Jan 182013

This is my seventh trip, so tonight will be my seventh finale feast. Each one has been a bit different, but on at least two occasions I ended up on stage. This year I plan to sit back and let the newbies be the stars of the show. At least that’s the plan.


I did not make it to the hotel coffee shop, so I was famished when we unloaded in front of a busy alley in Bangkok’s Chinatown. While the group was detained purchasing tea, evaluating dried tomatoes and/or examining one internal organ or another, I hustled down the alley looking for the khanom krok vendor who used to work one of the side alleys. After checking several blocks of alleys, I wandered back to meet the group and by chance discovered them seated inside Hong Kong Noodle Company, a roast duck and dim sum place. There, I finally got my fix. And more, as I hate to see food go to waste. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so during our remaining browsing time, I escaped without any new items to pack. (The market here is so extensive and varied that even if you have no interest in fish maw or gingko nuts, you can shop for hours.)

Canal Tour: Barges, Bronze, and Birds

Once upon a time, there were no congested streets in Bangkok clogged with buses, taxis, and tuk tuks. Instead, the residents moved through numerous canals connected to the Chao Phraya, the river that leads to the Gulf of Thailand. Most of these canals have been paved over, and many are lined with Thai-style McMansions, but our goal was to seek out traditional homes, as well as to make a few stops along the way.

We departed from a small dock on a longtail boat, named for the extended propeller shaft the driver uses to steer the boat in different directions in varying depths of water. It was windy, so we were occasionally spritzed; nice and cooling, but some cause for concern if the dirty-looking brown water landed on the lips. Wet wipe anyone?

We stopped first at the Royal Barge Museum. This was my fourth visit and from what I can tell, they have not built any new ones or updated the video. Our next stop was the village of Ban Bu, at the one remaining house where they melt copper and tin together to make bronze, and then hand-hammer it into decorative bowls and other items. Once upon a time, alms bowls were made this way, but factory production has nearly wiped out this labor intensive, hot, dusty, noisy trade. Thailand’s OTOP program promoting crafts from each district has recognized this business as producing very fine work, but with no young workers, its days are numbered, so perhaps the somewhat pricey items I picked up here will appreciate in the future.

As we continued up the canal we began to see traditional teak homes on stilts with ladders down to the water. Earlier this year when there were major floods in Thailand, water was locked out of the commercial areas of Bangkok and flowed up the canals. The high water line was evident on many homes a couple of feet about the threshold, and many appeared to be abandoned. There is a good chance they will be sold to make way for more showy properties.

Our next step was Wat Chalor, a temple whose ambitious design appears to be coming to fruition after nearly twenty years. Designed to look like a giant royal barge, the doorway in the side of the “hull” was open and we ventured up to the chapel to see the Buddha image and take in the views. Perhaps now this will become a tourist attraction known for its beauty rather than its folly? Near the dock we stopped for a one bowl lunch of hot and sour noodles with various fish cakes and meats. One of my traveling companions was not feeling well, so I helped her out by having a two bowl lunch. Did I mention the skewers of chicken satay with a bright cucumber salad on the side? Or the toasted coconut shreds and sweet snacks? I’m getting full just thinking about it. When traveling with Kasma, one dish seldom is just one dish.

We spent another hour wandering the canals and slowing to photograph cranes and kingfishers. With the bright sky, this didn’t always work well, but I hope some of them came out. Back at the dock, we had 20 minutes to hit the ATM — had to repay a loan that covered my bronze purchases — and grab a cool coconut before loading back into our vans for the slow drive back to the Rex.


We spent our free time this afternoon dealing with boxes and bags, so it wasn’t possible to squeeze in one last massage. That will have to wait for “next time.”

Dinner at Vientiane Kitchen

This large Northeastern style restaurant features live entertainment and is walking distance from the hotel. This is a very welcome combination after spending so much time in traffic today. One of the stars of the menu is the deep fried pork leg, with its crispy skin, succulent fat, and lightly smoky meat. But several group members are under the weather, so we couldn’t finish all the pork and all of the other dishes. Those included some new items for this trip: sour fish (soured with fermented rice, a bit too salty for me); chicken with fermented bamboo shoots in a flavorful but light curry sauce; and the fried eggplant salad, featuring lengths of eggplant fried tempura style, then dressed with a slightly sweet dressing topped with shrimp and fried shallots. The miang plah featured a whole fried fish (butterflied and mostly boned for our convenience), which we then combined in bite size chunks with little cubes of ginger, shallot, peanuts, bits of lime, etc., in a wild pepper leaf. A crispy rice and sour sausage salad was good, but I think we had better ones in the North. Finally, the tender chayote greens featured a good number of chillies to keep the palate awake.

For the first several food photos, my flash seemed to be malfunctioning: all the photos were very dark. Eventually I realized the flash mode had been changed and was able to switch it, but the result was that I failed to capture the full beauty of the meal. I will just have to come back and eat the same meal again next year.

Before I was able to finish my third and fourth helpings, the band came on stage for a show that must have run two and a half hours. After a few songs, three graceful Thai dancers came out for the first of their sets. The most exciting numbers, for us, involved audience participation. As planned, other members of the group were chosen for various dances and they seemed to have a great time. Some people seem disappointed to have missed me singing and dancing — my reputation precedes me — but there’s always video from the past for them to enjoy. At some point we ordered dessert (bananas stewed in warm salty-sweet coconut milk for me) and then convened outside to tip our drivers and wish those whose schedules take them on different flights a good journey.



We need to be packed and ready to head to the airport by 8:45am tomorrow. By the standards of this trip, that’s a late start, but the way I pack, there’s no assurance I will be ready in time. Especially if I need just a few minutes on the internet.

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