Snarling traffic, lack of green space and oppressive heat typify the worst of Bangkok. Where can one find some weekend respite?
Try a day out on the Khlongs (canals) of old Thonburi, site of the founding of Bangkok on the west bank of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River. Metropolitan Bangkok now sprawls to the east.
Starting at Tha Tien pier, negotiations for a fair price for your longtail boat can begin at thb 1000 for two people, return. I only wanted a single journey along Khlong Mon, dropping off at an orchid farm. From there we’d go on foot to a new floating market at Wat Saphan, a couple of kilometres upriver from the city, back through the villages lined with palms and orchid gardens. We agreed on thb 500 one way.
The ubiquitous longtail boats on the Chao Phraya River carry a growling truck engine on the rear of the boat for propulsion and are loud enough to downplay the serenity of the ride. Over and above this slight hiccup, the ride offers plenty of positives.
See video at end of blog.
Speeding off across the choppy Chao Phraya River, we entered the smaller Khlong Mon on the opposite bank, lined with stilted, ramshackle wooden buidlings, that have seen one flood too many. Other dwellings, some of sculpted stone, others of nailed wooden boards, contrast alarmingly.
Life continues as it always has along the Thonburi canals. Locals wash clothes in the river, tending gardens and catering to the passing tourist traffic. Vendors selling souvenirs (with inflated prices) paddle towards you. It’s a well-worn route for the boat drivers; a mini-dilemma for passengers. Stick to a polite ‘no thanks’ and you’ll be fine.
With smaller arteries leading off in all directions, the floating markets of yesteryear – Taling Chan and Damneon Saduak amongst the most well-known – served the riverine households and must have been a colourful sight to behold. Today the tourist equivalent of these floating markets gives you some idea of the good old days. We see only the occasional paddled market boat that undoubtedly still delivers essentials to this outpost of Bangkok suburban living.
Ban Rim Khlong orchid farm was our final stop, 40 minutes after leaving Tha Tien pier. The gentle smiling fellow who met us, the farm owner, explained that where we were standing had been underwater a couple of years past. We were now looking at his regenerated orchid collection after his devastating loss. The 20 Baht entry fee was therefore well spent.
It’s utterly cathartic walking along rows of spotted pink, yellow, rose, white and blue orchids, sheltered from the sun by an overhead gauze. Veinous roots hang down from the raised beds to help the orchids establish. Peaceful pathways from the farm led to the exit walk out to Wat Saphan.
Many of these communities still suffer from a lack of litter awareness, or a reliable collection service. Fast food packaging can linger for decades in the waterways.
The traditional way of living though can still be enjoyed walking along cement paths between small channels that irrigate the palm and orchid plantations. Husks of bombed coconuts lie all around.
Open-billed storks (above) and egrets benefit from the wetland farming activity, consuming the golden apple snail – an introduced species that went AWOL. This helps rid the farmers of a common pest (a familiar story in Australia – brought in with good intentions or as stowaways – the fox, cane toad, rats, cat and bugs of all description continue to devastate native animals and food supplies).
The odd-shaped bill of the stork could assist in the consumption of this ‘snaily’ snack.
We chanced upon a jolly food vendor on a bicycle, his meals simmering peacefully in circular, stacked pans on the back of his bike. Serving a local woman as we arrived, we decided it smelt good enough to eat too. The dish of ravioli-style pork and fresh noodle spring rolls (khanom jeaw) made the day. The local lady seemed delighted a westerner was game to try the local fare.
At this time of year (June to October) most afternoon walks race against the impending downpour. Getting trapped in a Thai monsoonal torrent can drench the living daylights out of you. Wat Saphan made for a sheltered ending after a 90-minute walk. In this instance the rain held off until our taxi driver brought the huge curtain of rain ahead of us to our attention.
We end four hours of a perfect Sunday, home and dry.
© Warren Field 2013
Taken on OLYMPUS E-System Cameras and Zuiko lenses.
This blog offers a brief insight into life in Thailand. Processed and published soon after the event, it is continually edited for improvement. Constructive feedback is welcome.