While in Bangkok on a visa run in 2011, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel around this bustling city while waiting on a South Korean work visa. My school paid for the flights and hotel, and the rest was on me. Pretty sweet deal, I know, but I was away from Justin, and that means things just aren’t as exciting. I wanted to have a good time… But how am I supposed to have fun without my P.I.C (partner in crime), my other half, my bestie? We spent every night chatting over looooong Skype conversation (Thank heavens for unlimited internet), but during the daytime Justin had to work, and I was free to get out and explore a bit of this crazy city in Thailand.
View from my hotel room
Breakfast buffet at the hotel
What should I do today…??
I asked a friendly man in the hotel lobby where I could find some tours, and he said that he could take me sightseeing. I was a little apprehensive at first, but he seemed genuinely kind at heart and he also worked for the hotel. There were a couple other people looking for a tour too, so I was in luck because we were able to each pay a little less! Turns out that my tour guide was the most talkative and sweet guide I could have ever asked for.
We got in his private car and drove about 105 km (65 miles) away from the hotel in Bangkok to the Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi Province. I had no idea we needed to go that far but considering that our guide was so amazing, the time flew by as we chatted away about living in Thailand. I learnt a lot about life for the locals here. He worked at the hotel, did private tours, and helped his wife sell street food in the evenings. This man worked almost 15 hours a day and he had the biggest smile on his face as he spoke about his life – What an inspiring person!
On a river boat ~ Enjoying a fresh coconut.
On the way to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, many tourists stop at Samut Songkhram to see how the locals make the coconut sugar which is one of the most popular products of the province. The freshly made coconut sugar is like rich caramel with a strong pleasurable aroma. This rich creamy flavour and amazing smell enhances most kinds of Thai sweets and curries.
We didn’t have to go too far to get the Coconut Sugar Farm, and the journey was very pleasant. Along the sides of the river were local villages, featuring many wooden houses on stilts. There were hardly any other boats, so the area was quiet and peaceful.
In some districts of Samut Songkhram where coconut plantations have been grown, the locals have made their living out of the coconut sugar. At night they hang up a bamboo tube, and the sap that comes from the cut coconut flower bud drips into the tube. Villagers wake up early in the morning to collect the water sap on each tree. They then boil the sap in huge open containers until it becomes a sticky yellow sugar.
While the sticky liquid is still hot, they will pour it in a small cup and wait until it cools and becomes solid. The colours of the coconut sugar will vary from light to dark caramel brown, and its sweetness may differ from batch to batch too.
Flower sap is boiled until it becomes paste, then formed into balls.
The coconut sugar is sold in a cake-like shape, and the price is about 30 baht/kg.
Nowadays the processed sugar made from sugarcane, like refined sugar, has replaced the traditional all-natural coconut sugar. This is largely because the process of making coconut sugar requires manual labour and teamwork.
Wastage is of a minimal here as the husk is burned using the unused parts of the coconut tree. We learned not only how to make sugar out of coconut flowers, but also how to re-use the coconut shell as well as other parts of the coconut to make interesting lotions, perfumes, soups, candles, lamps, and a variety of other things. The locals here are very creative and resourceful.
I got to taste some of the coconut sugar.
It was delicious!
Now that the younger generation is sent to schools or to work in factories, only old folk are able to stay in their hometowns and make coconut sugar for a living. The production of coconut sugar has therefore declined because this kind of work, which includes climbing trees and stirring thick caramel in a large pan for a half day, requires a lot of physical strength.
Another reason why this kind of sugar-making is not more popular is because you have to cut the whole flower just to get a little sap, and a cut flower can’t produce any coconuts. You can make more money selling coconuts, and you don’t have to process them. Only a few places make sugar out of coconut flower sap, so therefore, it stays a novelty.
Seeing as so many tourists pass through this Coconut Sugar Farm, there are the usual Thailand souvenirs also on sale here too. Carved statues, wooden elephants, paintings, fans, clothes, and numerous other things to grab your attention before you head back onto the river and towards the floating market.
This is an interesting place to visit if you are in Bangkok. It’s worth the longish drive to get there, and most tour companies will combine this stop with a floating market tour, and a couple other activities.
Stay tuned for a Floating Market update soon.
How to get there:
Take a bus from the Southern Bus terminal
(+66 (0)2 434 5557-8)
to Samut Sangkhram Ratchaburi province,
80 km southwest of Bangkok.
You can then walk along the passageway to the market,
Or take a boat to the market pier.
7am – 11pm (everyday)