Biking Through Coconut Groves and Floating Markets

All three of us agree that our day of biking through the coconut groves was THE start-to-finish best day of the trip. I know that for me, it was a day where I felt in the moment, really experiencing the adventure. That is in large part due to our guide Woody who poured his heart into making the day wonderful for us and to all of the folks he introduced us to along the way who shared their livelihoods and snippets of their lives with us. We are grateful.

The day started with a paddle boat ride through the canals of the coconut plantation. Woody is hiding behind Joel in the photo and the gracious paddle boat driver is in the rear.

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When we could stop chatting for bits of time, the ride was silent since there was no motor and we were far away from the city.

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In the photo above as well as those below, you’ll see spirit houses. These are outside every home and business, inviting the spirits of the earth and unseen world to support the home and family in that space.

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At one stop we learned how coconut sap is collected and turned into palm sugar. The ends of the stalks are gathered together once the coconuts are removed and the sticky sap that drips from the ends are caught in containers.

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The liquid is boiled and then simmered over a hot fire,

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stirred while it cools,

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and poured into big buckets for transporting to various locales to sell.

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A view of the full palm sugar kitchen.

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Somewhere in there the plantation owners chopped a few coconuts to prepare us a coconut milk drink.

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We also scraped out the coconut meat – sort of slimy, chewy and slightly sweet.

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Of course all of this requires that the workers climb high into the trees on simple ladders.

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We biked onward to a later phase in a coconut’s life when they’re brown and dried. The women here are using machetes to skillfully break the nut apart, separating the milk from the meat and tossing the hard shells and hairy chunks into separate piles. The uses of all of these parts are impressive – coconut oils and milk of course, but also in mattresses, mats, brushes, and charcoal.

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The group of women working their machetes.

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Alex feeling the power.

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Back on our bikes, we headed further into the groves and stopped alongside a group of men harvesting the coconuts by knocking them out of the trees with long sticks and then lugging them across the canals on a tightrope-esque branch.

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They are then loaded on a truck and carted off to their processing destinations.

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This ‘lugging’ was no easy task. Alex and I together could barely lift one of the bundles.

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Onward once again, we continued our trek through the groves. So peaceful and beautiful.

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Not only coconuts, but bananas too.

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A little break.

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As mentioned, this was a coconut grove and floating market bike ride. Our first market was Aduak where the shops are boats and customers walk on the cement sidewalks alongside them to shop.

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Me buying some fruit for a snack.

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Traffic jam.

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Moving along, we biked to a restaurant hidden in the groves and enjoyed yet another Thai meal cooked to perfection.

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Joel relaxing at the table with the fishery that provided our seafood in the background across the Mae Khlong River.

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Relaxing a bit before we hopped back on our bikes in the midday heat.

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I was tickled to see a real poinsettia flower growing out and about.

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Temples are everywhere in Thailand, even in the remote corners of coconut groves. What surprised us though was this stop at Wat Bang Kung – the Banyan Tree Temple. This ancient structure has been engulfed by a nearby banyan tree and is simply breathtaking.

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No windows or doors that close provide great views of the Buddha altar.

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Inside is equally impressive with ancient paintings on the wall coupled with current fabrics and gold.

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People come from all over for worship here, leaving their intentions with pieces of gold paper that get stuck to the statues making them seem alive amid this dusty, dirt-floored sacred space.

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The sacred comes in all forms. Outside Alex and Joel played a little with the cut out warriors.

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And I tried my hand at a ancient game of luck where a canister of long sticks is shaken until one or more falls out. Whatever number is on that particular stick, is your lucky, blessed number. I got 17. I think I should play the lottery, yes?

Onward to Amphawa, our second floating market of the day.

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This one was all about the food for us. The smells and sights were fantastic. A bit different from the deep-fried elephant ears and corn dogs that grace American festivals.

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We tried a few new things to cross off our bucket list – squid eggs and deep fried crabs. Very crunchy.

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This floating market had full-fledged boat restaurants that pulled up right next to the benches where customers sat. Servers hustled up and down the stairs to place and fill orders. We didn’t indulge, but so enjoyed the concept and watching.

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A couple of close ups of the boat kitchens.

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Sprinkled among the food vendors were lotto stands. Had I been able to decipher the language and system, I might have tried out my new lucky number 17, but alas.

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Switching gears a bit, on our drive out of Bangkok to get to the rural locale where we biked, we got a lesson in how sea salt is made. The fields of settling ponds capture ocean water and upon evaporation reveal the salty goodness. You can see it beginning to be seen in the middle photo (white edges along the water) and then the long strips of salt piles in the final photo.

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Then workers scoop up the salt and load it into bags to transport.

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A close up.

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All around a perfect day. And here’s the deal…I open a LOT of cans of coconut milk and scrape a fair amount of palm sugar in my cooking life. And I shake even more sea salt into my dishes. I will never use any of those ingredients again without extending love and gratitude to the people who work so hard to bring them to my grocery shelves.  Amen!

Thanks to Woody, Plain, and Big Eddy and all of their friends at Grasshopper Adventures for a wonderful day!

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Regina Leffers McCaleb, Ph.D.

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