Thailand: From the eyes of a young explorer
Hot Soup Challenge Winner’s Trip
As told to ASIAN Geographic by Bryan Siew, Elijah Choo, Chan Kai En and Yong Khee Hou (Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore)
Six months ago, we were neck deep in the ASIAN Geographic Hot Soup Challenge 2017, pitting our knowledge of Asia against other secondary school contestants for a shot at being crowned champion of general knowledge on the region. Late October saw us triumphantly bundled up for a flight to Bangkok – almost vibrating with excitement – as part of the victor’s winnings: a specially organised educational adventure into the Land of a Thousand Smiles.
It makes sense that the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) knows best the charms the country has to offer, and we were so eager to discover what they had planned in store for us that our flight couldn’t pass fast enough!
At the airport, we were received by TAT Singapore Office representative Nicholas and our guide, Ms Khun Cha. They swept us into a coach and straight to the doorstep of the Sampran Riverside Hotel, where staff waited with welcomingly chilled honey-lime drinks.
Our first taste of Thai food went down a treat: we each ate four servings each from the hotel’s spread of sumptuous Thai delights. Then with groaning stomachs, we traipsed next door to the Thai Cultural Centre for some after-lunch entertainment.
After sculpting some clay elephants, we watched, transfixed, as performers enacted a traditional Thai wedding, complete with instrumental accompaniment and an intricate bamboo pole dance. The skill and dexterity on display was stunning. Yet secretly, we worried for the performers, who were in death’s jaws if anything went wrong! By the end of the piece we deeply respected their dedication to the craft.
As a last goodbye, we bought bundles to sugarcane to feed the elephants, and got an up-close view of the giant pachyderms’ chewing mouths.
A quick trek later, the hotel’s pier swam into view. We donned life vests and boots and waded through the ankle-deep water to a canoe tethered out in the river. With a cargo of 11 (including our two guides), the canoe rocked violently as we desperately attempted to keep our balance, and we wobbled off.
Crossing serene waterways, we arrived at the Sookjai farm, which produces 25 percent of the ingredients used in the hotel’s meals. For this initiative, Sampran Riverside was awarded the International Federation of Agricultural Movements certification for providing pesticide-free food for visitors and boosting the income of local farmers.
Strolling through the vegetable beds, paddy fields and crop rows, our guides pointed out galangal ginger, lemon grass, and other medicinal plants. For a snack, we got to sample the produce grown straight beneath our feet via a selection of fruit desserts and herbal teas.
The following morning found us photographing an iconic Thai sight: the picturesque floating market of Damnoen Saduak, where we browsed through boats of local produce and handicrafts. Floating markets are a key part of Thai culture, as many people earn a livelihood setting up shop on the canal. With its narrow waterways and bustling shops, the market was a hive of activity, and despite our just-eaten breakfast, the coconut ice cream, sticky rice and noodle soup looked too good to ignore.
After the market came the Khao Bin caves, an intricate set of geological passages in Ratchaburi. Worming our way into eight cave chambers revealed magnificent columns of stalagmites and stalactites protruding from the ceilings and floors. These, formed by mineral compounds and cave-dwelling bacteria, resembled gods, elephants, eagles and snakes.
In the evening, we were treated to a play in the theatre of Asiatique The Riverfront. Performers silently mimed the history of Muay Thai, followed by the highlight of our day – a live Muay Thai match. Similar to Kung Fu, Muay Thai was created to protect one’s loved ones, show respect to elders, and uphold the country’s honour. We found these concepts beautiful and profound, as opposed to our original impression of boxing as a rough and confrontational sport. The boxers’ skill and elegance made for quite a spectacle.
The third day brought with it a new wave of cultural sights. We strolled through the sprawling grounds of the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, with its intricate Baroque and Renaissance-style architecture, inspired by King Rama V’s visit to Europe. The King’s robes and throne were on display in a relic room, alongside exquisite drawings and furniture. As we ogled at the splendor on show, our guide explained the history of the Thai royal lineage and various gods, such as Naga and Garuda.
Last, we popped into various temples in Ayutthaya to see the iconic Buddha statues in their four poses: sitting, standing, walking and reclining. Parts of these were either stolen during wars or washed away during floods, and could not be recovered, requiring the government to reinstall new heads on several statues.
On our final day, we visited Madame Tussauds wax museum to see iconic figures and enjoyed making crazy poses beside them. Then we feasted on a last hurrah of pad thai and Thai iced tea before reluctantly heading home, hearts and tummies full of Thailand and her beautiful sights, smells and tastes.
Our warm thanks to the Tourism Authority of Thailand Singapore Office for their generous sponsorship of this trip.
For more on Asian Geographic Hot Soup Challenge 2018, visit https://www.asiangeo.com/hot-soup-school-challenge/.