Day #123 - A Market that Floats; Another that Folds!

We're back on the road today as we leave Bangkok and head about 240km south to the western province of Prachuap Khiri Khan, about halfway down Thailand but still in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula. Where we are staying in on the coast so it is great to see the sea again. 
We were picked up from the hotel in Bangkok by our driver for the day about 10am and we began our journey out of the city. 

One of first sights that was pointed out to us as we hit the edge of the city was the famous Mae Klong Railway Market, also known as Siang Tai (life-risking) Market - for good reason! Spreading over a 100-metre length, it is a common fresh market selling seafood, vegetable, fruits, fresh and dried food, meats and other miscellaneous goods.
The market is called life-risking market because its stalls are located either side of the Mae Klong-Ban Laem railway line, right next to the tracks. The vendors use canopies and umbrellas which protrude over the line to give themselves (and their goods) shade from the sun.  When the signal from the approaching train echoes through the bustling marketplace, a wave of controlled chaos ripples through the throngs of vendors. With practiced efficiency, parasols furl like captured butterflies, canvas shelters fold like origami dreams, and merchandise scrambles back from the imminent path of the metal leviathan. This whirlwind ballet of retraction concludes with the train's thunderous passage, followed by a gentle unfurling of stalls and a meticulous restocking of wares, restoring the market to its vibrant equilibrium. 
While we didn't stop to see this in action, we drove over the tracks at the end of the market (pic above) and Youtube provides several great videos of all this in action:
One of the reasons we didn't stop to see this market, is we were on our way to see a different kind of market en route to our new hotel. 
The market we visited was the well known floating market at Damnoen Saduak.
The area has been a trading hub for over 100 years, with vendors initially using boats to navigate the intricate network of canals. King Rama IV ordered the construction of the main canal, Khlong Damnoen Saduak, in the 19th century to connect the Mae Klong River and Chinese waterways. Today,  Damnoen Saduak is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand so to the hundreds of traders you have to add thousands of tourists which results in a vibrant and chaotic tapestry of sights, sounds, and smells.
We were very reserved and didn't buy anything - mainly because we didn't have any cash on us! 
After an hour, we jumped back into our car to continue our journey. 
One stage of our journey saw us driving past lots of coconut groves. Row upon row of coconut trees growing either side of water channels. Initially I thought these channels were a clever way of collecting the coconuts undamaged as they fell from the trees. Turns out I was partially right - the channel helps in other ways too:
Two hours after leaving the floating market, we arrived at our destination. This hotel/villa complex is where our friends Matt, Gary and Ollie have a home and they very generously arranged for us to stay. It is a place of calm serenity as each condo surrounds a shared pool and the spacious grounds help to promote a sense of stillness in which to unwind. As a bonus, it's only a five minute cycle (bicycles provided) to one of the longest and sandiest beaches we have seen on our travels. After we settled in, we enjoyed a lovely lunch before exploring the area on the bicycles. 

For our evening meal, we headed to a local restaurant run by the lovely Angel who had organised our taxi from Bangkok - a lady with a clear head for business opportunities it seems! 
Pad Thai for James and a green salad from me (I was still full from lunch). Both delicious and just £20 for both dishes and a few drinks or so. We stayed and chatted to Angel about various sightseeing trips we could do while we were in town and before we left, we had organised a few things which you'll read about in the next day or so.