Day Tripping in Thailand

Taking in the floating markets and more

By: Maxine Cass

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 nine hours.

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.

Something Sweet

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.

Monumental Moment
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 exotic blooms.

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 Details

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 areas.

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 guests.