Last weekend, I went on a trip to a unique area close to Bangkok that seemed to be stuck in time. A large loop in the Chao Phraya River and a shortcut canal has virtually made this area an island. Indeed you can only enter it by bridge or by boat. Despite its closeness to Bangkok the area has hardly been developed at all. There are still many isolated communities surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations. There are no high-raised buildings. There are no factories. More importantly, 7–Eleven hasn’t arrived. Well, not yet. They are starting to creep in from the opening in the loop. However, you won’t find this area in the Lonely Planet.
The first place I wanted to find was the Bangnamphung Floating Market (figure 1). I first heard about this floating market back in April when I crossed the river to see the Songkran Parade in Phra Pradaeng. I noticed some billboards advertising this new place. I made a mental note to try and locate it another time. I had forgotten all about it but then on Saturday I bought a new guidebook in Thai which covers the top part of the Gulf of Thailand. The book had a map which gave me a rough idea of where to find the floating market. So, on Sunday I decided to go off exploring.
As it turned out it was quite easy to find the floating market as there were a number of bilingual signs along the way. I parked my car in Bangnamphungnai Temple and followed the crowd to what looked like a newly constructed canal. Or at least one where the banks had been recently reinforced with concrete slabs. I am not sure what I was expecting. I suppose I was thinking it would be a bit like the famous floating market at Damnoen Saduak. I thought there would be dozens of vendors paddling up and down the canal selling their produce to locals and tourists. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. Most of the vendors were on the river bank or were selling from boats which were firmly moored. The only people I saw on boats were some tourists who had rented them out.
There were the usual number of food stalls which was to be expected. But, there was also many OTOP stalls. If you don’t know, this stands for One Tambon One Product. It is a scheme started by Thaksin to encourage each district in the country to produce and sell at least one unique product. This alone made the trip worthwhile. It was interesting to see and buy some local products. There must have been over 100 stalls which provided quite a nice atmosphere. In addition to hiring boats, it looked like you could also hire bicycles. I walked along the canal for a while until the path stopped alongside a road about a ten minute walk away.
I think this is a place I would certainly come back to. The floating market is open every weekend between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. I came a bit late this time so if I bring some visitors next time I will try to go earlier in the morning. A nice touch for me was that there were no foreigners at all. Obviously it isn’t in any English guidebooks yet as it has been open less than a year.
My next task was to find Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park (figure 2 on the map). This was alot harder as the map wasn’t very clear and the roads were very narrow and winding. This whole area is hardly built up at all. It is very much like a jungle in places. I eventually found the park which was in the middle of no-where. Literally. At the entrance there were about a dozen cars parked. If you don’t have your own transport then I am not sure how yo uwould get to this place. Entrance to the park is free of charge which is nice but not surprising because of its remote location.
On walking inside I was amazed about the size and neatness of the place. Again I wondered about the remoteness and location of the park. How many people would come here? How many people know about it? In the middle of the park there is a large lake. Scattered around were a few salas, open planned buildings, and bridges crossing streams. Some people were lying on the grass eating a picnic and others were feeding the fish in the lake.
I decided to walk north to where I presumed I might find the Chao Phraya River. I actually had no idea where I was on the map but I was hoping I might be able to see a glimpse of the river. After walking for about 15 minutes or so I came across a watch tower which was about seven metres high. What was puzzling was that surrounding the watch tower was a wooden boardwalk which had fallen into disrepair. It was strange because the park looked new. Anyway, the view from the top didn’t give me any clues about which direction I should go. I was surrounded by palm trees and nipa palms.
I decided to keep walking north. The path became more overgrown. I then discovered another area which had some buildings and seating areas that had fallen to pieces. This looked like it had been a park in the past with maybe some shops and boardwalks out into the jungle. But now the jungle had taken over. I wasn’t sure whether to continue walking or not. I knew it must only be a hop skip and jump to the heart of Bangkok but it was starting to feel like I was in that DiCaprio movie The Beach. You know, that scene where the backpackers stumble across a field with drugs growing and they are gunned down by the farmers. The place was dead quiet and there was not a single person in sight.
I decided to head back but first I needed to relieve myself. As I walked behind a tree, a loud noise startled me. It sounded like an animal moving fast through some water. But this wasn’t a small animal. It sounded as big as a human but was moving much quicker. It crossed my mind that it might be a wild crocodile! I then decided I had done enough exploring in the jungle and decided to walk back to the new part of the park. I didn’t want to be eaten by crocodiles. If there were crocodiles these wouldn’t be doped like the ones that perform in the wrestling matches in Paknam.
Walking back to the lake I spotted some more wildlife. Apart from butterflies and birds, I could see something swimming in the river. It wasn’t fish. I went to take a closer look. A few minutes later I spotted a monitor lizard running across the grass and jumping into the water. It must have been about two metres long. It looked like it was quite powerful the way it was swimming. I wonder if this is what startled me earlier. Maybe there was a much larger one out in the bushes.
I decided to cut my walk in the park short when the wind started to pick up and it looked like it was going to rain. I probably would come back here again to do a bit more exploring. There certainly seemed to be plenty of flora and fauna. Again it would be a nice place to bring visitors. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Loop in the River – Two months later
I had been meaning to go back to explore the area more thoroughly, so I was really excited last week to receive an invitation from Steve and his wife Jit to come and visit them in Bangkrachao. Steve has been a regular reader of our Thai Blogs for a while and he knew of my interest in this area. Steve and Jit are on a six month sabbatical from their work in Alaska. They have been building a house on her family’s property and it was now ready to move in. Their house borders the Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park which I visited last time. In the first picture, you can just make out the large green area of the park towards the top.
When I arrived at the park, I gave Steve a call as arranged. He told me to wait by the inner gate and not the one by the road. I was curious about this as I thought we were going to his house first. Then a few minutes later he came walking out of the park with his wife. Apparently there isn’t any road access to his community yet and they have to enter through the park. However, this is not such a bad thing. How many people do you know who have a large beautiful park on their doorstep? Not that they need it. As you can see in the picture above, their community, to the north of the park, is surrounded by palm trees and banana plantations. There are interesting and quiet walk along the narrow paths in just about every direction.
This picture shows one of the main paths through this community. Jit told me that there were about 50 families living here. Some houses were next door to each other and some were more isolated as they were surrounded by small banana plantations. Steve told me to be careful of falling coconuts. Outside one of the houses, a group of people were busy making some candy. Jit explained to me that the whole community had been helping for the last few days to make this dessert. They were planning on using the candy to make merit to mark the end of the Rains Retreat early next month. Jit introduced me to her uncle who was busy ripping open a coconut. She then introduced me to various other relations including her father. At this point I decided to ask her what percent of the villagers were related to her. She didn’t seem to understand my question. So I asked her, how many people in the community were related to her. She replied, everyone!
It was really nice having Jit show me around as she was very knowledgeable about what was going on. She told me that the chewy candy they were making was made from peanuts, popped corn, sesame seeds, sugar cane juice and plain white sugar. It tasted really nice. True to Thai tradition, as soon as I had said how good it was, she gave me a whole bag full! Nearby, a steamer was busy cooking another delicious dessert which I will tell you about another day! After a brief stop for a delicious meal, we then set off on foot to the local jetty to explore the river by boat.
On the River in Bangkok
I was telling you about my visit to Bangkrachao in Samut Prakan. This is an area that, despite being so close to Bangkok, hasn’t been developed at all. Look at the satellite picture above. The northern side of the river is Bangkok. This is the busy port area of Klong Toey. On the southern side is nothing but palm trees and banana plants. You can clearly see the lake in the middle of Sri Nakhon Khuankun Park (bottom middle of picture). Steve and his wife Jit live just north of the park. From here we walked along a narrow path to the river. After about ten minutes of waking we came out at a private jetty. Steve told me that you ring the bell here and someone would dash out of a nearby house and jump into a boat. Normal cross-river passenger ferries would cost you only a few baht but this one costs 10 baht. Not bad when you consider that sometimes you are the only passenger.
Jit suggested that we hire the boat for a while and just explore up and down the river. I jumped at the chance. I love exploring rivers. She then proceeded to negotiate a price of 200 baht to go down the river about 3–4 kms and back again. The boatman agreed and we jumped into his long-tailed boat (the propeller is at the end of a long shaft). The first picture above shows you the view looking across to the high-raised buildings in Bangkok. The buildings the opposite direction were very different in comparison.
Here is one of the first examples. The little girl and her dog live on this floating house which goes up and down with the tide. Well, I hope it does as she will soon be flooded out at the next high tide!
This house on stilts is more typical. Notice the sala-like jetty where they can get into boats or just lie down in the shade. At dusk members of the household would go down the steps to take a bath and wash their hair. On the left is a lean-to for their boat. You can see that they have electricity because of the electrical pole in the water. Looks like they also get television. On some houses I saw red post boxes. I wonder if the postman approaches from the river or land. I suspect by the river is easier.
I took several hundred pictures on this boat trip. Too many to show here. I will finish with this last picture showing the wake being produced by a big container ship. Ironically the name of the ship is “Smooth Sea”. Luckily this ship was on the other side of the river as it could have given us a pretty rough ride.
I wish to thank Steve and Jit for showing me around their area. It was a wonderful day out.