Jan. 23, 2017:
Today shaped up to be a very multi-modal sort of day. We started off from the Shangri-La’s boat dock onboard one of the iconic long-tail boats which ply the Chao Phraya river at all hours of the day and night. These bizarre boats have a long skinny rudder off the stern, at the end of which is a small outboard motor. The boats frequently throw up a huge rooster tail as they rip up and down the river. Although these boats are widely considered the fastest boats on the river, the trick is to sit in the middle of the boat so you can avoid dirty spray thrown up by your boat and other boats passing close as they cross the choppy Chao Phraya.
Our first destination is the klongs of Bangkok; small floating villages located off the numerous canals (klong is the word for canal in Thai) lining the river. Just past the Thai Navy building on the bank of the Chao Phraya is a large canal entrance to the Mon canal which accesses the Thonburi klong section of the city.
This is the largest remaining section of klongs remaining, where many people still live on semi-attached floating houses. The canals themselves are not very picturesque as they are fairly polluted, and there is much floating trash. However, some of the homes are charmingly decorated, and others serve as kind of mini-general stores. There is also a wide divergence in the quality of the homes; some appear to be an the verge of falling into the water, while others look quite a bit more luxurious. There are also multiple temples scattered among the homes, and most of the properties had some sort of “spirit house” outside their homes.
I thought the coolest thing that we saw were the giant waterborne monitor lizards. However, I suspect Jim liked watching how the locks on the Mon canal operated best. At one point, we also got to feed some catfish, which are almost tame. However, I’m pretty sure we all made a mental note not to eat anything growing in these canals, although the egrets seemed to think the fishing was pretty good.
From the canals, our boat driver dropped us off at the pier to the Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) complex. These are some of the prettiest chedi in Bangkok, but sadly, scaffolding covered most of the largest one. However, we were still able to climb up most of it, and from there, you can see up and down the river, with lovely views. There is also a small crafts market by the pier for the water taxi, and our group passed the time waiting for the next water taxi by drinking chilled coconut water (straight from the freshly opened coconut), and doing a little shopping.
The water taxi took us back to the Shangri-La pier, and we unloaded to go to our next transportation experience; a ride on the brightly colored tuk tuks (motorcycle propelled taxis). Wow! What a wild ride! We drove in a caravan to the museum at the former home of Jim Thompson, the famous Thai silk magnate.
The story behind Jim Thompson is really interesting. During World War II, he was an OSS officer, stationed in Indochina. He came to love Thailand during his foreign service, and after the war, settled in Bangkok. An architect by training and practice before the war, he began studying Thai culture and architecture, and in 1948, formed his company, the Thai Silk Company Ltd. to revive the art of Thai raw silk weaving which had almost gone extinct. In 1958, having collected Thai and other Asian art, consisting of both Buddhist statues, Thai paintings and secular art, he started construction of his home on one of the Klongs in Bangkok, just across from the homes of many of his silk weavers. His home complex consists of multiple buildings, many of which are constructed of abandoned historical wood structures from throughout Thailand and Burma. The gardens are particularly lush and create sort of an urban jungle retreat right in the center of Bangkok. Then, in 1967, Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared while visiting a friend in Malaysia, never to be heard from again. Today, the home/museum is still operated by the Jim Thompson Foundation. Naturally, there is also a Jim Thompson store on the grounds, selling numerous pieces from the upscale Jim Thompson silk design lines, which continue to operate today.
Our final transportation experience came when we rode on the super clean and efficient Bangkok aerial tram system called the Sky Train. The rest of the afternoon was at leisure, and then we enjoyed our farewell dinner with our travel mates in the lovely Salathip restaurant on the grounds of the Shangri-La hotel. Tomorrow, it’s off to Phuket from Jim and me, while most of our travel companions head home. After the pace of the last three weeks, Jim and I are looking forward to some relaxing times in Phuket.