Friday, June 24, 2016

Thailand Tour Part 8 - Immersion into Thai Culture

November 30, 2015
Tha Sao, Thailand - Visits to a Local Market, a School, a Rural Village, 
and a Farm Cooperative

What a special day!  We shared "a day in the life" of the Thai people of the Kanchanaburi Province of Thailand.  Overseas Adventure Travel, a division of the Grand Circle travel company, offers a similar experience on many of their trips, and it was another of the highlights of our Thailand trip.
Thai schoolchildren in Kanchanaburi Province
Our first stop was a village market in a small town in the Tha Sao region.  Before we left the bus, Yo handed each of us a slip of paper with an ingredient listed on it.  (The ingredients would be used later in the day to prepare our home-made lunch.)  We were instructed to find our assigned ingredient in the market, and to engage the townspeople in conversation by asking them their age and whether or not they had flown in an airplane.  How we were going to do this with our very few words of Thai was a mystery, but our intrepid travelers scattered into the market to give it a try.
Rural Thai town

Local villagers in the town market.
Rob was looking for naam-pla, or fish sauce, while I sought ma-nao, the limes.  We quickly found our assigned ingredients in the small open-air market and made our purchases with ease.  The shopkeepers were delightful.  I suspect they have been through this little game many times before, but they giggled at our feeble attempts to communicate, and cheerfully helped us through the process. With some sign language and a lot of laughing, we were able to ask our questions.
Rob successfully makes his purchase.
We gathered around Yo again and she shared some of the other unfamiliar delicacies.  The fruits and sweets looked delicious, but I was very glad she did make use try the Thousand-Year Egg.  The shell was a pretty pastel pink, but when peeled, the egg inside was shiny and black.  These are simply preserved eggs that have been soaked in a solution or clay and salt, sometimes mixed with ash and quicklime.  It is a preservation technique that has been used for centuries, but the result was not appealing to me!
Yo shares some of the local treats with our tour group

Thai sweets

A pretty pink Thousand-Year Egg

It's not so appetizing when it is peeled.

Yo then took us to the other areas of the market and talked a bit about life in the village.
Yo and some local shopkeepers. 
Our second stop was the best of the day!  We visited an elementary school and were greeted by a classroom of kindergarten and first grade students, adorable in their pink plaid school uniforms.  The children performed a greeting song, complete with choreography.  Children around the world are the same - some of them took the job very seriously, concentrating on getting the movements correct (and nudging their neighbors who were not moving in the right direction), while others were giggling and clowning their way through the dance.
The girls were concentrating hard...

...while some of the boys were a little more interested in us!

The dance ends with sleepy time!

Some of our tour members watch the children's welcome dance

As we watched the children's greeting, Judi, a fellow teacher on our tour, suggested to me that we teach the children the Hokey Pokey.  We recruited some of the other adults to join us, put the students into a circle around us, and led the dance.  The children caught on quickly and we all had a wonderful time.
Teaching Thai kids the Hokey Pokey
In return for learning the Hokey Pokey, the children taught us their favorite game - kind of a musical chairs, but if you were "out," you got your cheeks smeared with a white powder.  Hilarious!
Rob's partner got him good!

After the dance and game, we greeted the teachers with our best "wai," the bowing greeting used everywhere in Thailand.  Some of us had brought gifts for the school and presented them to the teachers.  (Rob and I had found a great book at Barnes and Noble - each page was a big fold-out of one of the continents of the world surrounded by pictures of the animals of that continent.)  Then we were asked to sit with one or two of the children and help them with their English lessons.  My favorite moment of the day!  I had two little girls with me.  One of them was very shy and said little, but the other was a little dynamo.  I pointed to the objects (household items, animals, foods, etc.) in the book and said the English word, then she repeated it confidently.  When I got to the page of fruits, she immediately pointed and said "Banana!" with a big grin.  Oh, how I wish we taught foreign languages in our elementary schools!
Rob and his reading partner.

Joan and her reading partners
Following reading, the children gave us a tour of the school,  My little reading partner took me by the hand as she led me around - so sweet!  And some of the kids discovered that Rob enjoyed playing and lined up for their turn to be lifted high in the air.
Rob made a good jungle gym.

Next up was a visit to a local farm that was part of a large cooperative.  We met with the group leaders and learned about the business, then toured the coop's market where the produce from the various farms was sold to the local citizens.
The managers of the local farm cooperative

Local produce in the cooperative store

We moved on to a nearby small village, Phu Toey, where we got a little peek at daily life in the area.
Our local transport

A rural Thai home

Chili peppers drying in the yard

Flower pots decorate the houses

Burmese immigrants
Then we toured the "farm," which was unusual in that it was scattered throughout the jungle.  There were no long rows of vegetables or orchards of fruits.  Instead, we saw various plants seemingly randomly placed here and there.  But the owners knew where everything was and described the various familiar and unfamiliar plants - chili peppers, papaya, ginger, cassava - as well as some I didn't recognize at all.  The climate here is tropical, so many of the flowers were the same ones you will find in the Hawaiian Islands:  bird-of-paradise, torch ginger, heliconia,
Chili pepper bush

Huge Papayas

Rob's favorite treat - fresh papaya

Scaffold for vegetable vines

Cassava root

Torch ginger

Bird of Paradise

We learn about some of the products in the jungle farm

Our fearless leader!
We ended our farm tour at the owners' home where some of our tour group helped prepare green papaya salad using the ingredients we had purchased during our morning market visit.  In addition to the salad, we enjoyed stir-fried eggplant with basil, other vegetables, and a chicken curry.  Dessert was an interesting pudding of large green tapioca pearls from the cassava root.
Our hostess with the ingredients we bought that morning

Tour members help make fresh Green Papaya Salad

Thai Tapioca Pearls with Coconut Milk

The home's Spirit Houses

My pet-loving husband is good at finding any local dogs!
After lunch, we boarded a pick up truck which drove us to Hard Ngew Beach where we boarded Longtail Boats and had a delightful cruise between the high cliffs and lush bamboo and teak jungle on this section of the River Kwai.  (These boats had been used in one of the James Bond movies, "The Man With the Golden Gun.")  Along the way, we saw a row of houses floating on rafts by the river banks, as well as a lovely raft hotel.  High on the cliffs were caves, and along the shore, we spotted water buffalo and a variety of birds, including some sort of eagle, a flock of egrets, and a stunning blue King Fisher that, amazingly, I was able to photograph through the branches as we floated past.
Our tour mates on a Longtail Boat for a float down the River Kwai

Selfies on the Longtail Boat

River Kwai
Raft houses along the river bank

A lovely raft hotel

Caves in the cliffs along the river

Stalagtites hang from the cave roofs

A ramshackle raft

Water Buffalo

Flock of egrets

Common King Fisher

Our two boats had a little race toward the end of our river excursion

Our bus driver waits for us at the end of the trip

A little temple along the river

Our long, but thoroughly enjoyable, day ended with a walk from our tent camp to Bam Bam, a local restaurant for another delicious meal.  It was another great day!
Our hostess tells Yo about the history of her restaurant

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