This is the 6th post in this series – see, its marked “Part 6″ If you want to read the 5th post – that would be “Part 5“. You need to click the link, BTW Waving a wand doesn’t work. Yet.
One of the unusual sights in Thailand is the “Floating Market”. These are markets on paddleboats. One could either beckon a boat from the shore or traverse the waterways to buy the stuff they want. Our tour book assured us that the most authentic floating market near Bangkok was at Damnoen Saduak – authentic because the locals frequented it.
Nothing about Bangkok is ancient. Thai culture in Thailand is only about 800 years old – a mere wink, by Middle Eastern & South Asian standards of antiquity. Likewise, floating markets are not ancient. The boats ply on artificial canals cut across natural rivers. These canals are about 150 years old. The markets themselves took off only 60 years ago, primarily to sell local produce such as fruits, vegetables, meat and snacks. But these days, most boats sell touristy souvenirs (AKA “Junk”).
We got into a boat and floated along the muddy & extremely dirty water. I grimaced every time some droplets splashed on my face, my arms – and my mouth. Our guide ordered some Thai pancakes & declared them “Yummy!” We chickened out. We’re just not used to eating street food – unless we’re sure of the food’s cleanliness, provenance, the vendor’s hygiene etc. Go ahead. Call us “Fussy”.
In order to not break Thai hearts, we bought a bunch of stuff & permitted the vendors to rip us off. We saw it as our duty as tourists. We haggled like pros, but we had the lingering feeling that the vendors were laughing all the way to the bank.
While Damnoen Saduak was a unique experience, it is not as interesting as it is made out to be by the tour companies. For all the hype, all you do is – go around in boats & buy stuff – stuff that you could easily buy in Bangkok at half the price.
If you’re serious about shopping, you should buy silver at the wholesale shops in the Ratanakosin area. There are whole streets selling silver jewelry. Prices are reasonable if you buy wholesale. Since the pieces are beautifully crafted, they make great gifts for little and not-so-little girls.
One of the must-see attractions in Bangkok is the “Queen Saovabha Snake Farm”. It houses several local snakes, has a live demonstration, a museum about snakes – and if you’re lucky, you can see the snakes milked for venom. Even though the farm is smallish, it is managed very professionally and the museum is well curated.
A good museum poses questions and piques your curiosity. Like they say, the best teacher in the world is “Curiosity”. Ever wonder why snakes have no limbs? We learnt that snakes had to adapt to live in burrows/underground, where limbs were useless and a compact body offers an advantage. This is one of the theories proposed.
I’m sure most of you know that snakes cannot hear. They can only sense vibrations. But, did you also know that snakes have very bad eyesight? They can only sense movement. So, if a snake confronts you, the best strategy would be to stand still and/or move away very slowly. The exceptions to this rule are the Pit Vipers, which have heat-sensing organs near their nostrils. Standing still when chased by a pit viper would be a very bad idea.
The earliest snakes were non-venomous and were related to pythons. Then came the “Elapids” which use a neurotoxin to kill their prey. Death is usually due to acute respiratory failure. The most popular Elapids are Cobras and Kraits. Vipers evolved next and use haemo-toxin to affect the circulatory system. In general, snake evolution is very hard to study, because snake bones are very fragile. It is very hard to find intact fossils.
The best part of the Snake Farm was the live snake handling show. Experienced snake handlers paraded extremely venomous snakes with intact fangs, with a running commentary by a herpetologist. The crowd fell silent when the magnificent Ophiophagus hannah – King Cobra – was brought in. The majestic snake looked at us imperiously – and we somehow felt we were in the presence of royalty.
At the end of the program, even the most chicken-hearted amongst us (read: Sana) petted a Burmese Python. I draped the sweet-looking snake around my neck wondered if I would be permitted to fondle the King Cobra. I can be extremely stupid about animals. Ever heard of the man who kissed his pet cobra – and died? My guess is, the snake tried to kiss him back, but the fangs got in the way. My family screams whenever I ask for a pet snake – with good reason, I suspect.
“What is the favorite sport of Thailand?” we asked our guide. “We love watching Soccer, but we suck at it. Its Thai Boxing we are good at”, he said. Once when we were on a taxi, the driver had the radio on. From the excitement in the commentator’s voice, we gathered it was a sports program. Whether it was soccer or boxing we couldn’t say, since the commentary was completely in Thai. The only 2 words we could understand were “Mohammed” and “Sulaiman”. But we were kept in the dark on whether Mohamed and Sulaiman were punching each other or scoring goals. “Why do they have to speak in Thai all the time?” I fumed. “Because this is Thailand”, said Sukumar with biting sarcasm. I sulked, since I couldn’t think of a fitting rejoinder.
I ended the previous post with a cliff-hanger – “How do you handle venomous snakes?”. Don’t you double-doggie-dare think I forgot that. Here’s my answer – Very, very carefully indeed.
Stay on for our posts on Ayutthaya & another photo blog from Sukumar.