June 5, 2002 - The Columbia Star: An RPCV returns to the floating markets of Thailand

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An RPCV returns to the floating markets of Thailand

Read and comment on this story from the Columbia Star on RPCV Warner M. Montgomery and his return after 40 years to the floating markets of Thailand at:

The markets still float in Thailand *

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

The markets still float in Thailand


Warner M. Montgomery

When the Thai people fled from the Burmese in the mid–18th century, they ended up in the most fertile area of Southeast Asia, the delta of the Chao Phraya River. Their rice farming soon spread east and west from the river and from the mountains in the north to the Gulf of Siam in the south.

The Chakri kings had their people — slaves, corvee laborers, and peasants — build canals (khlongs) and dikes that irrigated the rice paddies with river water, and kept rain water long into the dry season. Bangkok became the Venice of Asia as new khlongs crisscrossed the growing city providing irrigation, transportation, and sewerage systems. The people lived in houses built over the khlongs and performed their daily chores in the water. They washed their clothes, bathed their bodies, brushed their teeth, threw their garbage, ate the fish, and drank the water that flowed beneath their porches. Human– powered river taxis moved people through the royal city. Life was good in Bangkok. By the late 20th century, the khlongs had outlived their usefulness. Travel on the khlongs was too slow. Traffic on the khlongs had reached its limit.

Forty years ago, when my eager Peace Corps group landed in Thailand, we were witness to khlongs being piped, filled in, and covered with asphalt roads. People were turning from the khlongs to the streets. Three–wheeled taxis (tuk tuks) and smoke–belching buses filled the city. Homes and commercial buildings were built facing the streets. A new drainage/sewage/water supply system was constructed underground. Thailand was joining the developed world. Last February, Linda and I discovered there were only two canals left in Bangkok. Two also re-mained across the city in Thonburi. To give my wonderful wife the experience of Old Siam, I took her on a boat ride through these khlongs. It was like a trip back in time.

There they were: washing, bathing, drinking in the khlongs. It was a wonderful experience, but not the real thing, the smells, the filth, and the bugs were gone.

Linda needed a more authentic trip into the Thailand I discovered 40 years ago. So we took another trip — 50 miles south of Bangkok where the old khlongs have been preserved for the throngs of tourists wanting to glimpse the past. It is called the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.

The floating market is so real, so historic, I thought I was back in Bangkok in 1962. Dark–skinned Thai ladies in broad–brimmed bamboo hats paddled wooden canoes in the khlongs selling fruit, veggies, flowers, soup, clothing, you name it, there is was. Some wise tourist official had created a goldmine.

Walt Disney could not have done better. In fact, the floating market was not just for tourists – it was free! — it was for the locals, too. It was the marketplace for that area of the country. The khlongs have not been filled in. They are the showplace of the community.

I loved it. Linda loved it. She now understands some of the stories I have been telling her for 11 years.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; RPCVS - return to COS; COS - Thailand



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