Floating through Thailand's Cultural Past
A river-centered life was the norm throughout ancient Thailand. Klongs (canals) were dug within the cities and towns to allow for commerce and easy access to water for farm irrigation. This system was particularly suitable for the Central Plains of Thailand, the most fertile region in the country. Damnoen Saduak is the namesake of the principal canal dug in the village during King Rama IV's reign, which connected the Taachen and Mae Klong River. Presently, the village has 200 smaller canals. Even Bangkok still has remnants of its old floating market along the Mae Klong River. But with the arrival of industrialization, many of the city's canals were paved over and road vehicles replaced boats as the major means of transport. The decline of this way of life makes a visit to Damnoen Saduak all the more special, because it offers a glimpse into a place where the culture of the past is still alive.
However, the introduction of Western culture via television and the tourist trade have even had their effects on Damnoen Saduak. Some young villagers have become impressed with the material life and have decided a career in Bangkok would provide a greater sense of accomplishment than a role in the family business. Others work in Bangkok just to be able to afford certain luxury goods. But, generally speaking, Damnoem Saduak attracts enough visitors to enable most farmers to sustain themselves, and their children look forward to inheriting the family business.
Life in Damnoen Saduak revolves around the harvest seasons, as it does for most Thai farmers. April and May, the months just before the monsoon rains, start the planting season. Afterwards, Phansa, or Rains Retreat, begins. This is a three-month period in which Buddhist monks stay in the monastery and engage in intensive mediation and scriptural studies. During this time, Damnoen Saduak's young men become monks for personally-determined lengths of time so that they may receive moral and ethical training. Not only does this practice earn blessings for the young man's family, but it is considered a rite of passage into manhood. After the Phansa, in late November, the harvest is ready to be reaped.
The people of Damnoen Saduak exude a certain pride, which can be seen in the way they smile and welcome visitors as if they know they are offering something unique. And they are. Through their commitment to preserving an important aspect of Thai culture, they make a visit to their village worthwhile.
This step back into Thailand's cultural past is only a two-hour drive (110 km to the southwest) from Bangkok. If you are interested in cycling tours from Bangkok, which include a visit to Damnoen Saduak, contact the Thailand Cycling Club at 218-667-69.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication