For 34 years, Kasma took hundreds of people to Thailand on her small-group, off-the-beaten-track trips to Thailand. Perhaps her most popular trip was an 18/19 day trip that incnuded Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. Like all of her trips, she took you to the best places she had discovered throughout Thailand. When I was selecting these favorite moments, it was hard to narrow them down. I’ll include a link to Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2 at the end of this blog.
This 19-day “Trip B” was one three small group trips to Thailand that Kasma offered every year. It started in Bangkok, went 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 was an emphasis on getting you “off-the-beaten-track,” on great Thai food and on seeing real Thai culture. The year I wrote this blog I was able to go on the entire trip for the 4th or 5th time. Even so, there were 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.)
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, part of the Ban Bu Community, where they make bronzeware in the traditional manner: beautiful, hand-crafted bowls, plates and drinking cups.
The picture to the above right can’t do justice to the feeling you get at the factory. It shows one of the workers holding a piece of bronzeware 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.
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 left Bangkok around 5:30 a.m. so that we could see the sunrise on the eastern coast and arrive at Damnoen Saduak just as it was still getting light. We got to travel on the klong (canals) virtually by ourselves in a quiet paddle boat. Later on there will be faster boats with engines disturbing the quiet and the peaceful water.
One of the best part of the floating market, as, indeed, with any market in Thailand, is the food. As we set out and returned, Kasma invariably purchased 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 always followed 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:
Also see my blog Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
Historical Sites of Sukhothai: Once out of Bangkok, we passed through the historical heartland of the country, through Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. My favorite time here was the morning walk through the historical ruins of Sukhothai.
We always got there right after breakfast when the light is just magical and we wandered 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 walked 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.
To the above 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.
Sukhothai Market: Ahhh. The market walks. Whenever possible, we visited 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 purchased large quantities (several kilograms) of beautiful, dried red chillies to bring back for use in her Thai cooking classes (she retired in 2020). Click to see a photo of Dried Red Chillies in Sukhothai.
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 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 visited 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 were tied on each trip member’s wrist to be followed with a shot of Hmong moonshine to seal the deal. We then ate delicious chicken soup, made from gai bahn, which literally, “house chicken.” These were the very chickens we saw running around the village: you want free range? These are free range.
To the above 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.
After our ceremony and the chicken soup, we would take a walk through the village. Within a short while we were a bit out of town and saw views of the village, such as this one to the above 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 & May 2020