December, 2009

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Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Ratchaburi

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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Tour Organizers in Bangkok love this market, because hordes of new tourist arrivals always want to see this attraction. The market itself has adopted to this and features higher charges on each article they sell plus the stores along the canals sell more Hong Kong Plastictoys and Made in China junk instead of hand made household goods like years ago. Locals never use this anymore, it has mutated to a pure tourist attraction, a cashcow for tour providers. In order to beat the rip-off with the transport providers, anyone can easily take the Bus number 78 from the Southern Terminal at Pinklao-Nakhononchaisi Road for a small fee. Or ride the inexpensive train to Ratchaburi, from where all Buses to Samut Sakorn pass by Damnoen Saduak. The attraction is roughly 100 KM west of Bangkok, the Bus takes just under 2 hours to get there. It is not advisable to do this trip in a Taxi, unless you can fill it with Passengers and have money to waste. Tour-minivans run there in about 1 and a half hour. Cheap tours pack up to 13 passengers to a small van! Inquire about this prior to booking, another feature called “Rose Garden” in Nakhon Pathom is often tossed in – a typical park with a “Beerhouse” style show, that they call a cultural event. “Beerhouse” style, because every larger country pub and microbrewery offers a similar performance to their guests free of charge!

 

The key is to arrive here early to take some photos worth your while, after daylight the stream of tourists grows without mercy and peaks maybe at 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Floating markets are a dime a dozen in the canals of the lower Chaophaya basin. Alone Pathum Thani sports 12 of them, all original – but smaller in size, not held daily and difficult to find. Damnoen Saduak in Ratchaburi is by far the biggest and most touristed of them all! It still resembles some of it’s old charm in the very early hours of the day, when boat paddlers offer their services for more reasonable amounts and the vessels aren’t fully loaded with other tourists. Smart visitors use the canal side walkways to take their pictures and leave the boat touts alone. You can see 70% of the market sure footed from the sides. If you come with your own car, make sure to neglect the first whistle-dudes who want to guide you to their parking lot, it is still miles away from the action. Lookout for the Welcome bow or gate as shown above and park directly behind the action here. It is also the bus stop.

The original part left from the old days are the fruit vending ladies with their boats. Early morning time is best for photo-ops because the fruits are fresh and still loaded in bulk on the boats down below.

Prices asked here for fresh foods are surprisingly still moderate, there are so many vendors on the water at times, that little water is left to be seen.

At a later time, floating snackerias dot the canals and it may be a good time to take a cruise if you so desire.

The cruise is individually to be arranged with the paddlers or can be booked at much higher fares through touts.

 

Traffic on the canal is wild and intense, but slow. Watch your hands as boats may rub their flanks quite often.



The vendors wait for the expected flood of tourists and their faces do not smile so much, unless they sense you buy something from them.

More and more tourist junk fills the stalls on the flanks of the canal, your skipper always wants to steer you near there, eager for any commissions on your purchases.

We directed him deep into the interior away from the commercial activity center, where canal banks were mud and offerings afloat more of a local character.

We wondered about their boat storage buildings there, neat to witness. A stop at a beekeeper’s pier was a true joke with little noney on display but tons of tourist type souvenirs at sky high prices, we decided to return to where we came from and possibly relieve our paddler prior to the 2 hours booked, the boats are not comfortable to sit in for long periods of time.



The sight here was a different one now with hundreds of tourists lined up for a cruise, the touring masses began to flock in!

Some stalls resemble Chatuchak-fleamarket stalls rather than a floating market stall. These have a tendency to spread fast.

All in all, we were happy to have seen it again, but surely would take friends elsewhere, when they arrive and want us to show them a Floating Market. Our recommendation would be much rather Aphawa in neighboring Samut Sakhon Province, as long as it is not too commercialized for tourists.

Chantaburi – Swim and play with real Dolphins

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

© Frank P. Schneidewind

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The Town and Province of Chantaburi in Eastern Thailand borders the Gulf of Thailand between the Trat and Rayong Provinces. Laem Sing is a seaside Resort town with an unspectacular but nice beach, about 15 to 18 miles east of Chantaburi Town. Laem Sing offers one of the most underrated Tourist attractions west of Koh Chang and East of Pattaya.  Swimming and interacting with dolphins! Holiday folks from either place can contact local businesses to be ferried and brought back safely. On Koh Chang contact for example the reception at the Top Resort in White Sand Beach up on the Southern cliff, or any tour company/provider. A great daytrip fun for everyone as adults and kids enjoy this alike. I can recommend them as reliable organizers, which handle all needs and transport requirements including pick-up from your hotel!

Hourly artistic shows daily with a variety of fish are being held inside a larger stadium within Oasis Ocean World, a large park with 2 distinctive dolphin pools. One for the hourly show and one for the “Swimming with dolphins” attraction. Laem Singh dolphins are a real attraction.

The show is a Thai style copy of what you expect to see in Orlando’s or San Diego’s “SeaWorld” Themeparks, minus the whale-show of course, but mind you – admission here costs about 10 % of what you fork over the counter there! I have had the privilege to experience both of these American Water Theme Parks in the 90’s, which were mind blowing back then! But I also liked the local flair offered here. It’s a good “bang for the buck” and also a nice daytrip from either Koh Chang or Pattaya away.

Irrawaddy Dolphins were common once in Thailand, but only small colonies survived overfishing and pollution (Song Khla Lake). That they can be trained, was new to me, so we watched the show here, before our own pre-booked personal one.

Bottlenosed Dolphins are all over the world in tropical waters, they are probably the most intelligent marine mammals. You can shoot a lot of pictures during the show and it’s not a rip-off feature, like in the much applauded “Sanctuary of Truth” in Pattaya.  That one left an impression with us to be nothing, but a sad, overpriced tourist trap.

They are playful and show their repertoire in tricks and stunts. Laem Singh dolphins appear to be well trained.

 

Trainers seem to know what they are doing and announcements were done in English! To swim with dolphins, should be an upcoming highlight for us.


There is a set of rules and regulations, which must be followed and adhered to strictly, if you plan to participate in the Dolphin swimming option! In Thailand, swim with dolphins, was no longer a dream for Melona now.



Piercings on a persons body, zippers on garments worn or anything that can possibly damage the delicate skin of the dolphins has to be removed or taken off.

This interaction requires a small surcharge, but it is surely worth it, do not be disappointed if you desire to interact with the dolphins, but come in high season without a pre-booking! (Attention, prices were rumored to have escalated into the rip-off regions after our visit there)

4 people from the crowds get the chance at a time to undergo the small course in dolphin training, everyone takes care of “his” dolphin. The lucky 4 swim to a platform in the large pool and stay there for the duration of this. 2 persons at a time are doing the performance under supervision of a dolphin trainer, with another 2 people standing by for their turn!

The “reward” for the animal is always a small fish, given to the intelligent creature as an incentive to perform. Buckets kept near, contained these rewards. Everything seems to be well managed but the water quality itself needs a major improvement! Chlorine and other algae-combatants from the swimming pool industry can’t be used, because this is the habitat of sensitive marine mammals. The greenish waters are o.k. and safe for the animals, but it appeared a bit brackish to me and was absolute borderline for submerging in it. Showers for personal use before and after the show are provided on-site.

One person at a time has the option to be dragged by a Dolphin back to shore, which is a great experience and the finishing climax of the Dolphin interaction. A staff member will take your digicam and shoot some pics for you from this final event. It’s all over too sudden and really fun. Not comparable to swim with dolphins off Maui on Hawaii or interact with the mighty whalesharks near Sorsogon in the Philippines, but much more affordable for anybody and suitable for schoolkids as well. I’ve done it all in my past, but this attraction here is not just a cheap copy for a fraction of the price elsewhere. You go home with an experience that remains a very memorable one for long.



The transportation is gentle, not wild and the ride a real thrill to all. Your dolphin was pulling you like a torpedo!

Melona was only afraid to get any of that murky water in her mouth, the park owners need to improve this situation badly.


The beaches are only a few Kilometers from the Park entrance, but so are the Phliu Waterfalls inland from here. Talk with one of our recommended agents or one of your choice to book the Dolphin-Swim Adventure, when you are on Koh Chang or in Pattaya, it is worth the daytrip!

Dolphins in captivity are a controversial point of discussion, they sure belong into open oceans. But here the also nurse wounded creatures, which got caught in nets by fishermen and introduce the species to humankind in a decent manner. The pools are large and deep enough in my opinion, if compared to commercial aquariums. Vets and Dolphin handlers here seem to have the expertise to take good care of the animals and these appear joyful. I have not been able to witness any cruelty or mismanagement with these majestic creatures here at Oasis Sea World and was quite pleased with their operation. I appreciate their strict rules for any contact with them and hope that no questionable methods will be used to get these lovely creatures here. It is a great opportunity for all children and interested persons to meet these gentle giants, without a dangerous ocean trip to experience them in their natural habitats.