river Chao Phraya in Bangkok, Thailand is a total hub of
commercial activity. The activities range from ferry, water
taxi, dinner cruises, barges, to long tail boats. From my
hotel window I could see virtually thousands of persons
crossing the river everyday.
The Thai people seemingly love to live in and around the
water in houses sitting on stilts. We took the long-tail
boat up the canals to visit the floating market, to get
a better understanding of what form commerce takes for the
average Thai villager, and to see what it must mean to live
on the water.
Donned in orange life jackets, and sitting flat bottomed
in the narrow boat, two to a seat, and oh so close to the
water, the experience was sometimes scary as the water was
The villagers advertised live cobra shows, and could be
seen up to their chests in the dark muddy water, fishing
for food, washing their hands, and preparing meals.
In the floating market, you could get a hot lunch of fried
plantain, fish and green bananas from off any number of
boats, and bargain for Thai silk, a jade Buddha, or teak
Its a different culture, far removed from the ways
of the west. Here the Thai people barter and bargain for
a living and probably work until they die, on the side of
the water. Never a thought about long-term hospital care,
pension plans or bank accounts.
One US dollar exchanges for about 3300 Thai Bahts, and the
Tuk Tuk, or local transport contraption in town, determines
fare according to the customer. It was so difficult to establish
an average price for anything.
We paid 150 Bahts for a five-minute drive back to the hotel
in the Tuk Tuk, one evening, but we saw four school girls
bargain with the Tuk Tuk driver to take them home for a
mere five Bahts, the next evening.
The local market near one of the Temple ruins, not far from
the summer Palace of the King Rama IX, was teeming with
local vendors selling fish in every conceivable form, from
fresh to salted to smoked. The Roti pancake was a colourful
novelty that none of us felt comfortable to taste in that
environment, but this was where the locals shopped.
There was also an abundance of exotic fruit: mangosteen,
lychee, rambutan, dragon fruit, longana lychee-like
fruit. Fruit and fish are cheap, and the Thai people are
The economy suffered a massive recession in 1997 with the
devaluation of the Thai Baht. Thousands lost their jobs,
many financial companies and banks closed their doors and
the suicide rate was very high, but the focus shifted to
tourism, and the economy is now a bustle.
In fact, Thailand is now ranked as a newly industrialised
country, and the ISO bill boards along the highway shout
out 9001 certified for miles upon miles. The IMF was largely
instrumental in the recovery.
The simpler lifestyle we are witness to, is really the reflection
of the middle class reverting to a simplicity. Important
too was the social order campaign that feverishly suppressed
illegal drugs, adult shows, and revealing clothing, enforced
by a regime determined to recover.