Thailand

Travelling the Klongs: Bangkok by Water


We arrived in Bangkok last night long after dark.

On the drive from the airport, which was very quick, we couldn’t tell what we were looking at, other than lots and lots of high-rises. We got to our hotel, and realized that it was smack-dab in the middle of everything – just off Surawong Road, right beside Patpong Market and close to Silom. The taxi driver tells us that we are lucky – it is a long weekend, and so the traffic is smooth in downtown Bangkok.

When we arrived, we had no plans – a hotel reservation for one night, and that’s all. So we wake up and, after breakfast, call a travel agent that a friend has recommended. They are open until noon Saturday, so after a few minutes chat we grab a taxi and head over to their AC Offices. An hour later, we have plans – flying to Phuket tomorrow for five days, then north to Chiang Mai, in time for the Songkran parade for the Thai New Year, the year of the monkey, we think, next Saturday. We had originally expected that we would take some buses there, but the arrival of Air Asia here in Thailand means that it is virtually the same price to take a 1-hour flight as it is to take a 12-hour bus ride. So we will fly around Thailand on Thai Air International, collecting Aeroplan miles in the process.

Surprising Bankok

We decide to walk back to the hotel, through a beautiful park with a statue of King Rama VI. We are surprised by Bangkok – all that we have heard had led us to expect a gruesome and dirty city. At least for the few kilometres between Wireless Road and Surawong, it is a decidedly modern and prosperous city. We turn onto Surawong Road from King Rama IV Road, and there is the Jim Thompson store. Jim Thompson was an American stationed in Bangkok after WWII, who virtually single-handedly revived the Thai Silk industry in the 1960s. We go in – the silks are truly beautiful, and most of them do not conform to our stereotype of what silk can be We wander to the 2nd, then the 3rd, and then the 4th floors – to the furniture department and the upholstery silks. These fabrics are beautiful, and again, for the most part, are not what we expected silk upholstery fabric to look like. We decide that the next time we decorate a home, we are coming to Bangkok and that there will be a huge amount of silk involved. Greg has asked to leave the store early because of the frustration of not being able to buy anything.

On the Klongs

Our hotel is just down the street, and we head in to wash our faces – it is the hot season here, 38 degrees, but not as humid as Bali so we aren’t noticing the heat quite as much as we did there, but the smoke and smog sting our throats and eyes and crust our faces. We head out immediately to walk to the river. After a couple of blocks, a tuk-tuk driver convinces us to go for a ride. He takes us to a pier on the river, and we negotiate (Greg: down to just over 50% of original asking price, yeah! John!) a tour of the river and through the klongs (canals). The tour we get is worth every penny! We go through many different areas – some apparently very middle class, a couple of homes we pass clearly belong to very wealthy people, but most of what we pass evidences heartbreaking poverty – although this is very decidedly a more prosperous country than what we saw in Indonesia. The thing that gets us today is the number of people – adults and children – swimming and bathing in both the river and the klongs – this is water that you and I would not dream of putting our baby finger into, let alone jumping in and frolicking.

A Late Lunch and Dinner

Our ride along the klongs done, we walk back to the hotel – it is now four p.m., and the sun is low enough that we can find shade on the west side of the street. It feels like a much shorter walk in shade than it did in full sun. We realize that we haven’t had lunch yet, so find a place and have excellent Thai curries. Then we grab the computer and find an internet café, where, much to our delight, they have broadband, and it doesn’t take an hour to upload six pictures. After washing our faces – again – we head out for supper at about 9. We find a place that we’ve read about in The Lonely Planet, and have more Thai curry – this stuff is addictive. At the table next to ours is an Aussie, and something happens that makes us all laugh, so the next thing you know we’re into quite the conversation. He’s been working in Asia for over 30 years and tells us that things have changed since he started hanging out in Bangkok in the early 70s. He also says that he arrived on Wednesday and that just as his taxi pulled away from the airport terminal, the rain started – it took over 5 hours to get to his hotel downtown – about 24 kilometres from the airport.

After supper, we head to a club that Bill S. recommended to us; the only thing we can say is that we saw some things we’ve seen many times before and some things we’ve never seen before – things we still can’t quite believe we saw.

We head for home through the heady Patpong Night Market, still going strong, the touts and hawkers continuously asking “what do you want, I have it.”

Bangkok, you’ve certainly got it!

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