Thomas Abraham is the managing director of CCH India, a publishing and information services company for tax and accounting professionals. He tells us about the “Malayali affinity” for Thailand, being surrounded by frogs, and his most memorable street food experiences. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Do you have regular haunts in Thailand, or do you do something new every time?
I’ve travelled to Thailand more than 10 times in the last 15 years. In the first few visits, I used to focus on general sightseeing, shopping and the nightlife, but recently we’ve been looking at other things to do. Two years ago, I spent a vacation in Koh Samui along with my family and friends, where we scuba-dived for the first time ever. In the future, we’d like to go back for homestays so that we can imbibe the local culture. This particular trip was a business trip where I stayed for the weekend to look around Bangkok, and got to see the Mae Klong river market and the floating market of Damnoen Saduak.
River commerce: (from left clockwise ) Stalls on boats (photograph by Sanjay Arora); food vendors along the floating market; and Abraham (photographs by Thomas Abraham)
What are those?
Damnoen Saduak is actually a canal. About 80km from Bangkok, a market forms on the canal itself—the merchandise is brought on boats and sold right out of the boat. If you want to go shopping, you have to take a boat yourself, and do all your purchases on the water. I’d read about the floating market many years earlier, and had always wanted to see it for myself, but this was the first time I got the opportunity. My hotel’s travel desk arranged transportation and a guide for me.
Before going to the floating market itself, we stopped at the Mae Klong river market. This is famous for the narrow gauge railway that runs right through the market, bringing in vendors and shoppers. It’s a food market by and large—you see seafood, meats, spices, vegetables and cooked food all around you. At one point, I was surrounded by frogs on sale.
What I ended up buying was 3kg of brown sugar made from fresh coconut sap. This sort of sugar is a delight for the Malayali palate, because coconut sap brings back the taste of toddy. After that, it was on to what I’d been waiting for years to see—Damnoen Saduak.
What did you see and buy there?
Describing the sights is difficult—it’s a sea of continuous activity, with lots happening. This market is also a food market, but there are handicrafts for sale on the canal banks too. There is a bridge across the canal that divides the floating market into two sections.
The handicraft stalls don’t see as much action as the food boats, and all my purchases were to do with food. I saw mounds of mangosteens for sale, which brought back memories of my childhood home in Kanakappalam. I’d had a heavy breakfast in the morning, but still wolfed down a kilo of mangosteen. Later on, my guide told me that the mangosteens were off-season.
I also had fresh coconut ice cream, which was served in a coconut shell with tender coconut at the bottom, and which put fancy branded ice creams to shame in both taste and price—it was only 20 baht (around Rs 30).
You’re clearly a fan of Thai food. Any memorable food experiences?
Thailand is a paradise for seafood and meat lovers, but you do need to be comfortable with the lingering smell of fish sauce in the air. The spicy shrimp soup and cashew-nut chicken shouldn’t be missed.
But what I really love about Thailand is the fruits. Apart from mangosteens and coconuts, I’m fond of the guavas and the jackfruits that are available there. As also the spicy green papaya salad.
Fruits make it to Thai desserts too—my personal favourite Thai dessert is a dish of water chestnuts, but the deep-fried banana fritters and Khao Niew Ma Muang (sticky rice with coconut cream and ripe mango) are also excellent.
Will you be going back to Thailand?
I’d love to go back to Damnoen Saduak for the divine mangosteens there, but also to spend time scuba-diving in the coral reef islands.
Getting there: There are many direct flights to Thailand from New Delhi and Mumbai. Damnoen Saduak is about 2 hours from Bangkok. Buses to the market leave from the Southern Bus Terminal every 40 minutes from 6am onwards.
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