Moving by Water

January 2, 2012


After a long delay, I am posting this entry that I had mostly completed but had not yet published.  I am posting many more pictures of the trip on my Picasa web album (ask me for the link).

We found that a key to enjoying Bangkok is to use the river to get around- that way, you avoid the congested street traffic, the bad air, the haggling with taxi and tuk tuk drivers.  Once we started moving about in this way, our time there was much more relaxed!


After a lazy morning, yesterday we met up with Bangkok resident and good friend Steve Van Beek, who is a scholar of Bangkok history, (having written several books on the subject- and working on several more at the moment). He was good enough to take us on an afternoon tour going north on the Chao Praya river. We took a 45 minute ride on the Chao Praya Express boat to the Nonthaburi provincial center (whose trademark is the distinctive durian fruit- known for its uncommonly rank odor of the overripe fruit and delicious taste)- see these light standards at the dock):

Cast Iron Durians!

After a snack there on the waterfront, we caught a short ferry across to the other side of the river. Steve wanted to take us to one of his favorite temples, the Wat Chalermpratikat. Due to the recent flooding, the way there by foot was anything but straightforward. The direct route was blocked by standing water and many obstacles- but assisted by Steve’s fluency in Thai, and the help of the friendly locals, we eventually did find our way by a roundabout route. This riverside neighborhood here has been severely impacted by the recent flooding, and has not completely recovered. We saw many houses still inundated by water, and the trash, mud and mess left behind by the flood waters was everywhere you looked.

Despite the circumstances, the residents that we encountered were cheerful and friendly, especially when greeted in Thai by Steve, who needed to ask directions to the Wat all along the way- as the flooding had blocked the normal passage. The wat was eventually found, and we were enchanted by it, although we were only able to see it from the outside. It was built in 1823, and is decorated with a great Chinese influence, with the exteriors decorated mainly with porcelain flowers. We were charmed by the age and slightly unkempt, used look of this wat, and also by its location right on the river.

We walked around the grounds, admiring the decorations and the ambience, and walked down the entryway down to the river. The way is lined with stone sculptures, many from China (they were used as ballast on returning shipping voyages from China). We observed the feeding of the river’s catfish from the dock- the people that visit feed the fish with bread scraps and fish food. The feeding of the fish creates merit for the feeder… a win-win situation! The catfish are HUGE, and they really get excited by the feeding, which creates a feeding frenzy!

Detail of the porcelain decoration, so lovely

Ending the day with a nice Thai meal with friends, topped off with mango and sticky rice… what could be nicer?