the region. He says he does not trust them and hates them for what they did to the boat people that he had to stand by and watch as a national serviceman in the navy. These fake monks are really adding to that feeling among more and more Singaporeans.

Bumrungrad Hospital 1 : Bangkok Hospital 0.

I went to Bangkok Hospital yesterday and was very disappointed with their service. I had to walk the best part of a kilometre from the bike park to the reception. Once there, the nurse didn't listen to me – I explained I had ulcers in my mouth so she told me I needed a dentist. I told her I needed a GP as this was not a dental problem. OK no problem, go with this guy. So I went with this guy and he took me….to the dentist! The dentist looked in my mouth and said I needed a doctor (sounds familiar). So I went to a new department and waited to be told there was no skin specialist available until Tuesday night. No, I need a GP, not a skin specialist, a GP! Do you have a GP? Yes? OK I want to meet the GP please. After lots more paper shuffling and computer gazing, the girl proudly told me I was booked in for Tuesday night to see the skin specialist! After that I just left and went to Bumrungrad where I was in and out within 40 minutes!

Thailand, Cambodia same same!

Your rumour that everyone might in future need a visa to enter the Land of Smiles sounds like yet another shot in the foot for the tourist industry. But it only pulls Thailand into line with neighbours such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and others. But in those other countries it is often a simple matter of getting a visa on arrival, exactly what Thailand is perhaps trying to reverse. Reverse. Now that seems a perfect word to describe Thailand's direction, doesn't it?

Angelwitch's Bangkok operation underwent renovations this week with all of the sofa seats in the bar upholstered and a new sound system was installed so now the DJ has a new toy to play with! State of the art it is said to be.

Rumour has it that Rainbow 4 has averted disaster and somehow managed to come to an arrangement that will see them remain open and not be forced to close for flirting with the closing time law last month.

Dear oh dear. The authorities in Pattaya have told bar owners that they do not want any nudity or naughty shows in Sin City. Whether this is a temporary crackdown or a sign of things to come, who knows? Many naughty boys prefer Pattaya because there is more to see down there, but if this new policy is implemented then everything could change. Let's wait and see if it actually eventuates or if it's all just hot air.

The Rooftop Garden Bar is running a promotion called "Beat The Clock". The price of standard beers and liver wasters can be had at 45 baht up until 6 PM. The price increases to 55 baht until 7 PM and then 65 baht until 8 PM. The Rooftop Garden Bar is located in Sukhumvit Soi 5, on level 2 above Foodland and is run by Khun Kob. Kob is an old hand at Bangkok bars and his CV includes Pretty Lady in Nana Plaza and Annie's Massage. He is currently involved with The Bangcockney Bar in Soi 6 and Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. More info can be found at Rtgbangkok.com. Kob looks forward to seeing you for the Beat The Clock promotion or in the wee hours for a late night beverage.

You have to laugh at the large colourful sign often erected at the foot of the stairwell leading up on the left hand side of Nana Plaza. It says that the Hollywood bars have 300 girls and that the happy hour runs from 7 until 9 PM when drinks are "only" 100 baht. First of all, there is no way in the world there are 300 girls in those two bars. NO WAY. Secondly, 100 baht as a happy hour price, well it is cheaper than the standard prices charged in Nana these days, but to call it a happy hour is a bit cheeky in my mind. Finally, if you were to enter those bars at 7:00 PM, or even 7:30 PM, you would almost certainly find all of the house lights turned on, no music, and the girls sitting around the outside in a state of semi dress bitching about the spending habits of their Thai boyfriends. I pity anyone new to Nana who sees that sign and climbs the stairs only to be disappointed.

If you crave good popcorn, cinemas might not be the best place to indulge yourself. Why not try Hot Shotz Bar in one of the sub sois off Sukhumvit Soi 33? Really good popcorn can be there and what's more, it's free!


The ultimate Thai dating site with ladies from all over Thailand!

The Immigration Department is cracking down on people staying in Thailand on back to back visas, particularly those with 30 day visa exemption stamps. Many people entering Thailand find they are being asked for proof of onward travel out of the country, which to most means an air ticket. It has always been the law that you needed proof of onward travel but it was seldom enforced by Immigration. Some perpetual visa runners are getting more resourceful and buying the cheapest air ticket they can get their hands on that can be cancelled with them still getting a refund, or at least a partial refund. But some are taking this one step further and buying a train ticket out of Thailand. Train tickets can be refunded up until 4 days before the journey time and the charge for a refund is minimal. Given that Immigration almost certainly does not check that the proof of outward travel is actually used, there is every chance that this loophole may remain valid for a while.

Pattaya City News, the excellent website that reports a lot of the comings and goings that others don't cover in Sin City, has just opened a new 24 hour radio station in Pattaya. It's called PCN FM 105 and plays a mix of classic hits and the best of today's music. The gentleman behind it used to work at Metropolis 107 FM in Bangkok which was a favourite station for many expats and from hi time there he has gained inspiration from the music they used to play. The format which is non-stop music and no DJs should prove a success in Pattaya. It covers the entire Pattaya area including parts of Banglamung and all of Jomtien. It's a shame we cannot pick it up in Bangkok.

I genuinely do not like Sukhumvit and I almost never make it to that part of town during the day. But I had reason to make it there this past week and wandering a short distance along the busiest part of Sukhumvit, you know around Nana, where many tourists hang out, I was amazed at what was going on. I was offered Viagra several times (do I look like I need it?), the ubiquitous massage parlour girls, boys, and was grabbed not once, not twice, not three but four times by different touts wanting to make me a suit. Grabbed for God's sake! Sukhumvit looks bad at night, and in some ways that is to be expected for it's the heart of Bangkok's naughty nightlife, but I had forgotten just how awful it is during the daytime too. If you're a first time visitor you might describe it as colourful, vibrant or perhaps even exciting, but if you live here, there is only one word I can use for it. Tacky.

You have to feel sorry for Reading manager Steve Coppell. After doing extremely well with his team in their first season in the Premier League, Steve, who is a fan of Thailand and who obviously looks forward to his annual break out here, has been hounded by a certain member of the local press who is hell-bent on ruining Steve's well-deserved break by chasing him around the countryside with the purpose of writing stories for the UK's tabloid trash rags. Very sad.

It sounds like one big mess for Americans who are applying for passports at this point in time. What is said to normally be a 10 day service is in some cases taking well in excess of 3 months! The immediate cause is that the US government, in its infinite idiocy, has decreed that anyone traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean must now have a passport, whereas in the past a driver's license and birth certificate were good enough to re-enter the country. Therefore, there are several million people who suddenly need passports for their normal travels, and the passport office is totally swamped. It is hoped that in a few months the demand will drop back to more or less where it used to be, but that doesn't help anyone who has travel plans coming up soon.

I'd lowered my expectations of finding anywhere in Bangkok with a good selection of American whiskeys and bourbons. After all, most places stock little more than Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. I note though that Bourbon Street has a very good selection of American whiskeys and bourbons, most of which I have not seen anywhere else, even in some of the 5 star hotel bars. So if you crave a good American whisky, now you know where to go. Woodford Reserve, Maker's Mark and a heap of others!

Is there anything worse than a pizza parlour where they skimp on the ingredients? To me, there's nothing worse than that – but it is a common problem in Bangkok and Pomodoro comes to mind. The pizzas look great in the pictures but when they come, they are missing something. You eat the entire pizza and you're still hungry. That shouldn't happen! And in fact that won't happen at what just might be one of Bangkok's very best pizza houses. Scoozi, which now have four branches, has perhaps the best pizza I have had in Bangkok! This week myself and a friend ordered the salmon pizza and the chef's special. These babies were loaded with high quality ingredients and the taste was out of this world. If you're a pizza lover, give Scoozi a go. This place has shot past Pizzanotti as my new favourite pizza joint.

You have to laugh at restaurants which impose a compulsory service charge. Out with a friend, we got the bill and the service charge was 5%, or about 70 baht. He was about to tip 200 baht, him being a very generous American used to tipping, but when he saw there was a service charge already included and he put the 200 back in his wallet. For once the compulsory service charge backfired!

From June 1st the regulations about the carriage of fluids on flights out of Thailand changes. Unless it's medication or baby formula, you can't take more than 100 ml of anything on international flights.

Popular local author Chris Moore is giving away his compilation of short stories, "Chairs", which can be downloaded as a PDF file from his website. I quite liked this book so if you're hungry for a taste of Thailand, do consider downloading it. By the way, Chris's latest novel, "The Risk Of Fidelity Index", is one of his best and well worth picking up a copy of.

If you feel like a taste of farang food but are on a budget, you might want to try Subway. They offer six inch subs for 69 baht with one item from their menu offered each day at this very reasonable price. The other special is buy one six inch sub and a drink and get another six sub and a drink free. Good deals, the both of them.

Have you ever met a Thai who was truly atheist or agnostic? I don't believe I have.

Quote of the week comes from my regular motorcycle rider. "If a Thai person is on time, they must be hi-so."

Despite claims from some quarters that the number of tourists to Thailand is down, this article suggests otherwise.

And yes, the Internet IS censored in Thailand if you were wondering. More here.

Miss Udon is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Feel free to send questions in for her to answer and get the perspective of a Thai female. You and I may well disagree with what she says. The purpose of this section is to provide a Thai woman's perspective!

Question 1: How much money do parents have to pay to send a 14 year old boy to a school (average) and also what is the price of other expensive things like books etc. Is there much difference from school to school. Is the payment monthly or yearly? It would be very kind if you could give me an answer soon so I can make my decisions.

Miss Udon says: In Thailand children from age 7 – 15 get to study free in government schools. If we use grades, we can say grades 1 to 9. This boy is in that level which means he can study for free. Grades 10 – 12 usually cost a small amount, but not much, especially if the school is in the provinces. But if you send him to a private school it depends on the area where the school is and the quality. The average for a private school in the provinces is about 20,000 – 40,000 baht per semester but some schools will collect per year. If it is in a city, I am not sure, but the price is much more I think. Some schools charge a lot more, particularly international schools.

The where is this picture prizes for outside of Bangkok, that is Pattaya and Hua Hin, have gone unclaimed the last few weeks. It would be nice to get people in those spots to get the pictures right and so be able to collect a prize. If you are in Hua Hin or Pattaya, don't be shy to have a guess at the picture! Or maybe the pictures are just too difficult?



Yours,

Stick Mark II