Day 2 - Christmas sales, Bangkok style

This morning, it was an early start as we joined a full day tour that would take in some of Bangkok's iconic tourist attractions - the floating markets, The Bridge on the River Kwai and a Tiger Temple.

The Damnoen Sadauk Floating Markets are located about 100km south-west of Bangkok, so it was going to be a big driving day. Nothing like some good quality time in Bangkok's peak hour!

Our mini-bus, weaved erratically through the traffic, dodging vespa drivers who I am convinced had death wishes. As always, some of the sights made me monks waiting patiently in the middle of the street to cross the road, severely overloaded motorbikes and tuk tuks which defied gravity by staying upright and street vendors getting an early start on making their first sale of the day. Sales in the morning apparently bring the vendor good luck.

We arrived at the markets, where we were joined by about 50 people from other mini-buses, and then clambered onto long, square-ended boats called sampan. Each boat held about 10 people, and it felt like our butts were below the waterline. Our lady "helmsman" perched on the back of the boat and set off into the main channel.

Both sides of the canal were lined with stalls and stationary boats that served as both shops and restaurants. The rest of the canal was packed with other boats like ours, occasionally leading to gridlock. It was hilarious!

The deal was, that if you wanted to buy any of the merchandise, you simply asked the driver to pull in to whichever stall took your fancy. The other option was that the stall owner would use a large boat hook to drag your boat over for some more persuasive selling.

You could buy pretty much anything from the floating market - fresh fruit (the pineapple was delicious!), T-shirts, souvenirs, spices and all manner of homewards made from coconut shells. Ladies were also cooking on their boats - their floating kitchens pumped out noodles, tea and coffee, sticky rice and grilled banana...god knows how they did it in those conditions, but it was pretty impressive to watch!

After an hour of floating around the markets, we boarded a motorised long boat to explore more of the surrounding villages. The people of Damnoen Saudauk have definitely adapted to living on the water, which seems to lap literally at their doorstep.Boats of all shapes and sizes are moored outside their homes in "water garages", and other than that, seem to be pretty much like our homes. I wonder how they feel about tourists hooning up their street all day...

Coconut and banana trees lined the canal, and we saw a stack of water lilies, although they seemed to have smaller flowers than the water lillies I'm familiar with.

Despite the long drive, the floating markets were definitely worth visiting. Even though they were set up largely to attract tourists, it gave us an idea of how the Thai people live.

Another hour of hair-raising fun on the motorways ensued, the mini-bus once again driving at break-neck speed, sitting on the tail of more slower cars until they relented and got out of the way.

Lunch was a pre-paid, mass-production of rice, sweet and sour veggies, chicken and cashews, and omelette - not too bad, but I'm hanging for street market food for dinner tonight!

Then it was another 20 minute drive until we reached Kanchanaburi on the banks of the river Kwai. As we walked across the iconic bridge, I realised how little I knew of the history of this area, or its significance in WWII. More reading on that subject when I get home!

On the way back to the bus, we passed a chained leopard cub, which you could pay to cuddle and have your photo taken. We declined on the paid photo, but got some great shots of the cute kitty with our own cameras.

After all the debating, I'm happy I bought the 70-200mm lens with me. There have been times that the 24-70mm lens has not had the reach I needed. The big lens is also great for candid street portraits. I'm also very happy I bought the 85mm Zeiss lens. It was great yesterday in the low light of the markets, and there's just so much interesting stuff to photograph here!

Yet more driving, and we reached the Tiger Temple, which is a huge zoo seemingly run by monks and volunteers.

The main attraction here is that you can have your photo taken with both tiger cubs and fully grown tigers. Tiger Canyon is where the big boys are, and although chained to anchors in the ground and "managed" by at least one, if not two handlers, they still looked pretty fierce. We declined the opportunity to be photographed with the tigers, happy to take photos at arms length. There's still too much of this holiday to go, without becoming an entree. That said, they're such beautiful cats....wish I could have brought one home with me.

We also got to see tiger cubs playing in water, and others being walked on leashes by monks. We'd been warned at the gates not to wear bright colours such as red, orange and pink - the signs said that animals were attracted to such bright colours, which may have posed a danger to us...yet the monks were in bright orange robes. Go figure! My strategy was to hang very closely to the monks, as they'd have likely been entree before me, with all that bright clothing....

With another day of amazing sights under our belts, the long drive back to Bangas began. I could go on about the mental drive home - like the family who drove alongside of us in the back of their looked like all three generations were jammed into the tray; or the workers who were jammed in the back of a station wagon, driving along with the boot door open....

So for the most part, I used the drive home to write this Michael will attest, the less I see of Thai driving, the more relaxed I am ;)

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