In order to find out what the hidden treasures were in my local neighbourhood I needed to get out there and explore it. I just knew sitting around thinking about it wasn’t going to achieve anything constructive. ‘Thinking, when all said and done was not doing.’
I looked out of my apartment window, craning my neck in the process, just to get the most out of my view. The neighbourhood was certainly a little run down, being what I considered to be a poor one. To my far left was a wooded area, maybe the remnants of a long forgotten forest, then again, on closer examination, it was possibly nothing more than an over grown banana and coconut plantation where the laws of the jungle had taken up the advantage. I was intrigued, as in and amongst the twisted and jumbled up foliage I spied a canopy of a Shell garage out there. It didn’t take me long to deduce that there must be a road somewhere there massing in between the vegetation.
I had however a dilemma, how was I supposed to get across the khlong (canal) if I wanted to explore. Up to press I’d not ventured across there and I was aware that any road that spanned it would be miles away; well not quite.
Ann the bubbly receptionist, gave me directions, in how to get across the khlong, which meant actually walking back up my soi (street) along the Phetkasem Road and then down Soi 30, passing the collection of small shops and boutiques and down to the footbridge. Once across the footbridges I was virtually there – simple.
The road in question was known as the Thoet Thai Road, from my research I presumed that it is named after the village of the same name in the sub district of Mae Fa Luang District in the province of Chiang Rai, up in northern Thailand.
I decided to explore it from its far eastern side where it ran into Phetkasem Road in the sub district of Talal Phlu. Here at the side of the road was the fire station and next to that the Bang Yee Rua Metropolitan Police Station, they looked quite snug together as a fire truck was being inspected. The road there comprised of two carriageways, but no central reservation. It was quite a busy junction. In the early days of my arrival I’d nearly walked the complete length of this road believing that I’d walked miles. But in actual fact it was only 8.5km long. By now I’d already been out and purchased a bicycle.
From soi 1, of the Thoet Thai Road, I headed west with notebook and pen in hand and my camera strapped around my neck. Normally an easy task to cycle on a bicycle, but this road had its fair share of obstacles and of its pleasing delights too. One had to remember that most accidents happened when people grew too complacent within the area in which they thought they knew.
Overhead signs pointed out directions both left and right, but these where obscured by the mass of cables that spanned across them. Sometimes there were so many wires webbing the street, one wondered if they’d eventually block out the sun.
Although this road was nothing more than a back road, it did have a lot to offer with its array of elaborate temple complexes, schools and an abundance of shops selling all sorts of things from Buddha merit offerings to toys. More interestingly was the side of the road street vendors, that sold ready to eat meals, drinks with their stalls powered by gas. What the health and safety and hygiene aspects were, well that is left to the authorities to decide. Business in most cases was steady.
From this end of the road, one didn’t have to stray too far until one came across a temples or two. The first one was named Wat Welurachin, within the confines of the complex was a reclining Buddha and a number of temple buildings. What I saw of these noble temples was impressive and beautifully elaborate.
As I cycled further, I came across a trader on what you could call a back to front tricycle, I say back to front only because the two wheels were at the front enabling the bike to carry the man’s wares, in this case the trader carried water melons. These bikes were popular in many areas in particular on the back roads and traders would carry many different goods from fruit to clothes.
Within less than a kilometre, I hit another temple complex this was the Wat Intaram Worawihanal temple complex, which was built during the Ayutthaya period. The monastery was restored and gained royal status as a royal temple during the reign of King Taksin the Great (1767 – 1782). It is said that this was his favourite temple and that he stayed overnight and meditated when he was in the area. Then it was the largest and most prosperous temple around in the vicinity.
This temple complex also had an elaborate Phra Ubosot, Phra Prangs, Phar Chedi, a Chinese shrine with alter and probably most important the King Taksin Memorial. It was all very beautiful and again elaborate.
Shortly after that, I hit the first of many Khlongs. This was the Khlong Sam Re, which helped to channel water away, so that it didn’t flood the low level land. This area was prone to flooding and was like many areas of Bangkok in being only a few metres above sea level.
Not far away, I came across yet another magnificent temple complex, this one was called Wat Rajkrueh Worawihan. This like so many temples around here dated back to the Ayutthaya period, the complex comprised of many more elaborate looking temples. While I was busy assessing the complex I bumped into a gentleman called Peter. He was a Slovakian, well travelled, who seemed to know more about the area than I did. He was certainly knowledgeable about the temple complexes and by the sounds of it, he’d visited this area more than once. I think he was following the ‘Walks of Bangkok.’
Across the road, there was a fleet of small cheap local taxis queuing up as they waited for customers. Many people I knew referred to these as being ‘tin-cans’ owing to the flimsyness of them, although they were rather convenient over short distances. You generally found these queuing up alongside busy markets.
One of the more interesting shops that I came across was this one. It certainly had something that most of us are never really in a great hurry to purchase, certainly not for ourselves – yes, this was a coffin shop. I don’t think I’d ever see anything so wonderfully attractive, certainly not on a roadside. No doubt countless hours of artistry, in what was nothing more than a dying trade.
The road here was steadily getting busier, with people milling around and the traffic swelling. This hadn’t been helped by the fact that the road was now down to a single carriageway and motorcyclists jostled for what little room there was in-between the busy traffic flow. I was now passing Soy 25, in the sub-district of Talat Phlu, with an off chute of the busy Ratchadaphisek Road crossing overhead no doubt carrying traffic towards the main Ratchadaphisek Road, which I was about to come across later on. This road eventually would head out towards the King Taksin Bridge. Up to this point there were scheduled bus routes of 4 and 111 using this road.
I approached the Wutthakat Junction, keeping well right and allowing traffic to turn to the left. The traffic didn’t perturb me, I’d got used to it by now. I’d cycled on busy roads back in the UK, I’d even cycled by accident on the M60 when they were constructing it back in 1986 and cycled on the internal motorway in the Leeds City Centre one Sunday morning after getting totally lost and confused after returning back from Horsforth.
I waited patiently for the traffic lights to change, like a good cyclist should, 73, 72, 71 … and so on. When it changed, I cycled straight across, ensuring that I kept well to my left. For about fifty metres, the road was straight before turning to the left, on the bend there was another beautiful temple complex. This one was known as the Wat Waramathaya Phanthasraram, near Soi 28. It is said that: Phraya Mahaammat (Pom) second child of Luang Phiphstombatlem went to serve King Rama I and Rama II. King Nangklao gave him the title Phraya Mahaammat and later, Pra Suriypahakdi Chaokromphratamruat Sanomthahankwa, when Chaoanuwong of Vientiena revolted in 1826, Phra Suriyaphakdi took his army, conquered the battle and brought many Vientien prisoners of war in 1827. He built a temple for beneficence and named the temple ‘Wat Khun Chan,’ later on the temple deteriorated so Thaopanthasan, the daughter of Phraya Mahaammat, restored the temple and renamed it Waramathaya Phanthasraram.
Next khlong the magnificent Wat Paknam Bhasichroen came into view in the distance (sometimes referred to as the White Temple). This is located in the Phasi Charoen district. It was established in the early 18th Century during the Ayuttaya period. During the Second World War it was rumoured that no bombs would fall on it, because of the spiritual prowess of its practitioners.
Luang Pu Sdh Canasaro, became a very influential and respected abbot of the temple. Even after his death in 1959, his teachings and guided meditations are still sold and are immensely popular today.
Cycling on with shops now running on both sides and with traders taking advantage of the bustling 7-ELEVEN trade. There must have been over seven different traders outside this store all competing for the limited amount of trade.
From this point the road carried straight on, as I approached Soi 49 another junction, which coincidentally was named after the opposing temple complex: Wat Nak Pork, here the road was narrow again. Certainly no good for a scheduled bus service.
The realities of these poor neighbourhoods is that some of the people struggle day-in-and-day-out, as they attempt to make ends meet. I came across this dear soul pushing her cart or rod khen, with recyclable scrap metal and plastic bottles, if she was lucky enough she might even get a few baht for it all.
Shortly after cycling past this woman, I came across a very fancy temple complex. This one was called Wat Pleng, within the grounds it had some rather interesting temples painted mainly in red and gold with rather interesting ‘cho fa’ which means tassles of air, equally associated with Hinduism. You can see four cho fa’s on the picture below on the apexes of the four roofs fixtures with bells attached to them.
The next junction was the main Ratchaphisek Road running over it. Tricky as there were slip roads on and off it. First, I had to clear what looked like a two way slip road and turn right. From here I followed the road around, the traffic behind me just followed at my speed. I couldn’t go any fast, as no sooner had I started I was doubling back on myself as I went under the fly over, here I met up with the opposing slip road and here I turned right again to continue my cycling along the Thoet Thai Road, a short but interesting road if ever there was one.
Soon I was passing another temple, this was the Wat Ang Khaeo. There was a khlong of the same name too. The road was relatively quieter than what it had been earlier, I was now near Soi 59. One didn’t have to cycle far before hitting the next khlong, which was the Klong Nok Kra Chok. Many of these khlongs had what we might call towpaths running alongside them, but experience had shown me that some of these could end abruptly. Others led you to mysterious places in beautiful tranquil settings where the trees over shadowed the khlongs and local fishermen spanned their nets poised for the khlongs offerings.
Soon I hit Khlong Bang Wa, the khlong that gave my sub-district its name, just another fifty metres was Khlong Satharana at Soi 65. Soi 66 is near to where I lived. The nearby Khlong and the temple complex were both named Rang Bua.
Wat Rang Bua was also the last temple complex immediately beside this road. However, the scenery was about to change as large mansions came into view with elaborate gates. Who ever lived there must have lived in luxury. There was also much more vegetation in this area too, with what looked like abandoned plantations.
I came across the place that in years to come I would enjoy eating at. There they sold delicious, freshly made cuisine and fine beers. The most memorable occasion eating there was when a, wide eyed green pit viper sat poised no less that a metre behind me. Being interested in snakes this creature didn’t bother me and nor did I bother it. Beautiful looking creature. Although it should be mentioned that I once witnessed a woman scream as a two metre long snake, a cobra I surmised, cut through the restaurant area, obviously on its way to its dinner.
There were quite a few restaurants up and down this stretch of road and going up Khlong Ratchamontri was a motorboat going at speed, I have also seen jet skies venturing up these khlongs before now, creating quite impressive wakes.
There was also a place that made things out of bamboo. It was a rather interesting place. A man there couldn’t resist having his photograph taken.
Much of this area was slowly beginning to be developed, taking advantage of the relatively low land prices, before the BTS and RMT systems came rampaging through (BTS and RMT is the modern sky train systems). There was thankfully still plenty of greenery around, much of it from abandoned plantations. The Khlong Satharana Prayot was the last Khlong on this stretch before I hit the Phatthana Junction. There the Thoet Thai Road hit the Bang Khae Road, a busier small road.
I will read you daily from now on. I will look forward. Thank you very much.