Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Charming Canals of Ratchaburi

As the vehicle passes a bridge that crosses the Chao Phraya River, I saw a picturesque scene of the city of Bangkok with the megastructure Bhumibol Bridge shawdowing from a distance. The scene gave me a relief as the other day I failed to experience a river cruise to Chao Phraya River due to seasonal flood, The city lines and skyscraper buildings slowly fade to my sight as we get nearer to the site of our intended destination of the day. At six in the morning, we drove for two hours to the province of Ratchaburi to visit one of the must-see sight and must-experience activity in Thailand – the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and cruising in its charming canals.

The charming Damnoen Saduak Floating Market at Ratchaburi.
Small paddle boat tour of the canals.
I am personally excited when we were offered a short tail boat cruise to tour the canals of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. It is because I only see this scenes in travel magazines and travel shows that features Thailand. Now, I get to experience this personally. The boat paddles us to the small alleys of the canals where in every corner there are numerous stalls of stores selling various items and souvenirs. Some vendors are selling items on their boat that were mostly selling foods like coconut juice and local Thai noodles and delicacies.  I think it is in this vendors that sells on their paddled boat where the concept of floating market started. I just find most of the items sold in the market were pricey maybe because it is a tourist site. But you can bargain on the items you want to buy, as our tour guide advises – “tawad, tawad, tawad!” (Filipino term for haggling a bargain in markets) whom apparently knows some Filipino words from meeting a lot of Filipino tourists.
Front view.
Souvenir items sold in the floating market.
Practice your bargain skills in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market!
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market were very popular among the tourist. There were many foreign visitors that day on the floating market.   While being paddled to the canals of the floating market, when we pass across the other boats along the cruise, I can see how they are being charmed by the market life in the canals of Damnoen Saduak. It is also in this tour we get to have acquainted with a Brazilian couple and group of Indonesians. Damnoen Saduak is one of the district of the Ratchaburi province located in central Thailand. The central town is famous for its floating market held every day till noon.

The canals of the floating market.
One of the boat vendor.
 Ratchaburi is one of the central provinces of Thailand. Ratchaburi means, "The land of the king." It is located 80 kilometers west of Bangkok and borders Burma to the west with the Tanaosi Range as a natural borderline. The Mae Klong River flows through the center of Ratchaburi town. The province is further subdivided into 10 districts (amphoe). There are many famous tourist attractions in Ratchaburi that showcase the Thai culture, tradition, and way of life. Tourist can experience the authentic Thai culture by visiting these attractions. The most interesting place for tourists who are interested in Thai art is the temple. Aside from  Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which  became the identity of the province and one of the top ten famous places in Thailand, one can also visit Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, Murals of Wat Khongkharam and Nang Yai at Wat Khanon to explore other places of interest in the province of Ratchaburi.

Welcome to Damnoen Saduak!
Are you ready to splurge?
The charming floating market while on a small boat tour.
Kannom Krok - a traditional morning dessert in Thailand.
Commerce is very active in Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
After a floating market exploration, we had a short break as our tour guide who fondly call herself “Miss Bangkok” treat us with Kannom Krok. It is a traditional breakfast dessert that taste like small pancakes and comes in three  flavors - pumpkin, spring onion leaves and sweet corn. After that, we had a short leisure time to explore the surrounding market near the canals of Damnoen Saduak. While the goods being sold are tempting to buy, my attention still draws to the canals dotted by small paddling boats. It is very charming to see a day of busy livelihood scene in the canals of the floating market.

How many hats on bargain?
Souvenir shot with the charming canals of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
Traditional mask sold at the market.
Enjoying the company of Brazilian tourists!
Then we proceeded to the long tail boat cruise. The long tail boat is also fondly called as “James Bond boat” by the locals. It is because the long tail boat was used in 1974 James Bond movie – The Man with the Golden Gun that was partly shot in Damnoen Saduak floating market and canals and almost entirely shot in Thailand. The lead James Bond actor at that movie was Roger Moore. So riding a long tail boat is like going inside an adrenaline rush action scene of a James Bond movie! Isn’t it cool? While the small paddling boat were like a slow cruise on the canals, the long tail boat is a fast and speedy cruise as it is motorized this time. But beyond the fame of the James Bond movie scene in the canals, the scenes that I saw on the long tail boat trip is different from the busy floating market as it takes a different route. The scene here is quiet and calm as I saw the floating houses of the locals and their fruit farm lining in the banks of the canals.

The long tail boat also known as James Bond boat because of the movie The Man with the Golden Gun.
Sampling the rural life in Ratchaburi province in long-tail boat tour.

It is here I get to see the authentic rural life in Ratchaburi. The simple livelihood they have and how their day goes in the province gave me a new perspective about everyday livelihood in Thailand. At the end of the long tail boat trip, we were greeted by a scenery of plantation of bamboos along the banks of the canals. We then take a break after and get acquainted with other tourists. We savor our last stay in Ratchaburi by trying a local coconut ice cream with choice of toppings served in coconut shell. It was a terrific treat suited for the hot weather of Thailand.

A perfect way to end the tour - Coconut ice cream topped with jellies and cashew nuts.
The tour to the charming canals of Ratchaburi was an exceptional experience. It was here I get to see the different side of Thailand. I experience what is life in the rural side of the country which goes beyond the sights  of rich temples and tall skyscrapers of Bangkok. It let me have an enriching perspective about Thai life, commerce and culture. I experience how charming is the floating market wherein commerce is very much alive. I also experience appreciating Thai art and craftmanship in the unique souvenir items sold in Damnoen Saduak. And lastly, whether in small paddling boat or long tail boat, I experience how it is like to be in a James Bond movie!

The Charming Canals of Ratchaburi is part of my Thailand's Amazing Smiles series where I share my wonderful trip to the land of amazing smiles last October 25-28, 2011. For a helpful trip to Bangkok visit Bangkok for Visitors website for more information. You might also like the other parts of the series: 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Travel Memories: Fly High on Summertime!

The heat wave is slowly breezing in the air. The sun is starting to cast heat rays. The weather is starting to be hot. And days are becoming longer than nights. Can you feel it? It’s in the air... Its Summertime!!! Here in Going Places, mid-February is the start of Summer 2012. Its a celebration because Summer is the perfect time to travel. I think everyone will agree with me on this. Summertime has the perfect weather to travel. No rains and moonsoons most of the time in this period, so it is no wonder why most people prefer to travel during this time from February to May. Even the colors jives in summertime. Cerulean blue, yellow, bright green and orange – all colors of summer that I’m starting to see vividly every summertime. This year, I am looking forward for a very exciting summer and a great summer getaway. And hopefully spent in great places perfect to fly high on summertime!

I think giving a jump is not enough to celebrate summer! I think this time, its time to fly high to celebrate summer! It is the perfect way to celebrate it, right? Just like the way I seem to fly when I reached the peak of mountain hiking in Real Cove Resort, Antipolo, Rizal last Summer 2011. Learn more about my Summer 2011 – here.

Travel Memories is a snapshot photo in my travels where one picture don't only goes as a memorable perfect travel postcard photo but also evokes a vivid memory of a happy, unforgettable and great travel experience.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Bangkok by Boat

Viewing sights from the river barges’ perspective is the perfect way to sightsee Bangkok in a nutshell. Nothing can compare to the experience of fresh air breezing on your skin while enjoying the unique oriental attractions of Bangkok. Or enjoying a sumptuous dinner while on a slow river cruise. Life in Bangkok has always centered around the Chao Phraya River. It is on these banks where life of the city is sprouting and blooming like the unstoppable flow of river. But it also on these river where the city’s major attraction are to be found.

The Chao Phraya River and the mega-structure Bhumibol Bridge.
The Chao Phraya River is a major river in Thailand, with its low alluvial plain forming the centre of the country. It runs through Bangkok and then empties into the Gulf of Thailand. The Chao Phraya begins at the confluence of the Ping and Nan rivers at Nakhon Sawan (also called Pak Nam Pho) in Nakhon Sawan province. The major bridges that cross the Chao Phraya are in the province of Bangkok: the Rama VI rail-road bridge; Phra Pin-klao near the Grand Palace; Rama VIII, a single tower asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge; Rama IX, a semi-symmetric cable-stayed bridge; and Mega Bridge, part of the Industrial Ring Road. In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is a major transportation artery for a vast network of river buses, cross-river ferries and water taxis, also known as longtails. More than 15 boat lines operate on the rivers and canals of the city, including commuter lines. (Source)

Nineteenth-century Bangkok was laced with canals, giving the capital the designation ‘Venice of the East’ by European visitors. Surviving canals, and the Chao Phraya River provide memorable vignettes of traditional waterborne way-of-life that has remained essentially unchanged over the centuries. Nowadays, even though Bangkok has become a modern city, the Chao Phraya River as well as the canals are still charming for whoever wishes to seek the peaceful atmosphere amidst bustling Bangkok. The river and canals are now conveniently explored by chartered boat or cruise.

A Chao Phraya River cruise gives visitors an easy access to its major attractions. It offers some of the capital’s most arresting sights, particularly at night when the weather is cooler and light reflections bestow the river with flickering lights. A cruise along the legendary Chao Phraya River, and some canals on the Thonburi side is the most pleasant way to explore the city. The majestic charm of Chao Phraya is a must-experienced when in Bangkok. The Chao Phraya River makes a great way to get around, since many of the major tourist sites are easily accessible from the river. Chao Praya River Express operates a regular boat service up and down the river. They are like buses on the water. The fares are extremely cheap and you can get just about anywhere for 10 Baht or less.

The shadowed spires of Wat Arun over Chao Phraya River.
One of those attractions is Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn. Named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn, the Wat Arun is considered one of the most well known of Thailand's many landmarks. The temple is so named because the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence. The monastery has existed for many years since the days when Ayutthaya was capital of Thailand. Walking around the temple gardens and looking at it from a distance is free, but if you want to enter the temple compound and climb the steep stairs, it costs a fee. The magnificent main prang (temple spire) is in Thai called the Phra Prang Wat Arun. Overlooking the Chao Phraya river, it is not only the symbol of Thonburi, but a world-famous landmark and one of the most photographed icons of Thailand. The prang was originally built during the Ayutthaya Period and is in a classic Ayutthayan style. It is easily accessible with a ferry boat from Wat Pho in Rattanakosin. Ferries take off about every 10 to 15 minutes and operates daily from 6:00 am to 10:00 in the evening.

The Grand Palace of Bangkok.
Imitating the guarding demon Yakhas at Grand Palace.
Another accessible attraction near the river is the Grand Palace and it much revered temple, Wat Phra Kaew or known as Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Grand Palace is a historical site of temples and palaces of Thailand as well as the former administrative seat of the government. A visit to the complex will let you appreciate the unique Thai architecture and history. I am amazed in each architectural designs of the structures inside the Grand Palace. Each seems to be laid with jewels and gold! The beautiful pattern designs are hard to duplicate. The single color that always caught your attention is gold. The only color that dominates each temple and palace. That’s why in Grand Palace, everything is gleaming in gold! This visit also lets you visit one of the most beautifully designed temple in the country, the Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The emerald buddha found inside the center throne of the temple is considered one of the most sacred Buddha image in the country. From afar it looks like a piece of treasure but for the Buddhist devotees, it is a sacred image of their faith.

The Emerald Buddha inside Wat Phra Kaew.
Another accessible attraction via river boat is River City. It is Bangkok's oldest antique mall, and still the best destination for serious Asian art lovers to go. It has a few souvenir shops and an absolutely stunning array of Asian art on display for sale. From old maps to Buddhist works to more recent everyday items from the last century, River City is a great place to browse Asian art. The easiest way to get there is to take their free boat from the Taksin Bridge pier, below the Skytrain station. Most riverside hotels will also take you to the mall in their boats.

The Royal Barges Museum is also accessible via Chao Phra River. On the mouth of the Bangkok Noi canal, this museum displays several Royal Barges used for state ceremonies on the Chao Phraya River. The ornately carved barges take the form of famous mythical creatures from the Ramayana epic. The most impressive is the Suppanahong (or Golden Swan), which was built in 1911 during the reign of King Rama IV. This 46-metre craft was carved from one single piece of teakwood. The bow resembles a mythical swan and is adorned with gold lacquer and glass jewels.  The best way to get to the museum is by boat. If you take the regular Express Boat service, the nearest stop is Pinklao Bridge Pier, although this involves a long winding walk along a narrow concrete walkway over the swampy land.

One of the Royal Barges in the museum.
A cruise along the Chao Phraya River might let you see one of the most beautiful bridge and a real architectural wonder in Bangkok. This mega-structure is the Bhumibol Bridge also known as the Industrial Ring Road Bridge. It is part of the 13 km long Industrial Ring Road connecting southern Bangkok with Samut Prakan Province. The bridge crosses the Chao Phraya River twice, with two striking cable-stayed spans of lengths of 702 meters and 582 meters supported by two diamond-shaped pylons 173 meters and 164 meters high. Where the two spans meet, another road rises to join them at a free-flowing interchange suspended 50 metres above the ground. According to tradition, all the bridges over the Chao Phraya in Bangkok are named after a member of the Royal Family.  In October 2009, it was announced that both bridges would be named after King Bhumibol Adulyadej, with the northern bridge officially named "Bhumibol 1 Bridge" and the southern bridge "Bhumibol 2 Bridge".  The unofficial name "Mega Bridge" was also widely used. (Source)

Bhumibol Bridge over Chao Phraya River.
Life is so alive in Chao Phraya River.  It is in the river one will see Bangkok’s different side as a vibrant oriental city. It is in the banks of the river one will see how it plays a major role in urban and modern life of the city. Be it for for transportation or for livelihood. But for me, nothing beats the experience of the breeze of fresh air while enjoying the scenic sights of Bangkok on a river cruise. It could be romantic. Yes. But it can also be fun and way for discovery. The water of Chao Phraya may not be crystal clear or murky-free and sometimes it overflows causing floods in its surroundings but a lot of Thai and visitors benefit from its life-bringing tide and flow.

Bangkok by Boat is part of my Thailand's Amazing Smiles series where I share my wonderful trip to the land of amazing smiles last October 25-28, 2011. I made this article out of a vision of experiencing Chao Phraya River cruise because during my visit I haven't try a river cruise because of the flood in Chao Phraya that authorities suspend cruising on it for safety measures. For a helpful trip to Bangkok visit Bangkok for Visitors website for more information. You might also like the other parts of the series: 
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