Boarding a van at the doors of the Pan Pacific Bangkok at 7 a.m.
under the city’s brightening haze, my fellow day-trippers were
barely awake, bleary, wondering what we would see over the next
The few of us who managed to stay awake for the next hour
wondered about coffee at the first stop, as the van passed rice
paddies, wetland salt ponds and an unlikely swath of windmills
that, under cloudy skies, looked like a patch of Holland. After one
hour and 60 miles of mostly highway driving, we pulled off to a
sweet heaven in a rice paddy.
Tao Tan Dee sugar factory’s product is coconut sugar. First, a
halved coconut is scraped to shred its meat, and then a wiry,
gray-haired man stirs the white shreds in a huge warmed pan. My
mouth watered from the seductive caramel scent of cooking sugar,
and I lined up for a taste of the warm paste and the crystallized
coconut sugar that was the final product.
Morning had truly arrived, and I no longer craved coffee.
Dodging roosters underfoot, I was tempted to buy a painted fan, a
carved wooden elephant or knickknacks at the factory’s shop stalls
the day’s first shopping opportunity set amid coconut palms.
Instead I was off to a explore the klongs (canals), but
I was going to see more than the typical Thai canals flanked with
wooden houses and shops on stilts.
Our group was off to the staging point for Damnoen Saduak (also
called Damnern Saduak) floating market an extravaganza of mobile
shopping, fast food, color, exotica and even some locals buying
food for the day.
The surreal heat and sticky humidity outside the van was
relieved for 20 blissful minutes while motoring on the water route
to Damnoen Saduak in a narrow fantail boat. Temples, shops,
warehouses, houses facing the water and vibrant green jungle
whizzed by as the boat driver curled his toes over the edge of the
boat for safety.
Damnoen Saduak’s green-brown water was packed with nearly flat,
wide wooden boats stacked with souvenirs, fruit or silver
dollar-size coconut pancakes made on the spot. Sellers called out
to us after we joined other tourist groups in a canal boat. Keel to
hull with dozens of other boats, we made slow progress as the
boatman’s long bamboo pole propelled us through the frenzy.
“No, no!” or, “Yes, yes, over there!” we called out to get poled
over to jade statues, leather purses, fans, silk and cotton dresses
even cushions with sequined elephants.
Women in coconut-fiber conical hats drifted amid the frenzy,
flanked by mounds of yellow mangoes, rotten-smelling durians, tiny
green limes, plump oranges and shocking pink-colored spiky dragon
fruit. More shops sat along the main klong as did local
bar-restaurants with bleacher-type views of the canal activity.
Back in the van, shoppers compared notes, cooled off and nibbled on
crunchy local chips. A quick sprinkle of rain stopped as we pulled
up near Phra Pathom Chedi. The tapering tip of the pinkish
chedi (a Buddhist bell-shaped monument) surrounding the
golden Buddha makes this pilgrimage site the tallest Buddhist
monument in the world.
A steady stream of Thais and respectful tourists moved to the
interior with a fistful of offerings: 20 baht notes (about 50
cents) with pictures of Thailand’s revered king in a prayer stand.
Lotus flowers were placed on altars, incense sticks in pots and
small, nearly weightless pieces of gold leaf were affixed to human
statues, saints or departed abbots near the standing Buddha.
A riverside buffet lunch awaited our tour group in the Rose
Garden’s well-air-conditioned restaurant, followed by an hour for
shopping for fine-quality silk, leather goods and hammered pewter
bowls and teapots. There are a few roses in the Rose Garden, but
the wealth of flowering tropical bushes and trees overshadows less
Sleepy in the mid-afternoon heat, I found my seat in the large
indoor theatre for the Thai Cultural Show. I was expecting a Thai
twist on Las Vegas glitz.
Instead, pinpoint dancing, swirling, colorful costumes and an
esprit de corps made the mock wedding seem as real as the simulated
Thai boxing and the martial arts demonstrations.
Outside waited the day’s last touch of Thailand: trained
elephants delicately walking over handlers and spraying the crowd
with a cool fountain of water. Paying the handler for a photo with
the cutest elephant was the best souvenir and shopping opportunity
of my day’s journey to the Thai countryside.
The Pan Pacific Bangkok hotel’s concierge can arrange Tour East’s
Damnern Saduak Floating Market and Rose Garden tour.
While at the Pan Pacific, clients stay in the heart of Bangkok’s
entertainment district, one block from the SkyTrain light rail that
provides convenient access to business districts and tourist
All 235 rooms and suites feature panoramic city views. Clients
can also opt to stay in suites on the concierge-level Pacific
Floors. Breakfast and pre-dinner cocktails in the lounge and
personalized butler service are tailored for Pacific Floor