วันจันทร์ที่ 15 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2553

Amphawa Floating Market

Amphawa Floating Market is an old community that still retains its age-old tradition. For genera­tions, the community has been known for the abundance of deli­cious fruits. More importantly, it is the birthplace of King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai and two queens, namely Somdej Phra Amarindramatya, the royal con­sort of King Rama I, and Queen Somdej Phra Sri Suriyendramatya, the royal consort of King Rama II. Other celebrated sons from Amphawa include famous poets like Luang Pradit Pairoh and Khru Euar Soonthornsanan.

As the sun sinks, scores of boats head for Amphawa Canal, each laden with merchandises for sale in Thailand's only evening floating market. This is a familiar weekend scene on the Mae Khlong River in Amphawa district, a smalldistrict in Samut Songkram where villagers still live in age-old communities, and make a living in farming, and growing fruits. The sight of wooden houses at the canal's embankments, and paddling boat vendors evoke memories of another time when riverside trading in a floating market, was thriving and vibrant.

"Deep-fried mussels, anyone?" The call of a vendor from a distant boat caught my attention. She was a plumb, dark-complex­ioned vendor in her 40s and her forehead was beaded with perspiration. Yet, she handled the oar expertly and with ease. Further on was a boat laden with a colorful assortment of fruits - green and yellow bananas, lychees and white pomelos. Across from these boats were those ready to feed the hungry with their choice of favorite dishes including fermented rice noodles, stir-fried Thai noodles, grilled lobsters, and barbequed squid.
Old wooden houses line both sides of the waterfront. Some operate as guesthouses; others are shop houses that sell a hopscotch of things such as traditional coffee, hand-made souvenirs, postcards, picture clips, and notebooks and one of the most popular shirts silk-screened with 'Amphawa' logo. However, the most favorite buy is the age-old traditional desserts, which date back to the days of King Rama II. Among the most delectable, are Rayrai, hrume, thong­aek, cha-mongkut and sanehchandr all of which taste as good as they look and would please many a sweet tooth.
By the time you think you have taken in all of the scenery and the food that Amphawa offers, it is dusk, and it is time to ride a boat to watch the fireflies. Through the expanse of the waterways of Amphawa, the boats steered slowly. A cool and refreshing breeze brushed against me bringing with it the sweet scent of Mae Khlong and I took deep breaths of the fresh air.
The boat followed the curves and bends of the small canals, passing temples and houses, one community after another. As it approached a grove of Lamphu trees (Sonneratias), the boat stopped. A voice then whispered: "See the tree over there?" We followed the direction of his
• finger to the Lamphu trees ahead and saw flashes of light from the fireflies, reminding us of flashing lights of a Christmas tree.
"Are they fireflies? Where are they coming from?" a small girl asked her grandma. And before she could answer, the young guide explained:
"Fireflies make their home in Lamphu trees where they lay their eggs. As soon as they die, the young fireflies leave their cocoons. Therefore, poaching Lamphu trees is like cutting short their life cycle. That's why we see fewer fireflies these days".
I remembered that as a child, I saw a lot of fireflies in my backyard. I even took some home in bags to show their sparkling lights to folks at home. Unfortunately, out-shined by electric neons, no one ever saw their lights and out of compassion, I returned them to nature and I forgot about them. In Thailand, Amphawa is one of the places where fireflies still thrive - thanks to the briny waters there, and the dews on the Lamphu leaves. All too soon, the boat left the groves of Lamphu trees and we were back at the Amphawa Floating Market. As the night was still young, many tourists were still up and about. The air was cool, and the lights from the houses illuminated pleasantly on the floating market. I decided to look for supper before retiring for the night.
It was dawn. Three monks in their boats were out for morning alms. Skillfully, they paddled the boats across the still waters of the Mae Khlong River. I said a prayer of offering in silence, food raised above my head. When the first monk stopped for alms, food was poured into his two-layered food carrier. Following a libation for the dead, blessings were said, the moment that called to mind the beauty and the different places I have enjoyed. Indeed, the recollection was a deep reflection that brought much inner peace.

The ubosot of Wat Bang Goong was our next destination. The very fact that the ubosot is covered by a huge banyan tree made this temple all the more interesting. Its interior is dominated by 'Luang Paw Bodh Noi', a red sandstone Buddha statue in the attitude of subduing mara cast in the tradition of the Ayutthaya Period. It also boasts of some fine wall paintings with which depicted the story of
the Buddha and his reincarnations. Unfortunately our vision was blurred by the thick veil of smoke from the numerous incense sticks.
Wat Bang Goong is said to be an old place of worship built during the Ayutthaya period at the time when the country was at war with the Burmese. King Ekadhat ordered the deployment of the navy from the south to the area. Soon, 'Bang Goong Camp' was set up and a wall was built around the temple. However, following the defeat of Ayutthaya in 1767, the camp was deserted. When King Taksin the Great made Thonburi the new capital, the Chinese were drafted as army reserves. By then, the camp was renamed 'Cheep Bang Goong Camp'. In 1996, the Department of Fine Art designated Wat Bang Goong as an ancient monument .
An hour later, we were standing in the compound of Wat Kae Noi by the Mae Khlong River in Tambon Kwae Om. The temple is noted for its interesting origin and the beautiful wooden walls inside the chapel. First built on a bamboo raft; the existing temple is the third of such buildings built on land by Phra Khru Samutdanuntakoun (Prae Nondo), the seventh abbot of the temple. The exquisite woodwork on the chapel walls was made by craftsmen from Phetchaburi. The front and back panels feature woodwork with scenes from the Buddha's Great Temptation by the Mara and the livelihood of the local people. On the left and right, the delicate wood-carved walls portray the stories of the Buddha's ten reincarna­tions. The fine woodwork was achieved through a special technique of in-laying a soft wood called Mokeman into the teakwood. Large planks of Malabar ironwood were used for the floor. The interior is dominated by a Buddha statue styled in ancient Chinese art.
Having paid our last respect to the presiding Buddha statue, we stopped by a roadside eatery for lunch before moving on to the nearby King Rama II Memorial Park which was built to commemorate the late King who was born here. Interesting features inside the King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai Memorial Park include a khon courtyard which serves as an open-air theatre, a traditional reading building and a plant corner where plants are available for purchase. Located nearby is the King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai Museum, comprising five group buildings of traditional-styled architecture. On display were artifacts along with period exhibits such as utensils from the early days of the Rattanakosin Period, ancient weapons, Buddha statues, dressing tables, mirrors, kitchen and toilets from the homes of the middle class. Next to the museum is a garden with a collection of some 140 species of plants and flowers that are commonly found in Thai literature. The area also showcased sculptures of characters from Ngoh Paa and Kraithong, the two plays written by King Rama II.With a farewell dinner at the Amphawa FloatingMarket, I ended my trip with happiness and peace.