AMPHAWA (Reuters) - Little known to foreigners visiting Thailand, the riverside town of Amphawa, just an hour outside of Bangkok, has long been a secret among city-dwelling Thais looking to get away from it all.
Home to a quaint floating market quite unlike those advertised in glossy tourist brochures, its canals and river showcase a striking collection of wooden shop houses set against a backdrop of lush green vegetation. It holds a UNESCO World Heritage Award for its main canal.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help visitors get the most out of a stay in Amphawa, a frozen-in-time gem.
5 p.m. - Leave the grime and smoke of Bangkok behind and rent a private car, take a taxi or hop on one of the many air-conditioned mini vans that take you to Amphawa in Samut Songkhram province, about 80 kilometers (49 miles) southwest of Bangkok. Mini vans leave from Victory Monument every half an hour and cost 200 baht ($6.77) for a one-way journey.
6:30 p.m. - Check into Yao In Chan Hotel, a ten minute drive from Amphawa’s floating market. Nestled among greenery and situated next to the Mae Klong river, the resort offers modern rooms with traditional Thai elements. (Yao In Chan Hotel, 95 Moo 7, Banprok, Amphawa, Thailand. Tel: +66 (0)854406886).
8 p.m. - Hop on a tuk-tuk, an open-air three wheeled taxi, and head to Amphawa’s floating market, to grab a cold beer and sit by the canal. Once you’ve worked up an appetite head to Chanchala restaurant, where you are obliged to order drinks from the restaurant but can wander out and pick your dinner from one of the many boat vendors parked along the canal. Try salted “pla nim” or white tilapia, squid, prawns or grilled crab. A must-try is the gooey “hoy tod”, a type of Thai mussel omelette, served with crunchy bean sprouts.
9:30 p.m. - Head back to your hotel for a well-deserved rest or dip in the swimming pool before an early night.
6:30 a.m - Reach for your camera and head to the nearest pier along the Mae Klong river, joining local residents as they offer morning alms to Buddhist monks clad in saffron robes. Watch as the monks row gently along the river, stopping to receive food and jasmine garlands in their hammered brass alms bowls. The act is a symbolic one and a sign of respect.
8 a.m. - Fuel up on a hearty Thai breakfast at one of the many stalls along the riverfront or canal that offer cloyingly sweet traditional Thai coffee or tea served with “Patongo”, a fried-dough pastry. For those who don’t have a sweet tooth, another traditional breakfast is hot boiled rice with shrimp or minced pork served with condiments.
9 a.m. - Visit the King Rama II Memorial Park, a botanical park and garden with traditional Thai stilt houses. The park was built in honor of King Rama II, known in Thailand as the “Poet King”, and the site is believed to be his birthplace. A teak mansion serves as a museum displaying artefacts that date back to the 18th century. Watch traditional plays and a Thai dessert cooking demonstration.(King Rama II Memorial Park, Tel: +66 (0) 34751367. Open 08:30 a.m. - 05:00 p.m. daily).
11 a.m. - Rent a bike near the floating market’s main bridge at Thai Teeb (www.facebook.com/Thaiteeb) and arrange for a tailor-made tour. or venture out solo to explore nearby orchards and the riverine way of life. For those looking to work up a sweat, bike to Baen district and take in the sight of coconut, orchid and succulent pomelo plantations.
3 p.m. - As the midday heat starts to cool off, head to Bang Kung temple. Built over 200 years ago, this Buddhist temple is known for its small chapel that is literally being held up and embraced by the branches and roots of banyan trees.
4 p.m - Next stop, Bang Kae Noi temple. At this more ornate Buddhist temple built in 1868, the walls and ceiling are made of teak wood and the intricate wood carvings on them tell the story of the Buddha’s birth and his Enlightenment.
6 p.m - Shower off and relax, then head back to the floating night market. Book a night river cruise on a pencil-thin personal long-tail boat ($20.32 per group for a one-hour tour) or join other visitors on a large barge ($2.03 per person for a one-hour tour).
6:30 p.m - Before embarking on your river journey, sit down for dinner with the locals at Baan Thong Boran Restaurant. Order hearty seafood dishes served with “naam jim talay”, a spicy green chilli dip made with potent birds eye chillies. A live band led by Uncle Zun, the restaurant’s owner, plays popular Thai and Western hits from the sixties and seventies that will have you thinking you’re stuck in a time-warp. Order “Tom Yam Pla Too”, a spicy Thai soup made with mackerel, and “Mee Grop”, crispy rice vermicelli served with juicy prawns.
8 p.m - Grab a drink from one of the vintage-style mom and pop convenience stores along the canal and board your chosen vessel. Lean back and listen to the cicadas. Your trip will take you along the canal and out to the Mae Klong River to watch fireflies sparkling on mulberry trees along the banks of the river, making it seem as though each tree is strewn with festive fairy lights.
10 a.m. - After a leisurely breakfast, ask hotel staff to arrange for transport to Don Hoi Lot or “Razor clam” sandbar at the mouth of the Mae Klong river, famous for its shell population and mangrove trees. Nearby, Chu Chi village is packed on weekends with sea food restaurants. Watch as fishermen slide their wooden boards on the mud flats to catch local razor clams.
1 p.m. - Just off Lat Ekachai road lies a monument dedicated to Chang and Eng, conjoined twins of Chinese descent who were born in this province in 1811 and gave rise to the term “Siamese Twins.” After leaving Thailand to exhibit themselves in a world tour, the twins finally settled in North Carolina in the U.S. where they married and fathered a total of 21 children.
3 p.m - Get a foot massage at Tanasin Thai Massage at the Amphawa floating market. Let your stress float away with the water while you are massaged on a boat. Prices start at $33.86 for a one and a half hour massage.
4:30 p.m - See the afternoon in with a late lunch at Pawat Som Tam Kai Yang. If the giant plastic red chicken outside the restaurant doesn’t catch your attention, the smell coming off the grills will. River fish, grilled chicken and shellfish are what you’ll see Thais ordering in addition to the sizzling clay plates of garlic and butter clams. Don’t let the food distract you and check out the drinks served in traditional silver bowls.
5:30 p.m - Before heading back to the city, load up on souvenirs at “Hing Hoy Amphawa”. Add to your shopping bag some fish crackers and Thai toffees that will be sure to tempt friends and loved-ones back home. (www.facebook.com/hinghoyamphawashop). ($1 = 29.5300 Thai baht)
Editing by Elaine Lies