Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day Two: Boats, Bargaining and Feeding the Elephants

By Athena Boulgarides, Western Region Development Officer (North) for Christian Children's Fund

We awakened to another beautiful day in Bangkok. The weather is similar to the springtime in Los Angles, so I feel right at home. Today we get to explore the famous Floating Markets Damneon Saduak in the Ratchaburi Province about 55 miles southwest of Bangkok.

We arrived at the market and were escorted to a chaotic flurry of activity. Small “khlongs” or canals were filled with an unending supply of long-tailed boats powered by an above board motor that docked only momentarily to pick up tourists and whisk them off down the river.

We eagerly jumped into the boats and took off. As we sped down the river we noticed that either side was filled with traditional Thai houses and Spirit houses. A Spirit house, or San Phra Phum, is a shrine to animist spirits found in Southeast Asia intended to shelter spirits that might bring bad luck if not appeased or honored.

Is this safe? That’s just one of the questions running through my mind. The boats seemed to zoom by each other with unbelievable ease, narrowly escaping what looked like almost certain collision! Some of us got pretty wet, but we all made it to the markets.

Let the bargaining begin. Shopping at Macy’s was never like this! As you moved among the boats and the stands filled with produce and souvenirs the locals shouted prices at us. And they were more than willing to negotiate, sometimes lowering the price before you even said a word. 100 Baht Madame! Deal for you just 80 Baht! OK?

Everyone seemed to find something wonderful at the markets and enjoyed the bargaining process. Luc (see the previous post for details on Luc) found a real scorpion encased in glass and Dale Nelson purchase a bone necklace that was just spectacular.

We got back on the bus and headed for lunch, the Rose garden and then a cultural show. Lunch at the In-Chan Restaurant in the Rose garden was absolutely delicious. And dancing among the roses we discovered some beautiful pink flamingos.

As we approached the venue for the Thai Cultural Show, we noticed that some elephants would be joining us.

When Luc saw the elephants and realized that he could feed them he was so very excited. Bananas and sugar cane were available to purchase for a few Baht. Luc’s mom, Ceta, of course let him feed the elephants. Before he did, however, he asked me, “What if they mistake me for the sugar cane. Because I’m small they might do it, right?”

I assured him that they know the difference and besides, he didn’t taste like bananas or sugar cane, so they really wouldn’t be interested. With all the courage he could muster, he reached out and placed the food in the elephant’s outstretched trunk. The elephant eagerly, but gently, grasped the food and brought it back to its mouth – amazing!

Then, it was showtime! The show included traditional Thai dancing, a parade of elephants, a Thai boxing exhibition and a traditional Thai wedding ceremony.

After the show we traveled to the Swissotel Le Concord for dinner and enjoyed a World Class Spectacular show called “Siam Niramit” or “Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Siam.” The Swissotel is known for its remarkable stage that is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest in the world.

At one point in the show part of the stage was transformed into what appeared to be a river complete with rainfall and actors dressed as Kinaree, the mythical half woman half bird like creature. They flew across the stage … all the way to the top!

Unfortunately cameras were not allowed inside the theater so we will have to rely on our memories of this glorious show!

As the night ended, I know more sight-seeing is ahead, but I am eagerly waiting for the day our group meets the children they sponsor.

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