Mae Klong, River-intertwined Life
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From the past until present, we can never really draw a line between human’s life and rivers. However, with the rising influence of western cultures and the new technology, we Thai people have moved further into the mainland and left the riverbank life behind. Western cars are being driven, western houses are being built, and Thai tradition is slowly but surely shrinking. As such, this weekend I decided to enjoy some seafood, riverside lifestyles, and ancient temples in Samut Songkram, away from the chaotic life and packed roads of Bangkok. Just only a little more than an hour drive from the capital of Thailand, I reached Mae Klong Province, a nickname of Samut Songkram; the smallest province of Thailand. Mae Klong River was a major river of the province, streaming through Bang Kon Tee and Amphawa district to the gulf of Thailand at Mueng district, making this three-districted area outstanding with the lifestyles that perfectly combined nature and old traditional cultures. Before going to a slow life at the famous Amphawa, I took a break to have my breakfast at Don Hoi Lord, a sandbar area situated at the mouth of Mae Klong River. The sandy mud in this area made it a huge habitat of several kinds of shells and crabs. Local fishermen were sliding their planks out into the extensive muddy land, catching some shells. The cool wind that was blown passed the mangrove forest up to the mainland told me that the ecosystem around here was still in a very healthy condition. And finally, the spectacular dishes of fresh seafood arrived. Fried giant sea bass with fish sauce, steamed sea crab with snow-white meat and sharp-tasting dipping, Tom Yam mackerel, and the unmistakable spicy Hoi Lord Pad Cha. What a delightful feast I had! In the afternoon, I went on to the nearby Amphawa district to experience the traditional riverside lifestyles. Before long, I reached the floating raft where I would take a long-tailed boat to my home stay that night. The boat took me pass many temples and resorts along the canal until I arrived at my home stay, a two-storey traditional Thai house in Panya style. The place gave me the feeling of a home rather than a resort or a hotel. The owner of the house led me pass a beautiful and simple garden in the front of the house to a wooden ladder that took me up to the porch of the house. People could relax and enjoy the television shows here. There was also a bedroom with traditional wooden doors and a mattress. Though the place was not extravagant or glamorous like those top-notch hotels, the fact that it was clean and well taken care of gave out the relaxing atmosphere and warmth I never imagined I would find. I took a short rest from the afternoon heat, then I was ready for my afternoon tour. The boat took me through big and small canals which were all from the Mae Klong River. There were a lot of exquisite traditional Thai houses along the riverbank and some were said to be used as the setting of many Thai soap operas. I saw kids jumping into the water, oldies having a chat in traditional wooden pavilions, vendors selling fruits on their boats. These reflected that life here seemed to go much slower and more peaceful than those in Bangkok. A short while later, my boat stopped at a pomelo farm. The pomelo here was so great it was announced as the OTOP of Amphawa. The kind owner of the farm showed me her medium-sized farm with her jaw-dropping huge pomelos and gave me one piece of them. No wonder the fruit here was an OTOP, the sweet juicy texture really cooled down the afternoon heat for me. I bought five pomelos from this farm for my family back in Bangkok, then left for another highlight in the afternoon – the sugar-coconut farm. Many of you must have an understanding that the sugar we eat everyday was from only the palm trees, but it actually wasn’t. Local people here have grown the sugar-coconut, which was a species that gave out a notable amount of sugar, for quite a long time due to the right soil condition. Today sugar-coconut has made income for the farmers in Samut Songkram more than hundreds of millions baht a year. That was the introduction. The farm owner, which was a kind uncle, led me into his sugar-coconut farm to show me how people around here climb the sugar-coconut trees. This skill of climbing the ladder made of rope and bamboo up the trees was really amazing and somehow I was sure the cliff climber must have been put to shame when they saw this. The bamboo tubes or the PVC pipes had been left for the sugary syrup to fill in and were retrieved twice each day, at dusk and dawn. I tasted the syrup before the cooking process which was still raw and it was sweet and a little astringent, but undeniably refreshing. The climbers would pour all the syrup into a huge pot and boil it. Foam of the syrup needed to be constantly scooped out to prevent the boiled syrup from overflowing the pot. After a while, the syrup would get sticky and turn dark brown, this meant that the syrup was ready. Before the sugary substance got burned, the flame would be put out and the pot would be moved onto the car tyre. Big bats called “Lek Soom” would then be used to batter the sticky syrup until it went soft and cool. Then the sugar was loaded into the container, ready to be sold. The kind uncle also let me try battering the sticky sugar and it was quite a workout. After a few minutes my arms were trembling! It was almost sunset when I left the local coconut-sugar factory. I took the boat back to my home stay to have my dinner. I took a shower to clean myself from all the sweat and dirt I got from the two farms and had my dinner at the porch of the house. The cold drinking water was the rain water and it was truly pure and refreshing. Admittedly, the atmosphere was kind of all warm and romantic, even with the mosquito. I was halfway to falling asleep at the porch from the soothing and quiet surrounding, but I knew that the peak of my trip was still waiting late in the evening. I would have the chance to roll a boat and see the fireflies, the trademark of Amphawa. The boat arrived at eight sharp, I put on my lifebuoy and got on the boat. Along the canals, people were going to bed after a long day of work. Lights were being put out, it was the period of the waning moon, and things were getting more and more quiet, just perfect for the fireflies to show their tiny lights. I could see small groups of fireflies along the way while the boat zigzagged deeper through the dark and quiet canals. When the boat stopped under a rain tree and I looked up, it was like I was under a dark sky with glittering stars made of tiny yellow lights from the fireflies. The cool breeze, the soothing sound of flowing water, and the yellow stars that came alive amidst the dark sky were so romantic I wished I could’ve stopped the time right there. The last rain tree I visited was so bright from the fireflies it reminded me of the Christmas tree, only livelier and more exhilarating that any artificial lights failed to compare. More than an hour flew so fast. I came back to my home stay and watched the news in the cool breeze at the porch for a while before going to bed. I left the windows open so the cool breeze could sweep into the bedroom. The natural wind somehow was so cool and gentle it put me to a deep sleep that night. The cock and the aromatic smell of firewood woke me up the next morning when the sky was still in a golden-orange hue. I didn’t even need three alarm clocks to drag myself out of bed like before. After taking a bath, I came out to the porch where the house owner had prepared two meals. One was for my breakfast; the other was for me to give to the Buddhist monk as food offerings. A short while later, the monks rolled the boat into my sight and I had my first experience of giving food offerings to the monks in a boat, an experience no one could find back in Bangkok. After having boiled rice as breakfast, I packed my stuff and said farewell to the kind house owner and the traditional Thai house with a pocketful of good memory. My trip to Samut Songkram wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Amphawa floating market. It was late in the morning and the market was already packed with tourists from all around the world. Coffee shops and souvenir shops became so lively with people choosing and buying stuff. For the food, you could choose from those on the land or in the rows after rows of boat floating nearby. I had to leave before getting too full and unable to move since all the food was unique and indescribably tasty. I chose to finish my trip by paying respect to Boad Prok Po, a Buddhist monastery in Bang Koong Temple, Bang Kon Tee district. The monastery was built in the Ayudhya period and was covered with roots and branches of Bo trees and Banyan trees as the time passed. Inside the monastery was the sacred Buddha image of Luang Por Nilmanee. Though the monastery was renovated and strengthened with brick and cement inside, the outer appearance was unforgettably hypnotizing still. After paying respect to Luang Por Nilmanee, I went out to sit and relax under the shades of Bo tress while drinking the exquisite Roselle juice. In the moment, I couldn’t help wishing that life everywhere could be slower and more peaceful like the life of people here. That way, people would be more appreciative of the beauty of nature and the kindness of people. We could really become a part of the community and get back the glimpse of the traditional happiness our ancestors once had.