Going gaga in Bangkok’s Chatuchak!
SUCCULENTOPHILE - Kevin G. Belmonte () - July 29, 2006 - 12:00am
(Part 1)
We had been talking about an overseas trip for the Cactus and Succulent Society of the Philippines membership for a very long time now. Finally, about two months ago, we decided to just do it! This was our first overseas society trip in our 27-year history, and what better place to visit than Bangkok, Thailand, where master growers have figured out how to raise many of the most beautiful cacti and succulents in the world, particularly the amazing things they’ve been able to do with the genus astrophytum, a group which includes the famous Bishop’s Cap, Sand Dollar, and Goat’s Horn Cactus. Our trip was all of five nights and five days, from July 11 to 16. Needless to say, it was a most memorable experience, with the usual ups and downs along the way…but definitely mostly ups!

Now, one would seem to think that the weather and climate in Thailand is just like our country’s, so we should really do well with these plants, too. But there are some differences that have a significant impact. While hot and tropical just like Metro Manila, Bangkok’s humidity levels are lower. When we were there, Manila’s humidity was over 90 percent while Bangkok’s was around 70 percent. While Thailand also has monsoon rains, the drenches don’t last quite as long nor as continuously overpowering as they do over here. And the kingdom doesn’t experience typhoons. All these add to a clime suitable to raising cacti and succulents more easily.

Today’s article features the first part of the society’s trip, to the world-famous Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok. According to Bangkok.Sawadee.com, "It would be no exaggeration to say that hardly anyone, especially in Bangkok, doesn’t know Chatuchak Market. This is the world’s biggest weekend market selling practically everything under the sun, from the smallest nails, to foods, trendy fashions, antiques, intricate wooden carvings, masks from far-off lands, adorable fluffy dogs, colorful fish of every hue and singing birds. You can find all this and more at amazing Chatuchak Market. There are almost 9,000 individual booths overflowing with every imaginable type of wares to catch your fancy. Once inside the market, you will be caught up in a world of bursting crowds and stalls stretching as far as the eye can see." And Wednesdays and Thursdays are special plant days, where many of the best growers across Thailand come to sell their horticulture wonders.

I was particularly pleased that we had a nice turnout of members for this trip abroad. Unfortunately, our esteemed vice president Dory Bernabe was suddenly taken ill the day we were to depart on July 11 and did not join us for the trip, but the society was very well-represented.

Besides myself and Rose Anne (a non-member, by the way, with a somewhat limited appreciation for plants at this time), the members who made it were Cora and Anna Purificacion, who own Purificacion Orchids (the largest ornamental growers in the country); Serapion Metilla, who is the co-founder of the society; Mely Sibayan, our immediate past president; Becky Buenaventura, who was our point person for organizing this great adventure; Judy Udquian (who had her sister and friend with her, too); Jeff Patiag, who is our young agave lover (among other things); Cathy King (our trendsetting member); and the ever-strong, ever-durable duo of Siony Fajardo and Linda Khitri, who both never cease to amaze me and Rose Anne. They were by far the strongest among all of us. Siony’s daughter Janet, Linda’s daughter Glo, and Mely’s cousin from the US, Elena Novicio, rounded out the group.

Bright and early that Wednesday morning, we all met up at the lobby of the Arnoma Hotel right at the heart of some of the best shopping in all of Bangkok. From there, we decided to take the MRT from Chit Lom to Chatuchak Park, then a one-stop subway trip to the market itself. Getting to the market was an interesting experience in itself.

As you can see from some of the photos, Chatuchak on a Wednesday is nowhere near the madness during the weekend, when one can hardly cross the street and passageways without bumping into someone else (note, most of the society members were back in force on Saturday anyway, but this time they were looking for bargains outside the plant world). Besides the plant sellers, only a very few other stall operators are open on a Wednesday.

Our first stop was to the "shop" (literally a makeshift shop right along the shop roads) of possibly the biggest grower and trader of cacti and succulents in Bangkok, Somphop. It specializes in rare Mexican genera like ariocarpus, pelecyphora, epithelanthas, turbinicarpus, rare euphorbias, and, of course, astrophytums. Many of his plants that day were bare- root and simply wrapped in newspaper to facilitate transportation. I spent most of my time at Somphop’s shop, but the others wandered all over Plant Row.

I didn’t see many of the members anymore that morning as they were "lost" in wonderland. I can tell you about the few I bumped into. I know Siony and Rose Anne were busy admiring the various marcotted fruit trees, from makopa, tangerine, chico and those huge and sweet Bangkok atis. We are particularly very fond of tangerine, which is served as orange juice in the various hotels: for me and Rose Anne, simply the best in the world. Siony also admired the beautiful varieties of adeniums with their different colored flowers and forms. And Becky was to be seen taking a rest from the heat (it was hot, but not too humid) in one of the shops where she temptingly appreciated some nice hybrids and forms of Haworthia truncata and maughanii as well as a host of discocacti, which are natives of the South American sub-tropics. I saw Mett looking at some ornamentals and I know Jeff was out looking for rare agaves.

Some of us headed back to our hotels at midday, but the rest stayed at the market and finished things off at the massive fruit establishment nearby. All in all, it was a wonderful day well-spent at Chatuchak.

In between plant trips, most of the membership also toured the city, visited a bunch of temples, and excursioned at the Bangkok Safari. But probably the most memorable non-plant event was a visit to Siam Niramit, a newly established world-class cultural and historical extravaganza on Thailand, with a production set and performance rivaling some of the best Broadway and West End plays. For those who have been to the big showfest in Phuket, the Siam Niramit may even be better. A fabulous buffet dinner comes with your ticket, and I can tell you that I had the best coconut milk and sago dessert I have ever had over there. Rose Anne can attest to that.

In my upcoming articles, I will feature the various cacti and succulent nurseries we visited on this trip, including Somphop’s huge nursery in the Bangkok suburbs. I personally enjoyed those nursery visits even more than Chatuchak!
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E-mail the author at succulentophile@yahoo.com

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