Tuesday, March 9

Paula: The weather forecast in this morning's newspaper this stated, "cool temperatures." After reading that the high temperature would be 32 degrees Celsius (this is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit), we decided that many things are relative! Annie told us last year the low temperature of the entire year here was 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the heat, our days here have been bearable. A nice breeze has definitely helped, as have our hats and umbrellas - yes, we finally broke down and used our umbrellas like most of the Asians as a shield from the sun.

Our destination this morning was a town about 80 kilometers southwest of Bangkok. Samutsongksam has about 30,000 residents and a lively market. The first thing that we noticed was that there were more motorbikes than cars here. Annie said many people don't even own a motorbike but hire a "motorcycle taxi" to take them to the market. The market was crowded with people of all ages shopping for everything from toys, clothing and house wares, and all varieties of food.

There are no malls or grocery stores outside of Bangkok, so in the countryside everyone shops at the open air markets. Interestingly, part of the market was set up along the sides of a railroad track with customers walking down the middle of the tracks. We assumed that the railroad was no longer used, but Annie told us in fact the train still comes twice a day and everyone quickly mores the goods out of the way allowing the train to pass!

Annie pointed out that the prices in the market here were much better than in Bangkok, often half the cost. In addition to a large variety of seafood, fish, meats, fruits and vegetables; there were hundreds of vendors cooking and selling fresh food. We had fun trying several treats including coconut custard, coconut pancakes and fresh pineapple that Thais dip in a combination of salt, sugar and chili peppers! We also saw sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and steamed in bamboo, baked and grilled bananas and a variety of Thai deserts made with egg yolk, syrup and rice.

As we walked though the crowded market, a small group of teenagers pointed and giggled at us. We noticed that two of the girls were following us and we finally stopped to see if they wanted to talk. In fact, they wanted to practice their English and had never had an opportunity to speak to natives. The girls, both 17 years old, were actually quite shy but we enjoyed chatting and having a picture taken with them. We learned that as in Laos, people here call Westerners "white people with long noses" - pretty funny!

As we walked through the market, many people asked Annie why we had visited this town instead of the "Floating Market." The Floating Market had originally been on our itinerary, but we changed plans after learning that this is primarily a tourist destination. We instead wanted to see an authentic local town market and community, and we thought it was funny how surprised the people here were to see us.

Most of the people in the town are fruit farmers and their coconut and banana groves surrounded both sides of the road as we left the market. Annie suggested that we stop and visit one of the farms where they make coconut candy. This turned out to be fun and interesting. Once on the farm we learned how this extended family raises their coconut trees, using all parts of the trees. From the flowers of the tree they collect nectar which they then boil and cool into sugar and candies. They were in the process of doing this when we arrived so we watched them make the sugar cubes and Katie even helped with the final steps!

In addition to using the fruit for both coconut meat and milk, the farmers use the leaves for fuel and the wood to make chop sticks and other wooden utensils. The trees produce fruit just three years after planting and are productive for about eight years. Canals cut across the farmland allow them to easily water their trees and other crops.

This family then offered to take us out on the canals on their own long-tail boat so that we could see their farm and the surrounding community. This was a treat and gave us another opportunity to view life on the canals. Again we saw people washing clothing, food and dishes in the canals. Porches and small docks off the stilted homes appeared to have small kitchens. We passed several temples and again enjoyed feeding the fish in this area. There were so many fish that they splashed us as we tossed them food.

As we passed a primary school, the children who were outside playing waved to us. We decided to stop and visit the school and had fun walking through their classrooms. The classrooms all opened out onto large porches and there were racks for the children to take off their shoes before entering the classroom. We were invited into a kindergarten where we exchanged pictures and simple greetings of "hello" and "goodbye." The teacher wanted to take all kinds of pictures of us - they had never had Westerners visit the school before. We were celebrities again!

We noticed that the classrooms beginning in grade 1 had English words posted around the room. The children were finishing their last week of classes and exams before beginning their three month long summer break. The children all waved and giggled as we left on the boat.

After lunch at a local restaurant, we made our way back to Bangkok. This was our first opportunity to experience Bangkok's terrible traffic first-hand. The drive took 1 ½ hours, and the "expressway" became a parking lot as we neared the city.

Once in Bangkok, we visited the "fresh market" where local growers sell their produce in bulk to restaurants. The smell of all kinds of greens and vegetables filled the air, and we enjoyed seeing the huge bags and bundles for sale.

Our final stop was in Bangkok's flower market, only a short walk away. Flowers are an integral part of Asian culture, and it was wonderful to see such a large and beautiful market. The market is open 24 hours a day, and huge numbers fresh flowers are brought in daily. One of the busiest times is 4:00 AM when local hotels and restaurants come to buy flowers.

We were amazed at the wide variety of very fresh flowers, and the unbelievably low prices. A bunch of 50 roses cost a total of 50 cents! We also saw all kinds of orchids, marigolds, lotus flowers, carnations, daisies, and lilies. Many of the flowers were arranged into all kinds of centerpieces, decorations for spirit houses, arrangements for weddings, etc. It was quite a sight to see!

Finally, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and rest before tomorrow's early-morning flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia.












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