The air was still and thick, leafy plants floating quickly on the current down the river, the water turning from gray to orange as the sun rose in a blur. Every now and then the sound of sandals flopping on tile walkways as the locals began their day, sweeping as if to stir up breezes in the heavy dawn, lighting incense at the spirit houses that watch over every Thai household. We waited on the dock and watched for the arrival of the monk.
Every morning in this quiet area about 90 minutes southwest of Bangkok, a monk paddles down the narrow river to collect offerings from residents. "We give every day to remind us of the importance of giving, and to remind us to not be concerned with material things," my guide tells me.
All photos by Paige Conner Totaro of AllOverTheMap.net
There's an order to the offering ritual. First you spoon the rice into a pot. Then the monk closes the pot. You give him a plate of food for him to take to the temple. Then you pour water into a bowl while thinking of someone who is dead. And finally, you hand the monk fresh flowers, to decorate the temple.
Preparing an early morning offering to a monk paddling down the river.
It was a special moment, to be sure, watching this very quiet, private ritual in a residential area outside of Bangkok -- a moment our guides had arranged for us on a tour designed to show us daily life in Thailand. We were guests on a trip to showcase a new travel option in Thailand: campervan rentals.
Now, I have rented campervans in New Zealand and Hawaii for family trips, and I'm a big fan. We've even got one in our blog's logo . But I had never heard of renting one in Thailand. And there's a good reason for that: they are brand new to the country. Campervan Thailand is the first company to bring modern luxury campervans to Thailand.
Being the first brings challenges: there is no infrastructure for RVs in Thailand -- no RV parks ready with power and water hookups, or wifi, or washing machines. Campervan Thailand addressed this by making arrangements with small hotels and guest houses throughout the country where you can pay a small fee to park overnight and use their facilities.
You can either choose to drive yourself, or you can hire a driver for your trip. In either case, the company works with you to develop an itinerary so you can find the Thailand experience you're after.
Thai arts and culture
Thailand has an incredibly rich cultural heritage, and a strong tradition of creativity and artisanship. There is so much to see and learn about there that it can sometimes be overwhelming. Fortunately for tourists, there is also a strong tradition of education and preservation of traditions.
We visited Wat Khanon, a UNESCO Heritage Site, for a shadow puppet performance, and strolled through the beautiful grounds to a museum illustrating the history of nang yai from the 1300's to today.
Shadow puppet performance at Wat Khanon
We visited a pottery factory in Ratchburi, where traditional Thai water pots are made and decorated by hand.
We rode bikes through a fruit orchard where we watched an artisan carve coconut shells into elaborate musical instruments, and we were treated to an impromptu musical performance while we snacked on fruits from the orchard.
Thai markets and food
And on the subject of snacks...there is no better introduction to a culture than through its food traditions. In every city in Thailand, there's a market where Thai people do their daily shopping and socializing. In Photaram, the egg seller smiles, the fishmonger hacks the live fish, the fruit seller offers a taste of some fruits I've never seen, and every interaction starts with the rising and falling vocal wave of the Thai greeting, "Sawatdee kah!"
You also see truly unique things, like Mae Klong market, a large open air market notable for the fact that, several times a day, a train runs through the middle of the market, forcing vendors to quickly and efficiently move their wares off of the tracks. As soon as the train passes, the vendors drag everything back to where it was and continue as before.
Get to know the people
My favorite activities when traveling are almost always those that are not planned. When my van-mate turned in early one night, I joined our guides for beer, dirty jokes (with awkwardly hilarious translations), and lots of laughs in the relative cool of the evening.
And then, the next morning, Pat, one of our guides (and one of my drinking buddies), pulled me away from the group for a hangover cure at the market -- a steaming bowl of savory congee porridge, consumed, as is the custom, at a folding table on the sidewalk, perched on a colorful plastic stool.
Whatever your interests, you can probably find it somewhere in Thailand.
You probably already know about the beaches and islands, the temples and history, but if you want to go deeper and visit with the people of Thailand and experience daily life, you might want to try this brave new world and explore Thailand by campervan. You can read more about the logistics of renting one from our friends at Tieland to Thailand and Paper Planes, expat bloggers who live in Chiang Mai, who were also on the trip with me.