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Bangkok 2013 Day 2: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Jim Thompson House & Red Sky Bar

This is part of an ongoing travelogue. to start at the beginning, click here.

Day 2 started very early. The tour guide was scheduled to pick us up at hotel at 6.45am, so we woke up at 6.00am and went down for breakfast at 6.30am.

Breakfast was in a small venue looking out to the pool. the food was limited to 3 different dishes every morning, in addition to bread and fruits. But everyone gets a breakfast Western platter with eggs done to your choice.

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(it was scrambled or sunny side up for me)

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(the shaded pool)

The tour guide came a little early, she was an unsmiling lady who kept rushing us to go off early to ‘avoid the jam’. We would go on to have a few grouses with this tour lady, but all in all for THB1200 per pax for a half day tour you get what you pay for, I guess. The hotel had offered us a more expensive tour at THB1900 per pax for a private tour, this one we shared with another group.

So early in the morning, Bangkok was already bright but the streets were still deserted. The van picked up another group from another hotel near ours, consisting of a guy and four ladies, Chinese from Sarawak who spoke in a mix of Mandarin, Hakka and Malay. Quite nice people.

Damnoen Saduak is the original floating market, still the biggest and most popular. Unlike the other newer and nearer ones in Bangkok, this one opens every day of the week. I considered going to one of the nearer markets like Taling Chan or Amphawa, but at the end of the day, I still wanted to go to the famous Damnoen Saduak featured in so many travel shows. Going there takes about 60 to 90 mins, depending on how fast your driver is. Ours took 90 mins in a van, plus it was drizzling slightly on the way there. Leaving Bangkok in the morning you can see the scale of the traffic jam entering the city going the opposite direction, reports you hear about it aren’t exaggerated. The line of cars entering the city stretches for miles and miles, across the rivers, into the next town and until you reach the rural areas. Once out of the metropolitan area Bangkok is much like any other part of Thailand – large swaths of village greenery interspersed by small towns with their morning markets.

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(our van, quite old but can seat up to 11 people)

As we neared Damnoen Saduak, one feature you will notice is that most houses have a pile of coconut husks by the roadside. They look like a mount of skulls.

You can drive right up to the floating market, it is right across a junction with ample parking on both sides. But our tour package came with a longtail boat ride into the market. It was a great experience to experience and see the life of the folks living next to the khlongs (canals). The longtail boat will take you to the start of the market, where you can either rent a larger tourist boat who will take you through the market, or walk along the pathways on either side of the canal. We opted to walk.

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(boarding the longtail)

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(approaching the market)

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(the one and only time during this trip we sat in a longtail boat)

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(life along the khlong)

Damnoen Saduak is a rather small market, so if you go on weekends, be prepared for it to be crowded with foreigners. We shopped for some clothes, souvenirs and ate some sticky mango rice.

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(the shops beside the canal sold lots of food and souvenirs)

You can drive up to the canal and park your car there, instead of taking a longtail. But it’s all part of the experience if you do so. I notice most of the people who took the boat cruise were Mat Sallehs, i guess its all very exotic for them. For me, i just don’t want to pay THB150 per pax to get wet with dirty canal water.

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(fine Thai woodcarving craftsmanship reduced to making silly giraffes nobody wants to buy)

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(so original i can smell the royalty payments)

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(Bought mango sticky rice from this lady. Best and cheapest we had throughout our trip)

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(yellow gac fruit. i tried not to pronounce the Thai name…)

After finishing round the market, we sat down for some coffee and drinks beside the canal. I can say every cup of coffee i had in Bangkok tasted good.

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After the floating market, the tour guide brought us to a wood carving centre. This was supposed to be a tourist trap, but I thought it was a great experience given that woodcarving is one of my (many) hobbies. This centre has some rather impressive works in progress and completed ones, not just the tourist trinkets.

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(master craftsman. Wearing running shoes)

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(huge motif carved from one single trunk)

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(impressive carvings)

The place also had two airconditioned showrooms showcasing furniture and souvenirs for sale.

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(Yes, i can just see this living room set in my new house…)

They also had demonstrations on how to make paper from recycled wood chips.
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(child labour)

After that we were brought back to Bangkok and made to visit a gem factory. You know, the same type they make you go to to subsidize their tours. the thing with this one is the layout and look of the building is EXACTLY the same as the one we went to in ChiangMai! Right down to the 5 ‘L’ fish tanks in the show room.

After the tour was completed we were very hungry so we asked the tour guide to drop us off somewhere to eat, near Jim Thompson House, our next destination. She suggested MBK Shopping Mall across the road from Jim Thompson.

MBK is a huge, popular mall, something like our Sg. Wang Plaza but amped up about 5 times, and with much cleaner toilets. There are basically 2 types of malls in BKK, the ones selling affordable stuff and knockoffs like MBK and Platinum Mall, and the ones selling designer stuff like Siam Paragon or Terminal 21.

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In MBK there are two foodcourts, one on the 5th floor, and one on the 6th floor. 5th floor is an international foodcourt, 6th is where the good and cheap local food can be found.

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(fried chicken rice, kuey chap, ham fried rice and the ever present pad thai)

After lunch we didn’t walk around MBK, we just went straight our across the road to Jim Thompson. Right opposite MBK via the pedestrian bridge is the Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre.

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(18SX photo. Somehow this wouldn’t fly in KL, I suspect)

A little further down the road, off into a nondescript soi, is Jim Thompson House & Museum. There is an electric golf buggy to ferry you to and fro the main road.

Jim Thompson House was the former resident of the former American architect and soldier who fell in love with Thailand. He revived the local silk industry back in the 50’s. He also built his home by relocating and reassembling six old houses from all over Thailand (particularly Ayutthaya). He was also a collector of Buddhist art. He went missing in Cameron Highlands (does not augur well for Malaysian tourists) 50 years ago so his house is now turned into a beautiful museum and gallery.

For about THB80, you get an excellent guided tour in English (or French). I thoroughly enjoyed this 40 minute tour, it was probably one of the highlights of my holiday.

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(the one in the center is not a staff of the museum)

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(Our extremely fair-skinned tour guide. She has a queer way of pronouncing ‘Jim Thompson’)
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(little stunned girl in Jim Thompson’s guest house)

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(Jim Thompson’s collection of Burmese art)

On the first floor of the main building, there is a large steel gallery showcasing art works by modern day artists. It hasn’t anything to do with Jim or his silk, but its something to experience – a large steel vault enclosure sitting atop a timber house.

After the museum we took a tuktuk through peak hour traffic to Centara Hotel in Central World. Right atop the hotel and shopping mall, at the 56th floor, is an open sky bar called Red Sky Bar. These sky bars are quite popular in BKK now, we chose this one coz its convenient to go in our itinerary. Be sure to get here before sunset for the best view of the city.

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(Kids under 18 are not allowed out on the open deck)

From above BKK doesn’t look so dense, quite spread out and sprawling. Too bad that day we were there it was overcast, so no sunset to photograph.

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(one of the many, many, many temples in the city)

It was happy hour at the bar, so we got an extra bottle of Chang / Singha / fruit juice for the price of one.

And yet the day isn’t over for us. For a late dinner, we took another tuktuk to Siam to try this somtam place I read about, called SomTam Nua. At all times of the day, there is a long line of people for the restaurant, mostly the young and trendy set.

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The line moves fast, we hardly waited 15 minutes. in the meantime, you can take your order first. So what is the fuss about this place? They have a few popular dishes, but since we ate too much peanuts at the Sky Bar, we only tried two – their mango salad with crab (som tam) and fried chicken. the latter alone is worth the trip here and queueing up.

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After being out walking and eating for more than 16 hours, it was back to hotel. the kids still had energy to surf the free internet at the lobby.

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Later it was some TV and then end of Day 2. A very long day, which started at 6am.

Next – the family take on Chatuchak.

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