Jun 2013

Asia, Blog

DISCUSSION 15 Comments


Shopping Shenanigans

“Don’t you ever get tired of going to markets? It’s soooo boring. It’s like going to a grocery store. You know they are all the same, right?” I have heard this from Brad on a weekly basis.

Well, to answer that first question, no, not really. How I ever enjoy markets, and if the past tells anything, I will never tire from them. I usually go through the motions of writing a “grocery list” for Brad’s sake, but in reality I’m just using it as my admission ticket, showing the “need” to go. Lists are useless anyways. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a market that had everything I was looking for, or that didn’t have something that I’d never seen before. As frustrating as it may be sometimes, that is the beauty of them. They are regional and seasonal, with a continuously changing mix of produce, flavors, spices, textiles and faces. I always have the overwhelming desire to go to every stall, upturn every bag of unknown, unwrap every banana leaf to reveal its hidden contents, and sample every fruit and vegetable. My senses are overwhelmed and I can only image that this is what it’s like for a child going to Disneyland for the first time. Even if I have nothing to buy, I still want to go merely for the visual exploration. It is for many, the closest they will get to interacting with the locals while watching their daily routine and way of life.

It should come as no surprise then that given my absolute love for these places, I often plan a particular route to coincide with them. This is usually my little secret until we arrive within vicinity, leaving Brad little chance to devise some sort of “emergency” Nacho maintenance project that takes precedence.

It just so happened that we were to arrive in Bangkok on a Saturday, and it just so happened to be the same day in which a number of weekend floating markets were taking place. We stopped at Bang Noi, which for more than 100 years, was the gathering place for locals on the 3rd, 8th, and 13th day of the waxing and waning moons of the lunar calendar [Brad note: do you understand that my wife is insane?] With the building of roads, the market nearly died off but was recently revived by the government, keen on holding onto tradition.

Upon entering the shop houses, local women sat on the sidewalk with their blankets laid out, proudly displaying their produce for the day. This was the most authentic part of the market, with true commerce occurring from one local to another. As we walked to the water’s edge I braced myself, expecting to see something extraordinary, like a swarm of colorful boats, women with cone hats, and maybe a pig or two being transferred from one boat to another. I wanted to see that, yet all I saw was the murky brown water of the canal and bunches of hyacinth floating by. These hyacinths are actually a huge problem, growing so quickly that they clog the canals and impede the flow of water. It’s actually some people’s job to remove the hyacinth from the waters, cutting them at their roots and leaving them to float on elsewhere. Nowadays, much of it is collected, dried and made into the latest and greatest in new trendy woven furniture.

Instead of a true floating market, we had come upon a simple marketplace on the river, and lining the canal were old wooden shop houses filled with cute cafes and restaurants, souvenir shops, handicraft stores and vendor stands. It was really nice despite the inaccuracy of what the name implied. We entered and split up quickly. Brad was drawn to a small café where a man played his guitar and I continued on, strangely overwhelmed by the uncanny peacefulness in the air.

While he shared a table with a few locals and enjoyed a beer, I searched for unique foods.

One woman roasted tightly wrapped tubes of banana cakes on her charcoal grill and another sold pairs of neatly arranged fish in bamboo bowls. One Chinese woman pinched off silver dollar sized pieces of rice flour dough, placed them in a pan, patted them down, and gently flipped them until lightly brown. She layered the stretchy pancakes between sheets of plastic wrap until her sister, who worked the second half of the process, topped them generously with crushed peanuts, brown sugar, and sesame seeds. She then rolled them into bite sized burritos and neatly stacked them in pyramids in small origami like banana leaf trays. They were sweet and nutty, perfect alongside the complimentary shot glass of green tea.

I continued walking, eventually crossing over a bridge that led to the other side of the water. The silence in the air was broken up intermittently by young Thai men racing their longtail boats, oblivious to the disruption they were causing. For a moment’s time, the murky water would slosh back and forth between the buildings and the talking amongst people would come to a brief pause; waiting until they could hear their own voices again.

Once I had made the rounds, Brad and I reunited. On our way out we ventured to a stand where a sweet looking couple made ?????????????????, or pork steamed rice parcels. They looked like little wrinkly dumplings and were made using a cooking method I had never seen before. It began with a thin pastry mix poured onto a small round surface and quickly covered with a metal cone-shaped lid. In less than a minute, the dough had turned from transparent to opaque and a dollop of sweet pork filling was added to the center. Using two spatulas the stretchy dough was pulled and twisted over the meat topping. After showing me the technique, they handed me their spatulas. I added a few deformed looking ones to their collection.

Back in Nacho, we headed just a few miles south until we arrived at Amphawa Floating Market. This market was so insanely huge that I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was no way we’d make it through in a few hours as thousands of vendors ran alongside the elevated banks of the canal for half a mile. If that wasn’t overwhelming enough, they also spilled out onto the streets that surrounded the main thoroughfare. This was THE market that local Bangkokians went to for their floating market experience, and surprisingly, out of all the faces, I hardly recall seeing another Westerner. The whole place was quite atmospheric; the steps that led down to the canal were packed like bleachers with Thais eating seafood. All eyes were on the cooks who floated in the boats below, who split their time between prepping and cooking on their grills. We ordered our grilled squid and pad thai and sat there on the banks, just two individuals in a crazy maze of food and people.

Here’s some audio that Brad captured of a local musician while having a drink at the Bang Noi floating market:

[audio:http://www.drivenachodrive.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Floating-Market-Musician-Thailand.mp3|titles=Floating Market Musician Thailand]

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  1. grammie

    I enjoyed this blog particularly well because I now know there. Is a “shopping ” gene. The trip with you through the market led on by the wonderful photos felt like I was in Bang Now myself.Have as much fun tomorrow as you have had today. Love to you both.

    Comment by grammie on June 18, 2013 at 1:20 am

  2. Ernie Wieber

    Very cool, true foodie/shopper heaven.

    Comment by Ernie Wieber on June 18, 2013 at 1:21 am

  3. Barb Wieber (Sheena's Mom)

    Luv it once again….Your visual perception of details enjoying the true moment of time…in the beauty of where you both are….amazing where you both have taken all of your Nacho fans with you on your journey. The unknown, seeing harmony and peace in the customs of their land.
    Is this the area where you had a blast at shopping and giving me all those precious and amazing gifts. Thank you again for your blog. Seeing a photo of you so in tuned with their culture of food. Yes Like you told me Mom you would have love it. I worn the bracelet you got me on Saturday just like you said you got one almost the same…..I would have been in paradise shopping with you****Love you Mom

    Comment by Barb Wieber (Sheena's Mom) on June 18, 2013 at 1:41 am

  4. Thanks for the great post and the great complimentary pictures.

    Comment by Karen on June 18, 2013 at 2:57 am

  5. nathan

    Congrats! That’s fantastic news. Did I miss a post?

    Awesome story and photos as usual.

    Comment by nathan on June 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

  6. We’ve been married for 6 years Nathan. You must have thought she was my girlfriend because I’m not sick of her yet! ;)

    Comment by Brad on June 18, 2013 at 10:50 pm

  7. nathan

    Well that’s awesome! I guess I just don’t hear you call each other Husband or Wife very often (never before?) and so many young couples touring the planet are NOT married that I jumped to conclusions. I was similarly pleased to see James & Lauren get engaged recently…though I really wish they’d update their blog!

    Comment by nathan on June 18, 2013 at 11:14 pm

  8. Ernesto

    umm que ricos se ven los calamares………..

    Comment by Ernesto on June 19, 2013 at 9:05 am

  9. Sheena

    @ Grammie: I see that many of my traits, desires, and addictions overlap with yours…particularly our addiction to sweets which I don’t see anything wrong with. :) I’ve already told Brad that once I hit 70 I am only going to eat chocolate and cake for my meals.

    @ Mom: The presents that I bought you for Mother’s Day were actually from a different market in Bangkok called the Chatuchak Market – the largest weekend market in the world.

    Comment by Sheena on June 19, 2013 at 2:51 pm

  10. Sheena

    @ Nathan: You are right, we rarely call each other husband or wife. :) It is so exciting that James and Lauren are getting married! Perhaps when they get back on the road they will start fresh on their blog. I’d love to read about their experiences since they’ll be heading off to places that Brad and I never went to.

    Comment by Sheena on June 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm

  11. Useful post and great responses. “Shopping Shenanigans” – interesting title Sheena. I appreciate you sharing this with the rest of us Sheena.

    Comment by Campers Journal on June 26, 2013 at 7:33 pm

  12. Markus

    Great story. Thanks for taking us along on the Shopping She(e)nanigans. :-)

    Comment by Markus on July 6, 2013 at 4:43 am

  13. Mom

    I believe this is the floating market experience I missed when I visited you two in May. We looked for it, but it had moved on, as I recall. So I am grateful for this wonderful description! Now I feel as if I HAD visited a floating market after all! Thanks for the musical interlude, as well.

    Comment by Mom on July 13, 2013 at 12:05 am

  14. hey friends thanks for share your ideas. these are helpful.

    Comment by FarahRazak on August 2, 2013 at 12:16 am

  15. I love shopping. The images of Shenanigans provided by you are very nice.

    Comment by shawl hijab on August 3, 2013 at 4:53 am

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