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Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1

Michael Babcock, June 12th, 2012

Here are just a few of my favorite moments last year from Kasma Loha-unchit’s 19-day trip of Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. Kasma’s trips get you off-the-beaten track to places she has discovered over more than 25 years of leading trips. The hard part in writing this blog was picking only a few moments! Kasma’s 28-day Trip A visits most of these places as well.

Buying Mangoes

Kasma buys mangoes

This 19-day “Trip B” was one three small group trips to Thailand that Kasma offers every year. It starts in Bangkok, goes through the historical heartland of Thailand (Ayuthaya and Suhkothai) up to the North, to Mae Sa, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. Like all of her trips, there’s an emphasis on getting you “off-the-beaten-track,” on great Thai food and on seeing real Thai culture. I was lucky enough to go on the entire trip last year (I’m not always so lucky); although it was my 4th or 5th time there are so many varied and exciting things to do that it felt like the first time. Here are a some highlights. (Each of these deserves a blog of its own.)

(Click images to see larger version.)

Making Bronzeware

Making bronzeware

Canals of Bangkok & Thonburi: On the second day of this trip, we took a ride around the canals of Bangkok and Thonburi. After a stop at the Royal Barge Museum, we headed onto the canals and within minutes it was hard to believe that Bangkok was just a short distance away. We saw life along the water and stopped at some temples along the way. One of the highlights was a visit to a bronze factory where they make bronze ware in the traditional manner: beautiful, hand-crafted bowls, plates and drinking cups.

The picture to the right can’t do justice to the feeling you get at the factory. It shows one of the workers holding a piece of bronze ware directly in the fire. It’s quite dark, except for the light from the fire, which casts off a daunting heat: you wonder how the workers can stand to be so close to the fire all day. Then there’s the sound: once the piece is pulled off the fire, the workers shape it with a hammer and there’s the dull klunk, klunk, klunk as the hammers from two workers hit the bronze over and over before it’s thrust back into the fire.

Canal Ride

A canal near the market

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: Despite the fact that it is heavily touristed, I still absolutely love going to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Although the pictures of floating vendors are a well-worn cliché, it’s exciting to see the lively, colorful boats laden with produce or carrying a kanom (Thai snack) vendor.

Here’s the caveat: don’t go with a scheduled tour. You must get there early, before the tour buses arrive. On Kasma’s trips we always leave Bangkok around 5:30 a.m. so that we see the sunrise on the eastern coast and arrive at Damnoen Saduak just as it is still getting light. We get to travel on the klong (canals) virtually by ourselves.

Boat Vendor

Vendor selling fried bananas

One of the best part of the floating market, as, indeed, with any market in Thailand, is the food. As we set out and return, Kasma invariably purchases snacks such as kanom krok, the delightful coconut pancakes, kanom paeng jee, a grilled coconut cake, and fried bananas (kluay tod, from the vendor you see to the right). We follow up our boat ride with a delicious bowl (or two!) of kway teow reua – “Boat Noodles.” (See my blog: Boat Noodles at Damnoen Saduak Market.)

Here are two more pictures of the market:

Sukhothai Reflection

Suhkothai vignette

Historical Sites of Sukhothai: Once out of Bangkok, we pass through the historical heartland of the country, through Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. My favorite time here is the morning walk through the historical ruins of Sukhothai.

We always get there right after breakfast when the light is just magical and wander around the ruins, which are all in one close area. There is a grace and beauty to the ruins there, reflected in the many ponds, often with water lilies adding a splash of color to the view. After the view from afar, we walk amongst the ruins where there are lovely details to be found on the walls: elephants, lions and graceful, walking Buddhas. You get a sense of what how beautiful Suhkothai must have been when it was flourishing in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Sukthothai Ruins

Sukhothai Ruins

Walking Buddhas

Walking Buddhas

To the left we see one of the ruins in the early morning light. The walking Buddhas, to the right, are found on one of the temple walls. I can never resist photographing them; they are so utterly graceful.

Suhkothai Market

Sausage vendor

Sukhothai Market: Ahhh. The market walks. Whenever possible, we visit the lively Thai morning markets. The Sukhothai Market is one of my favorites, in large part because of the friendliness of the vendors. Like most Thai markets, it’s colorful and lively with plenty of appetizing prepared food.

This market is also where Kasma purchases large quantities (several kilograms) of beautiful, dried red chillies to bring back for use in her Thai cooking classes. One of our Wednesday photos showed these Dried Red Chillies in Sukhothai.

Welcoming Ceremony

In a Hmong home

Hmong Village, Ceremony and Walk: What is the best part of Thailand? Without a doubt, the people. The only contact with the hill tribe in many other tours is often a village set up just for tourists. Kasma has been friends with people in one of the Hmong villages in the Mae Sa area (just north of Chiang Mai) since her first trip to Thailand in 1986. We visit a real village with a living culture, where most of the people are still farmers.

We are invited into Kasma’s friend’s home and given a welcoming ceremony by the village shaman. Protective strings are tied on each trip member’s wrist to be followed with a shot of Hmong moonshine to seal the deal. We then eat delicious chicken soup, made from gai bahn, which literally, “house chicken.” These are the very chickens we see running around the village: you want free range? These are free range.

Tying the String

Tying a protective string

Hmong Mother & Child

Hmong mother & child

To the left we see the Hmong shaman tying a string on a trip member’s wrist. To the right is one of the Hmong mothers with child that we saw on our visit. The people really are the best part about visiting Thailand.

Trip Members

Walking the village

Village View

View of the Hmong Village

After our ceremony and the chicken soup, we take a walk through the village. Within a short while we’re a bit out of town and see views of the village, such as this one to the right, and of the fields. The two young Hmong women in the leftmost picture are the daughters of the family where the welcoming ceremony was held; Kasma has known them since they were infants.

This blog continues in Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2.

To see photos of Trip B, go to our trip exploration page and follow the links.

Written by Michael Babcock, June 2012

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One Response to “Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1”

  1. […] Kasma Loha-unchit’s small-group trips to Thailand offer many special and unique experiences. Here are some more of my favorite moments from her 19-day trip of Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. It is a continuation of my recent blog, Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1 […]

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