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Floating Market

December 18, 2011

At the floating market in Amphawa

This was written on the evening of December 17 – 

One of the things I wanted to do while visiting Bangkok was to visit a floating market. However, I wanted to avoid one of the canned tours to a market that is more about catering to tourists than to Thais. So I considered myself lucky when one of the PC docs told me to talk to the medical receptionist – apparently there is a floating market near where she lives.

Up to this point, although I had the information about the floating market, I had not yet gone. One of the reasons is that it only works on weekends, and half of last weekend was taken up at the hospital, the other day taken at the Chatuchak market. So I wanted to go this weekend.

At the Amphawa Floating Market

Yesterday I spent the day at the Peace Corps office, and considered myself lucky to meet a number of volunteers who were in Bangkok – mostly coming through town on the way to/from somewhere else.  I spent some time with them during the afternoon and then again in the evening – along with a few PCVs who just ended their service in Cameroon. Apparently Thailand is a popular destination for PCVs from all over the world to visit when they finish their service.

This morning I was going to meet a couple of them and ended up at Starbucks, by default. Unfortunately, the little food market where I get my breakfast during the week is closed on weekends and serves as a car park. I tried to go to the food center at one of the malls, but it seems that none of the malls open until 10 a.m. So Starbucks it was – the difference is, not only did I have the item I purchased there, but I was able to eat the fruit I had bought on my way to the sky train, and no one complained about it.

While I was at the Starbucks, waiting for these PCVs, I got to thinking about familiarity and how people seek it out, no matter where they are. This is one of the reasons McDonald’s does so well all over the world – because Americans see it and know (in general, subject to regional differences) what they will get. Starbucks is much the same – I heard a lot of English being spoken, and in fact ran into the same PCVs from last night while I was waiting for the two with whom I was to spend the day.

Now, we as PCVs are a bit different in that Starbucks, McDonald’s, and the like are tastes of home for us – we do not eat these things or have access to them on a daily basis, so when we do, we tend to take advantage of it.

But it is different for people coming from the U.S., and I find it interesting that we are so quick to seek out what is familiar. I try to eat like locals (it is better and usually much cheaper) and certainly the PCVs here do as well. This morning I ended up at Starbucks for lack of other options. However, there are Americans who come to a place like Bangkok but will only eat at western-style restaurants. I have to wonder why. Why go to a foreign country only to eat the same foods as you eat in the U.S.? Why seek out the familiar when you can experience something new, different, and often times exotic?

This is not to say I never eat at western –style restaurants – I have since I have been here, for variety and because I was with someone who wanted to eat there. Or if I want a hamburger, for example. But like I said – I wonder why someone would come all the way from the U.S. only to eat exclusively at western-style restaurants. It is just a bit mystifying, as is why people would come from the U.S. to go shopping at the Bangkok malls – the malls certainly are not cheaper than the U.S.

At last my reverie was broken when the PCVs from last night appeared, and shortly thereafter so did Carol and Pat. We had determined to try to find our way to the floating market at Amphawa (the one where I had been advised to go). After Pat’s appointment, we found the minivans to Amphawa (thanks to Carol and Pat’s ability to speak Thai) and off we went.

With Carol and Pat at the Amphawa Floating Market

Though it took nearly two hours to get there, it was interesting, which of course means I took a lot of photos. We also noticed that indeed, though there were some tourists, there were not nearly as many as some of the other markets – no tour buses go to Amphawa. Perhaps it is smaller than some of the other markets, but we were satisfied and were having quite a pleasant day. Our day was made even more pleasant when we decided to get a foot “spa” package by the water. Though it was strange to have someone kneeling and washing my feet and calves, as she sat on the stool and did some reflexology, then the massage, all I thought was why didn’t I get one of these sooner?

The unfortunate part about the floating market, for me at least, is all of the fish and seafood there. There was not a lot of food that did not include one or the other, including papaya salad (with dried shrimp and made with fish and lobster sauce), squid on a skewer, squid eggs, ground up fish in rice paper balls, dried and salted fish, fish filets…well, you get the picture – a whole lotta fish. A few times it was hard for me to pass through areas because of the smell.

I got to taste jackfruit from one of the vendors. It was pretty good at first, but then it tasted bitter. I didn’t buy any. I did try these pastry things (small shell looking pastries) – one with a curry type chicken filling (yum) and one with pineapple filling (salted – yuck).

There were also, of course, many tourist souvenirs and I thought about, but did not, purchase an “Amphawa” shirt for a near relative because at this point I have no idea whether or not my relatives would wear such a shirt.

So we passed a pleasant afternoon, and the trip back took half as long as the trip there. I also got some good tips on a few things to do when I visit Chiang Mai.

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