We got up especially early and packed ready to move on. I rented a car in advance from Maneeda Tours in Lat Krabang just a five minute taxi ride up the road and today we were heading for Ratchaburi. It is stretching it a bit to say Ratchaburi is off the beaten track because in reality it isn't. It is a favourite one day tour destination but in all the years we have been travelling to Thailand neither of us have ever had the opportunity to see a real floating market. And when I say real I mean punts being paddled up and down canals bartering with each other literally exchanging a chicken for a kilo of man gao. Where money is not necessarily a requirement for commerce and when it is there is a willingness on both parties to ensure the best deal possible.
Ratchaburi Province is a farming area that I think needs protecting. It is a place of outstanding natural beauty, if you are allowed to describe landscape that has been carved into a useful place as natural, but it is definitely not a tourist destination where you would want to spend your hols.
We were heading for the very popular Damnoen Saduak district. And on the road into the crop of villages it looked very rural. Exactly what we were looking for although we knew what to expect crowds wise tomorrow morning.
Every winding lane was lined with coconut trees, banana trees, mangoes,and the smell when you opened the car window was amazing. So sweet and welcoming you didn't want to breathe out. We just knew we were not going to be disappointed.
With a reminder from the Tom Tom that we were four kilometers away I sugested we start looking out for a hotel or resort and immediately on the side of the road was a sign that read Aek Damnoen Resort so we stopped and asked how much. 400 Baht per chalet he replied. I wasn't going to shop around for the sake of eight quid so we booked; and boy were we delighted with what you get for eight quid.
Bungalows on miniature canals with air-con, English TV, hot shower, it was faultless. In the distance I could hear the Long-Pole canal boats as they roared up and down from warehouse to canalside shop. I was suddenly eight years old and I want to go now.
So what are we doing today and night? There is a tiger zoo near, along Route 325, and while it is questionable whether a protected species should be used as a tourist attraction Don Kruai Tiger World doesn't get slated with bad press and NGOs so if stroking a tiger is a must I think it is ok to go here. I wasn't up for it though because we had already done the tiger thing in Thailand before so we opted for the Chang Damnoen Saduak Housing. Ok it doesn't sound appealing and it only caught my eye because in Thai it means something very different. Chang Housing is a sanctuary for ex-working or rescued elephants. I've never been close up to an elephant before so I was keen even if the girls weren't.
I was so glad we did because not only were the elephants really well looked after and as you'd expect from chang they are calm and affectionate yet slow and deliberate and if that wasn't enough there is a cafe and coffee inside the camp.
We were too late for the elephant trek which the other half had already stated she wasn't going on so we just sat and watched them being exercised. We didn't have to pay to enter so I think you only pay if you ride an elephant. Goes without saying this place gets good reviews and bad ones but many of the ones who didn't like it seemed to have got Damnoen Saduak mixed up with Hat Yai which is 900Km south.
There is a theme with animal rights in Thailand and the www. people who complain the loudest have never been to where they are complaining about. Or they Google elephant camp and think they have found it when the reality is they have no idea where in Thailand it is. I find the best places are the little ones off the beaten track where the owners care about what they do and put tourists second. But at the end of the day they need money to feed these unwanted animals and tourism is the only source of funding, so do not feel guilty about going or whether it is ethical, just go and see for yourself and do not listen to the self proclaimed experts. As for me, I am going back to spend a day with them next time I am in Thailand.
Next morning we were up bright and early, well about 07.00am anyway, and I could already hear the long-tail's engines tearing down canals. There is food at the resort but we thought we'd eat at the market and then go window shopping. I didn't want to buy anything, I wanted photos and the experience. Finding the market is easy enough there are signs everywhere that direct you all the way in to a car park.
I could hear another roar coming toward us so I headed for the canal in front of us. A bright yellow punt was ripping the water out of the cut and yes, I was really happy, I wanted a ride and not far away was Taotan Asawin Pier with, presumably, Mrs. Asawin and baby Asawin Junior who asked if we wanted to rent a boat for four hours for 1800 Baht. I thought that quite a lot but her boat could take 8 or 10 people. On the other hand I thought I wanted to go in a long-tail more than I wanted to keep my money in my pocket.
And I am glad I did because Ju was a really nice bloke who understood what we wanted to see when I said photos and told me he'd take us into the market the back way so I could capture some authentic market people.
We didn't get far when we passed two old dears, exchanging fresh chicken portions for fresh vegetables and I'm guessing the old ladies house backed onto the canal so this was a regular stop for the veggie lady. Then a little bit further an old bloke with no teeth paddled past and I asked where he was going. 'Fetch water from the warehouse' was where and this felt genuinely authentic.
Waan asked our driver to stop so she could buy fast food off an old lady who looked as old as the market. I was loving it even though what Waan bought I had never seen before and had no intention of tasting. I don't bother when everything is the colour of Stabilo Boss highlighter pens because it never tastes how you expect. Bright green will be coconut or banana and pink will be squid flavour or some other heinous unexpectation.
What size is the engine I asked Ju. It was a 1.6litre fuel injected 4 cylinder engine out of a Ford Focus. I made an exclamation and asked how fast the boat could go, to which he didn't answer, he opened up the throttle.
The bow lifted clean out of the water despite a fat farang sitting in it and off it went. 50 or 60kph with almost instant acceleration until a boat came into view and then just as quickly the superbly tuned engine stopped and the bow splashed down apollo style. Then in the quiet phut phut of the canal Ju explained that he can't open it up any more than that because the canals around the market are too short. I want to work for this man I thought to myself and if there is a child in you or if you have children I am telling you this is a must do.
The market was crammed with boats and shoppers as well as visitors and yet not including me I saw two foreigners. I think Damnoen Saduak counts as off the beaten track despite it being well known. You just need to find Taotan Asawin.
Sadly we had to call time on our visit. It was way past lunchtime and we wanted to get to another well known destination, Sai Yok, only 90 minutes drive North but we wanted to go via Khao Ngu Stone Park in Kok Phlappla where we intended to eat.
On the way out of Damnoensaduak toward Ratchaburi we passed the sign to go into Damnoen Saduak Market. I thought I'd gone the wrong way but Tom Tom said 'no'. It took a while to sink in that we were coming along the highway that is side on to the town and I wished we had more time because another place that is well worth seeing if only to say you have been there is Talad Rum Hub or as it is known locally 'Folding Umbrella Market'. Tourists refer to it as the Railway Market because it is on the track to Mae Klong Railway Station and it is a sight to see that the shopkeepers and market traders have to pull in the sun blinds and lift their tables when a train arrives at the station. It is startlingly dangerous but a must see on the south side of Samut Songkram - Phet Samut, Mae Klong, Samut Songkhram 75000
Khao Ngu means white snake though in Thai they call it Khao Hin Rock Snake Park. Waan told me it doesn't mean snakes per se but that Snake is its name and Rock is what is there. I guess that's why they call it Khao Ngu for foreigners. We chose to drive around the park but if you want to cross the footbridge and walk the lake the admission is 30 baht.
The restaurant was more of a cafe. The food was good but not authentic like you get outside a lot of National Parks. We decided to drive round the park because it was really hot. It was mid afternoon and 41º. Not many tourists seem to know about this place though it gets packed with Thais. I wouldn't say it is somewhere I would go out of my way to visit either but if you are passing nearby it is definitely a good place to stop for a few hours.
And because we didn't go into the park I confess to stealing the bridge image from the web (my apologies to the owner).