Monday, July 18, 2011

Amphawa: A Floating Market Without The Farang

Looking up along the khlong at the activity slowly building at the Amphawa evening market

There are several differences between the floating markets of Bangkok - either of the two main spots - and those in a somewhat more rural setting, such you'd find around Amphawa, a couple of hours outside of Bangkok.  While Amphawa also has the more utilitarian, ingredient-based morning markets where locals buy produce and everyday items, they also have a rather extensive one that's open in the late afternoon and into the evening.

Bangkok gets the buses and tour groups of farang and Asian visitors; Amphawa gets the Thai who are seeing a break from the hustle and bustle of the city, or from life, who knows. I spent a few evenings at the main "tourist" evening market, and a couple of mornings at the much smaller klong markets where the locals stock up.  As you can see in the lead picture today the evening market canal area was lined with souvenir shops and restaurant after restaurant in addition to the flurry of activity along the wide canal, but I saw very, very few farang. It was a refreshing change, and another glimpse of Thai life.

It was crowded, but not opressively so; you could move through the crowd and get to what you were trying to see without have to wait and worm your way in.  The people seemed to be in a more relaxed mode than I'm used to in the Big City there, and I (being farang) was again an oddity.  It's not a place to visit if you mind a few people looking at you as if you've just beamed down from another planet.

Some may remember this as the lead image from the very first post here, back on March 22, 2010

The first evening there my friend couldn't find parking he liked, so he dropped me off to wait near a street leading to the main canal while he went to look for a spot to leave his car.  Naturally, I started looking around and taking pictures and wandered off towards the canal, into the flow of people looking, snacking and shopping.  15 minutes later I felt a tap of my shoulder and turned to see my friend, smiling at me - but with a slightly strained smile; that "you weren't where I left you to wait" look.  "Sorry," I said, "I just got carried away in the current!" "Don't worry," he assured me, "You're a foot taller than the rest of the crowd so I could see you - I just couldn't catch up with you!"

As the market gets going in earnest near sunset people are ready for dinner, and the food boats swarm in like mosquitoes, although the boats are far more welcome.  You can see in the pictures above the stone steps leading down to the water's edge, and long boats set up for cooking are lined up along each set of steps.  The steps themselves are large enough to serve as steps and seating, most deep enough to hold a shallow table, like the ones below.

People sharing dishes while sitting on the stairways down to the water

Sometimes there's a rush of activity; like when a group is getting their food all at once (below) but more often than not it's a steady stream of people stopping to look, venture down the stairs for a sample or to place an order, and some socializing by the boat people themselves, who all seemed to know each other. Dishes were sometimes passed across a couple of boats to get them to the person who'd ordered it, and it reminded me of handing a hot dog along to someone at the ball park here at home.

Thai tourists receiving their dinner orders aboard their hired boat.

If the khlong had an odor to it it was overpowered by the variety of smells that rose from the BBQ grills, steamers, boilers, woks and griddles that added the aromas of cooking rice, shellfish, squid, fish, vegetables, eggs, chicken, and way too many different dishes to count.  The temptation was to just pull out a bullhorn and say "OK, one order of everything", but that'd be wrong on several levels.

I sampled what I could, ate more than I should have and consoled myself that I'd already had many of the dishes being offered and we still had another couple of nights to come back.  The squid at the top of the photo below didn't do much for me, but the eggs were delicious.

The old saying goes "everything tastes better cooked outdoors," and there's something to that, I agree. There's also something about local produce that was picked that day, or shrimp like the ones below that were swimming along and minding their own business hours before.

More about the Amphawa market next time.

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