Saturday, 30 July 2011

Amphawa: just magic

A while back I did a post about the Mahachai-Mae Klong-Amphawa route - a fantastic little day trip out of Bangkok, with trains, a railway market, boats, and canals. I didn't get to spend much time in Amphawa that time round, and my camera gave out before I got there, so I've been wanting to go back and do it properly for ages. And last week I did.


Everything about Amphawa is delightful. It's a tiny village with a wide canal as its main thoroughfare, crossed by an ever-busy bridge that joins two halves of the market, which spills over both banks. Boats selling fruit and fresh seafood, as well as ones carrying tourists off on adventures, go up and down the canal. There are gorgeous guesthouses and homestays, and firefly-watching boat trips at night. The bankside market sells traditional sweets, retro-kitsch souvenirs, and a whole bunch of (tastefully!) cute stuff from independent artisans and designers. There's a definite tourist vibe, but it's geared towards Thai rather than farang visitors, and there's a real sense that it's a community project - no big corporations, no same-same tacky market tat; a lot of the small businesses have adopted firefly motifs as a kind of unofficial town logo, and the drinks vendors even sell 'Amphawa'-branded bottled water.

An amble through the market yields up all sorts of things you didn't know you needed, plus a good few gifts for friends and relatives. And sweets. Lots of sweets. I have a particular weakness for 'golden' sweets - thong-yip, foi-thong, etc - and guess what was the very first stall was selling?

Not just foi-thong; foi-thong in ceramic boats. With a paddle for cutlery. Place could not be more charming if it was shaped like a kitten and knew how to waltz.

... and a few stalls further in was one selling some very pretty thong-ek, with dabs of gold leaf on them. This is the market's tragic flaw: there's so much delicious food being sold in it that you risk filling up before you reach the canal, and you really should eat at the canal. Restaurants are set up on steep waterside steps, with miniature stools and benches acting as chairs and tables. Below are rows of moored boats with their noses nuzzling together; each boat a little kitchen specialising in one or two dishes - some do grilled prawns, squid, crab, or scallops, others do pad thai or som tam. These get passed up the crowded steps to the tables, money passed down. It's worth doing this just for the experience of eating in what is essentially a 30-capacity restuarant crammed onto a set of canal steps (it's cosy!); the hot delicious freshness of the food is a wonderful bonus.


The one thing I was really sad to miss on my last visit was the temple, which got a mention in my guidebook for its murals - and I love me some murals. So I was excited to check them out this time. Wat Amphawan Chetirayam dates from the early Rattanakosin period. Formerly the residential palace of Queen Amarindaramas (wife of Rama I), and the birthplace of Rama II, it was later renovated by the Queen into a temple in memory of her mother. The murals are a mix between scenes from literature, from daily life, and from royal ceremonies. And they're stunning. I took more photos than I'll ever know what to do with - these are just a few of my favourites:

Behind the Buddha image is Rattanakosin Island, bursting with detail.

A royal funeral procession. As this was painted some time in the first two reigns, this is very possibly the first ever royal funeral, that of Rama I's father, for which these golden chariots (that are still used today; you can see them in the National Museum) were built. Amazing.

Krai Tong, hero from folklore, diving down with his magic spear, cloth, and candle to defeat the Crocodile King Chalawan.

Detail from one of the courtly-life scenes. A lady and her maid, presumably, but looking rather excellently sapphic.

I can't recommend this place enough. It's far enough away from the city to feel like a proper break, but close enough to do in a day - or an evening, if you drive. Or a weekend, which I'd love to try. (there'll just have to be a third post in this series!) For the full day's adventure, get the train from Wongwien Yai to Mahachai, then a ferry across the river and another train to Mae Klong (and check out the railway market), and a songtaew to Amphawa (all this is described in this post). There are also buses to and from the city.

45 comments:

  1. Aww maaan, now I want to go back!

    <3 the sapphic mural.

    ReplyDelete
  2. One can also enjoy the fun of cycling here. Bangkok is really a nice place for spending holidays.


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  3. That canal picture is beautiful... and oh god the seafood. I haven't had good Asian seafood in AGES.

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  4. OMG, this food looks so yummy. Thanks for sharing the photos and feel free to drop by me too, soon.

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  5. amazing! good info, thank you very much. I am going to be here on sunday and read alot of reviews and this was very good.

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