Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Thailand Tour Part 5: Bangkok, the"Venice of the East"

November 27, 2015
Bangkok - the Pak Klong Flower Market, the Klongs (Canals) of Bangkok, the Royal Barge Museum, and the sexy side of Bangkok Night Life

I had heard that Bangkok was called "the Venice of the East," but until today, I didn't understand why.  On the east side of the Chao Phraya River where we were staying, there were a few canals along some of the busy city streets, but today we visited the huge system of klongs, or canals, hidden behind the temples and large hotels on the west side of the river.
Building along one of the klongs of Bangkok

After breakfast, we joined our fellow travelers on our Overseas Adventure Travel tour for an orientation briefing on what to expect during our 13 day tour.  After introductions all around, we boarded our bus for our first visit of the tour - a stop at the huge Pak Klong Talad Flower Market.  Several blocks of Bangkok were shaded with large green umbrellas where the workers were crafting fresh floral offerings used to decorate the "spirit houses," the little shrines that sit outside of many businesses and homes.
It's not only the flowers that are colorful in Thailand!  These pink taxis were all over the city.

Workers prepare garlands for decorating Spirit Houses

This huge dragon was created from folded banana leaves.

Yo purchased some fresh lotus flowers and we all learned to fold the petals and turn the simple buds into gorgeous blooms.
Baskets of lotus blossoms

Yo shows us a bouquet of folded lotus flowers

Tour members show off their folded lotus petals

We wandered through the streets for quite a while, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the colors and the huge variety of flowers.
Floral garlands

Bouquets in the Bangkok Flower Market
Orchids in the Pak Klong Talad Flower Market
Tour members with their orchids

Piles of flowers in the Flower Market

We ended in the Farmer's Market, where Thai people were shopping for their fresh vegetables.  I especially loved the piles of various chili peppers that give Thai food its rich flavor.
A Bangkok Farmer's Market

Thai chilis - lots of colors and lots of heat!

This kitty is right at home in the market

Yo shows us the difference between regular rice and sticky rice.

We boarded the bus again and drove through the busy streets to one of the many docks along the Chao Phraya River and boarded a colorful boat that took us up the river past various temples and the Royal Palace to one of the entrances into the klongs.
Buildings along the Chao Phraya River

Wat Arun is one of the most impressive temples along the river.
Sadly, it was covered with scaffolding during our entire trip.

But we could see some of the detail on the base of Wat Arun in spite of the scaffolding

Naval building along the Chao Phraya River

The spires and roofs of the Royal Palace

There was a little "traffic jam" of other boats waiting at the locks that separate the klongs from the main river, but finally we floated through and entered an entirely different world from the one we had experienced for the last few days.  This was one of the residential areas of Bangkok, but instead of streets, the homes lined the canals.  It was a very interesting mix of up-scale and middle class homes side by side with old wooden shacks that had obviously been here for many years.
Waiting for the lock to open and allow passage into the klongs of Bangkok

Lovely homes along the canal...

...sit side by side with old shacks.

As we proceeded deeper into the klongs, the landscape changed.  The houses became less numerous and a jungle landscape took over.
The jungle takes over the klong landscape
But hidden at these back stretches were a few lovely homes, and we disembarked at one of them for one of the highlights of our tour.  Our host and hostess escorted us to their lovely open patio where we found the ingredients for a Thai cooking lesson laid out.  I volunteered to help make the red chili paste.  The hostess described the ingredients as we worked and I ground them with a mortar and pestle.  (Hard work!)
Our host and hostess describe our lunch ingredients

I learn to make red chili paste from scratch

Chef Joan and her teacher proudly show off the red chili paste

Then the paste was used to flavor the soup, which Judy helped to create, as well as a red curry chicken-bamboo shoot dish.
Judy serves her freshly made soup

We followed up our cooking lesson with a delicious lunch that included, in addition to the soup and chicken, cucumber stuffed with minced pork, stir-fried luffa (a type of gourd) with egg and pork, stir-fried chicken with ginger, and pineapple with chili-laced sugar.   Yum!
Rob and Judy visit after lunch

At the end of our visit, we laid our lotus flowers as thank you offerings on the home's spirit house before boarding our board and returning to the Chao Phraya River, stopping along the way to feed a large school of enormous catfish that enthusiastically gobbled up our bread rolls.
Lotus offerings by the spirit house

Rob feeds the greedy catfish

Catfish in the "Forgiven Area" of a local temple
Temple along the Chao Phraya River

Our next stop was the Royal Barge Museum where the elaborate barges that carried the royal families up and down the river are housed.  What timing we had!  In front of the museum was a barge manned by sailors in the traditional palace guard costumes of Thailand.  (If you have seen "Anna and the King," or "The King and I," you may recognize the style of uniform.)  On our right was a row of decorated boats filled with well-dressed people waiting for the special procession to begin.  Yo explained that this was an annual procession to dip a statue of Buddha that was discovered in the river back into the water.  (I tried to research this event and its significance, but could not find any information, so I may have the facts wrong.)

Crewmen in traditional Thai costumes

The Royal BargeMuseum

Inside the museum, we wandered up and down the boardwalks between the barges admiring the long narrow boats, encrusted with intricate decorations of gold and gems, with figureheads of traditional Thai mythical figures.  Gorgeous!
Bows of some of the royal barges

Dvarapala figure on a royal barge.

Naga - a nine-headed dragon - guards this royal barge

The sedan carried the king in the center of the barge

Detail on the sedan

The large figurehead of Suban was built during the reign of King Rama III (1824 - 1851).
The smaller figure of Narai was added during the reign of Rama IV, the king we know from "The King and I"

The old figurehead in the preceding photo was the prototype for this modern barge.

Wen ended the day with our first group dinner at The Secret Garden, a lovely restaurant across the street from the Evergreen Laurel Hotel.  It was a very full day, but I had enough energy to join Yo and a small group that ventured out to explore the more "seedy" side of Bangkok, the bars and sex clubs that line some of the alleys and streets off of Silom Road, a few blocks from our hotel.  Many of the dancers in these clubs are transvestites or have had sex-change surgery.  Yo introduced us to a gorgeous young woman who had started life as a male.  She chatted easily with us about her transformation and proudly showed off her lovely breasts.  A very interesting glimpse into a world I know little about.

One of the night clubs of Bangkok

Some of our tour members enjoyed our visit with this gorgeous girl,
who had undergone a sex change operation.

It was a full day of exploration - with lots more to come!

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