TIO Bangkok: The Day We Saw Red Bananas



This time credit goes to our sometime Telluride neighbor Sunny Griffin, owner of Astara Cosmetics, also a resident of Chiang Mai, Thailand. She told us in no uncertain terms that we could not leave Bangkok without a day trip to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market  and a side visit to the nearby Rose Garden.

Once again we turned to our new BFF, Phusa, and her company, Hotel Beds, based in our hotel, (Royal Orchid Sheraton) to hook us up.

Our charming guide for the day was Pasith Kasuya, who, turns out, majored in English and tourism at Chiang Mai U. – and minored in ALL CAPS story-telling. His over-the-top enthusiasm for, well, everything, including red bananas, is contagious. When we came across a bunch hanging off a tree on  our ride through one the 2,400 canals en route to the market, you would have thought he had found the Holy Grail. Nearly fell out of our long-tailed boat, hands flapping, exclaiming how lucky we are.

House, flowersAccording to Pasith, the first of these canals was created by order of Rama IV (of “Anna and the King of Siam” fame.) about 147 years ago. Today the place is a labyrinth of narrow waterways, where wooden boats are paddled mainly by female traders, many dressed in traditional blue farmers’ shirts and conical straw hats, selling fruits, vegetables, and spices. Clothing and souvenirs vendors are relative new-comers, with stalls in the newer markets.

Overall think Cosco, then add water and stir.

The Floating Market requires an early start to the day: the best time to arrive is between 7 a.m. – 9 a.m., when the joint is really jumping. Since Damnoen Saduak is 62 miles west of Bangkok or about an hour drive on a Sunday (when there is little traffic on the otherwise congested roads), by leaving our hotel around 7:30 a.m., we made the rush.

Bananas, Green UmbrellaOn site, Pasith told us the best buys were, hands down, the produce, which include fruits we had never seen nor heard of, among them, mangosteen, the “queen of the fruits,” and durian, “the king of Thai fruit, ” whose pungent smell and flavor are decidedly an acquired taste. The other vendors, sad to say, jack up prices when they see foreign faces: a shirt that might sell to a local for 100 baht is, POOF, 1,000 baht. Better to shop in Chiang Mai, he said, where everything is cheaper and everyone more honest.

Traveling from the city, we stopped at a coconut farm and factory, where we watched the fruit morph into sugar, water, body oil, handbags and other accessories. Nothing is wasted. We passed temples – 94 percent of the population of Thailand is Buddhist and shrines are everywhere – fruit orchards (guava mostly, also longan and tamarind). Shrimp and salt farms are also numerous in Samut Sakhon Province. (Farming shrimp is what rice farmers do with their flooded fields in the rainy season.)

We also visited the Royal Thai Handicraft Center, where craftsman transformed teak and monkey pod wood into intricate works of art. But again Pasith suggested that if we were in the market for teak, Chiang Mai is central ops, making the Handicraft Center a warm up for some of the many  treasures that await us in the next chapter of our trip).

Grand EntranceThe Rose Garden is part of the Rose Garden Country Resort, a place for tennis, golf and swimming. But the venue is really a one-stop shop for learning and experiencing all things Thai – starting with the fact that spoiled elephants can be picky.

While mom and dad chowed down without hesitation, ingesting entire bunches in one gulp, the baby elephant on site refused the bananas we handed him. Seems Dumbo prefers a different brand.

Following a lavish buffet lunch, Pasith hustled us to the main event, the cultural show. It opened with a traditional xylophone orchestra, which performed a medley that included the theme from the Mickey Mouse Show. You had to be there. That was followed by a series of vignettes performed by talent from the nearby villages, including a Buddhist ordination procession, a traditional Thai wedding, classical and hill dancing, Thai boxing and martial arts, featuring a sword fighting.

Elephants, Hula HoopCamp, yes.

Fun? That too.

Sometimes being a tourist means embracing kitsch. The Floating Market and Rose Garden (especially the Rose Garden) offer Twitter versions of Thailand. But when you are not spending much time in an area, information delivered in digestible sound bytes is better than none at all.

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