Monday, September 6
Damnoen Saduak, Thailand
I barely managed to pry myself out of bed this morning. I set the alarm for 5:00 a.m., but didn't get vertical until around 5:30. The hotel clerk must have forgot about my wake-up call. Oh well! I strolled over a mile down an incredibly scenic walkway alongside the main canal in Damnoen Saduak, which is a photographer's absolute dream, as makeshift planks gave way to steep ascents up concrete bridges in front of ramshackle dwellings and storefronts. After I walked a little further, I saw no signs of the floating market, so I asked a local and he sent me packing back in the opposite direction. Then I crossed the canal, where more locals directed me further North a little ways to the market.
Apparently, I had passed it without realizing, because no vendor boats were out yet. As 7:30 floated around, I entered the tourist area, a huge complex of restaurants, shops, stalls and the like that straddle the main road and several canals. Luckily, it was still early enough to catch some authentic market activity before all of the tourist buses arrived from Bangkok around 8:30 or 9:00 a.m. I bought a little palm leaf full of tiny pancakes from one lady while a few others rowed in with all kinds of food on offer. Decades ago, before tourism took over, the vendors sold their produce to residents and shop owners who lived and worked along the canals.
As the moments flowed by, more and more of the narrow wooden boats converged upon the scene, each filled with bright, colorful food. Some were chock-full of fruit, vegetables and / or grain, while others offered up shredded coconut in numerous vibrant hues packed inside little pancakes. Still more catered directly to tourists with drinks, packaged snacks and souvenirs. Words like quaint and picturesque don't even begin to tell the story or describe this vibrant scene. By 9:00 a.m., the tourist hordes from Bangkok arrived and the whole area turned into a huge, hectic circus.
Many tourists plied the waterways in canal taxis as others clambered around the walkways. Some shot photos while others simply gawked at the little ladies in straw hats rowing their boats full of multi-hued goods--paddling and peddling, you might say. The fact that all of the crass, ugly tourist trappings can't ruin the vibe of this place is testament to its powerful charm. I sat around and soaked it all in for three hours, completely moved. Since I couldn't remember the Little Bird Hotel's check-out time, I walked back, grabbed my backpack and hopped on bus 18 back to Bangkok. It stopped a million times to let people on and off, taking at least three hours in the process. I checked back into the Nat II Guest House, where I ironically rented the tiniest room of my whole trip, measuring in at about seven by eight feet. Any smaller and it would start to resemble one of those little sleeping cubes in Japan.