Which photo to pick for Day 2? I like to pick my photos first and let them set the stage for the blog post but Day 2 actually started again at oh-dark thirty with texting to my son in order to get my phone set up properly to make calls in Thailand. So this is really a Day 1 issue and I took so many photos on Day 1 that I will bend my self- imposed rules a bit and use a Day 1 photo. What you see to the left is the Reclining Buddha. (Just as a side note, please read the embedded article above about the Reclining Buddha. Just the soles of his feet contain 108 symbols sacred in Buddhism which takes us back to the symbolism of the number 108 which, if you have never read it is fascinating.)
After enjoying breakfast, the group trundled onto our bus and we were off for the day. My group leader let me use her phone and I was able to call my cell carrier and get my phone to work in the event of an emergency which was a great relief. We traveled by means of a rather large bus and had the same driver and tour guide the entire time in Bangkok. The buses were well stocked with water bottles and wet wipes. While I had packed a water bottle with a carbon filter, I never needed to use it. Between the water bottles provided by the hotels and the water on the bus, water was not really an issue the entire time we traveled. And I can happily report that recycling is alive and well in Thailand. In fact, on the whole, although some members of the group might disagree with me, I thought, relative to India, there was very little trash cluttering the landscape.
We traveled out of the city and our first stop was a salt field / farm / plantation? I am not sure how to classify it exactly, but it was a place where salt was harvested. Now readers, here is where I make a rather scary confession. I’ve heard the first step in addressing a problem is admitting you have one – so here goes. I am a salt-a-holic. I love salt in any form. I crave it. As a kid, I would secretly salt my hand and just lick it. Sad but true. My son has accepted this about me and one Mother’s day, I received the best Mother’s day gift yet – an assortment of salt from the Salt Store. It was awesome! There are so many different varieties! My favorite would be black or smoked salt. Just a pinch on a baked potato – heaven. I’ve come to the conclusion that salt is the reason I must like margaritas so much. Where else can you combine your own personal Salt Lick with a beverage that can give you a pleasant boozy buzz? But I digress. Back to the trip. In essence, the fields are flooded and nature does the rest. Through the process of evaporation, salt is harvested. There were three grades of salt. The finest would be comparable to fleur de sel which is known as the flower of salt. This appears as a pale and opaque layer that rests of top of the water and is skimmed off. All of the salt is harvested by hand, packaged and sold by weight.
Next stop, a very interesting market called the Maeklong Market. By clicking on the link for the market, you can watch a video that illustrates why the market is so unique. It is actually located on/ alongside/ straddling (pick one) railroad tracks. Why is this interesting? Because the train comes through 4 times a day and the vendors have simply adapted. The market stretches beyond the tracks and we wandered in and out of buildings looking at all sorts of foods, fresh and prepared, for sale. To be honest, I could have spent hours there taking photos, but as with any group activity, I did not dictate the timeline.
Our next stop was a coconut plantation where they made, among other things, palm sugar. Palm or coconut sugar is made from the nectar of the coconut flower. It had never occurred to me that there would be a coconut flower, but in the same way nature provides apples from apple blossoms and cherries from cherry blossoms, there are coconut blossoms. The blossoms are bound and the nectar is collected, boiled down, and then cooled through stirring with a giant whisk. While all of that was certainly interesting, there were two other moments about that trip that stood out more to me and I don’t really have a photo of either. The coconut plantation was run by a multi-generational family. Every single bit of the coconut was used – from the flower and the nectar to the husks which were used for fuel, it was a self-sustaining and very green enterprise. In addition to selling the palm sugar, the family also sold coconut oil and opened their home for tours. As I was wandering though the portion of the home preserved for tourists, I took a wrong turn and ended up in the functioning kitchen where a young woman was cooking a giant omelet for breakfast in a very tiny kitchen. I would guess that 80 percent of the home was set aside while the family lived in a tiny fraction of that.
Of course, it was interesting to see the production of palm sugar and to see a traditional house, but that’s not what stuck with me. The second moment that is seared in my head is one of the 3 year old little girl that belonged to the family. She was a typical little girl in that she was allowed to roam around and she was curious and shy around us. She pestered the chickens and hid when anyone smiled at her. But the other thing she did that I am kicking myself for not getting a photo of, is to run around in her mother’s pumps. It was clearly her version of dress up and when I saw that, in a family that did not have a television, who were half way around the world, I was struck by the fact that, like it or not, we are all connected and are all sharing the same experiences. Maybe this sounds silly to you – I will clearly have no idea. But to have a young girl play dress up without the influence of television or the western idea of beauty splashed across all forms of media was fascinating. And like any girl here, she wanted to be bigger and her version of bigger was to be grown up enough to wear her mother’s shoes.
The next stop was to the famous floating market. We were taken to the market by long boat. As I mentioned in Day 1, Bangkok has a series of canals that are used for transportation. These boats sit either one person across or 2-3 people across. The person operating the boat sits in the back next to the motor which is a huge diesel engine. These things are loud. The boats are steered by a 10 foot long rudder if you will that the captain deftly uses to navigate.
At the floating market we were turned loose for a bit to wander as well as to eat. Now here is where I am not best suited for group travel that is not oriented around photography – although since I have not been on a trip of this sort, I could be wrong. While it would have been terrific to sit and bond with the group and learn more about the market and taste something that a vendor has prepared fresh – I made the choice to try to capture the images that were swirling all around me. I simply could not put my camera down. Which came with its own set of issues. Long story short, I lost a lens cap to the river because of how many times I switched between my wide angle and telephoto lenses. Not a tragedy but a bummer none the less – and I can tell you from experience that they don’t float. Back to the group dynamics – when I wander around, I don’t hear the conversation which may include information about the market, the culture or the food. Because I was trying to be very conscientious and did not ever want the group waiting on me or wondering where I had wandered off to, I would go away for a bit and then check back in – wander out and come back. That’s neither good nor bad – just time consuming. And my over-riding thought during the whole trip was that I didn’t want to be “that person”.
After the floating market, we went by boat to a late lunch at large establishment on the river. And from there to a gem market and then to the hotel. From there I had to make the painful decision between going with a group to one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok for a night cap and splendid photo opportunities of the city at night or travel alone by water taxi to the night flower market. Best photo of the evening will tell you which direction I headed.
And one closing note – while a part of me wants to reiterate the details of the trip, transcribing the events is just not working for me. I was worried this would happen. I do have several more things I want to say about the trip and those blogs will be coming soon. But this particular day has taken me a week to write and I have still missed things. So my future blogs will either deal with a particular event or thought I want to develop further. But I will make the commitment of continuing to post at least once a week. Thanks again for reading and please feel free to share with anyone you think would be interested.
If you would like to see more of my photos, please visit my Flickr site by clicking here. Until next time.