Thailand is a country of glittering temples.  They’re everywhere – in vast complexes, down non-descript alleys.   You can’t throw a cell phone without hitting a temple.  (But why are you throwing cell phones in Thailand?!!)  Most of these structures are pretty darn marvelous.  I love Thai temples!   Not surprisingly, when I first heard about the Phra Pathom Chedi stupa in Nakhon Pathom, about an hour west of Bangkok, I figured this is the place for me. The tallest stupa in the world, it boasts a spire reaching over 120 meters (400 feet) and a base circumference of 235 meters (770 feet).

That’s a big stupa.

(Side note:  stupas are basically burial structures, often housing some portion of the Buddha’s body.  Think fingernail clippings.)

The actual experience of visiting Phra Pathom Chedi, however, was kind of disappointing.  It’s big, it’s brown. You can’t go inside.   I’d say, give it a miss if you’re on a tight schedule.  It’s not a show stopper.

What makes the town of Nakhon Pathom special (in my book) is the secret dessert you find in the market stalls on the way to the stupa.  It’s a treat called Khao Lam and it’s marvelous.

My wife and I stumbled upon this secret delicacy when we saw a line of people lining up to buy bamboo tubes.  “Are they all building something?  A bamboo fence perhaps? Is this a convention of builders?”

Building hunger, perhaps!

Figuring the locals must know something, we get in line and pay a buck or two for our bamboo tubes.  Upon cracking them open, we’re greeted by a delicious mixture of uncooked sticky rice, sugar, coconut milk and salt — sealed, boiled, then grilled in charcoal.  It’s absolutely delicious, made even more so by the surprise of it all.  Is this why pandas like bamboo so much?  Is all bamboo stuffed with sticky rice?

Thinking about Khao Lam makes me a happy panda.  When traveling, t’s great to have a specific destination in mind, but so often the discoveries along the way are even more amazing.  Don’t be afraid to scrap your plans, open your eyes and take note of what’s right there in front of you.

Surprise desserts are a WOW in my book.