Today, was the tenth of May, which meant for Thailand it was Visakha Bucha Day, a bank holiday. Which meant that my wife (Annie) and I could spend the time together cycling around.
I woke up, knowing that we had planned to go off cycling and cruising up and down the Chao Praya River on the Hop on, Hop off boats, it sounded fun for a couple of enthusiastic cyclists. But, the weather first thing in the morning was dreadful, rain seemed to be coming down from every conceivable angle and the visibility was poor.
It was twelve o’clock by the time it had dispersed, but with that, the cooler temperatures of the morning had been replaced by more hotter and seasonal ones.
We hurriedly got ready, it was approaching half past twelve before we set off.
‘Will I be OK cycling along the main roads with all the traffic?’ Annie asked a little worried about the situation.
‘You should be OK, just try and keep up with me and whatever happens, try and clear the junctions as quick as possible, but don’t let the traffic intimidate you.’
‘Why don’t we cycle down onto soi 27 and onto the Thot Thai Road, we can then join the Ratchaphruek Road there.’
‘Sounds a good idea.’
So off we went, cycling out towards Saphan Taksin. The cycle went without any problems, even though we were going rather slow. At the Saphan Taksin Pier, we tried to negotiate with the different vendors, but most of them said that we couldn’t take our bicycles with us.
‘We’re not leaving them here.’ I said.
It was the ‘Chao Phraya Tourist Boat Organisation,’ that allowed us to take our bicycles on board with us. While Annie went to pay, I got chatting to a lovely couple from Durban in South Africa. The man was very interested in what we were doing and joyfully asked me questions. When Annie returned to organize our day’s events, we were engrossed in conversation.
Annie purchased our tickets for the Hop on, Hop off Boat. We waited patiently for our boat to arrive. Our intention was to head off for the furthest destination, which happened to be Phra Arthit. We intended to cycle around there until we’d had enough of the place and then we’d catch another boat and head off somewhere else. We’d never done a cycle trip like this before, so there was an air of excitement to it all, plus it offered us many opportunities.
‘They’ll call us when our boat arrives.’ Annie stated.
The ‘Chao Phraya Tourist Boat’ people were certainly full of beans, considering that it was a bank holiday.
When our boat arrived, we waited for everybody to get on before we wheeled our bicycles on. As we got on, I commented to Annie. ‘Welcome on board the Mary Celeste,’ but I don’t quite think she got the joke. Then I said, ‘This is the point of no return,’ but now she thought I was going to give a rendition of a song from the ‘Phantom of the Opera.’
Standing at the stern of the boat, we set off. The boat rocked a little as we set off from the pier. We had to place a foot in front of one of the bicycle wheels to stabilize them. The river was quite rough, which was probably not helped by the amount of traffic that was navigating up and down it. I’m sure the weather didn’t help the situation. It looked like it was going to pour down at any moment.
As we headed north, we saw the old Customs House, built in 1888, this majestic looking building would have looked really good if only they had maintained it well. This was a product of Joachim Grassis. Built-in Palladian style and once was considered to be the gateway into the country. It sat gracefully set back from the side of the river. No doubt it would still be standing after all the other modern prefabricated structures of downtown Bangkok had all cracked and crumbled to pieces.
The big and the mighty buildings towered along the riverside as the river splashed all around us. The wakes from the other boats made the water ever more turbulent. Large wide barges, no doubt carrying building materials slowly trekked south, four of them were joined together and under the constant control of tugs both at the front and also to the rear as they agonizingly pulled them along.
From the boat, we saw a traditional Chinese Temple Pagoda. Thailand has a large community of Chinese, that have helped to add both vigour as well as culture to Thailand.
Further up the river, we passed the very delicate looking Santa Cruz Church, built by the Portuguese in 1835. This beautiful looking Catholic church is even more magnificent inside, so they say.
The next point of interest was Wichai Prasit Fort, which was built in 1688 as part of a defence line of forts to prevent ships from sailing up the river to attack the then Siamese capital Ayutthaya. The fort is now the headquarters of the Royal Thai Navy. Painted in brilliant white with mast along with a crow’s nest and above the flag of the Thai Navy.
More pleasure boats passed us as we seemed to zig-zag up the river calling into one pier or the other. The commentary from the stewards was non-stop, telling us what there was to see at each pier stop. With the noise of the boat engines and everything else, there was little chance to make conversation, all we could do was to admire the views as we went.
Eventually, we called at the pier at Wat Arun, (the Temple of Dawn). Unfortunately, the temple was undergoing maintenance. Many people got off here, which wasn’t surprising with it being one of the top tourist attractions in Bangkok.
From there we continued, passing the Grand Palace as we headed out towards the Rama VIII Suspension Bridge, named after King Ananda Mahidol. To me, this was one of the best bridges on the Chao Praya River. It should be stated here that after going under the Phra Pin Klao Bridge, we stopped at our destination, just metres short of the suspension bridge. We had also seen Thammasat University and the large famous Siriraj Hospital.
We eventually got off at Phra Arthit and decided to cycle south-west along the cycle path that ran alongside the river. Annie looked wonderful with her yellow, purple, red and blue cycle jersey, kindly provided to her by her caring husband, it probably suited her better than it did me.
We cycled along the riverfront until the path ran out, then we were forced to cycle on the congested pavements, but eventually, our cycle path ran out there too, so we were forced to cycle on the Phra Athit Road. Annie was enjoying the sideshow of all the shops and boutiques along the way, it was as if we were cycling around in a big circle. In front of us, coming into view was the Phra Sumen Fort, which also looked across the river, but not from this side. This octagonal brick-and-stucco bunker was once one of fourteen such structures that helped to punctuate the old and virtually disappeared city wall, but now there are only two of these left standing.
Annie and I were getting hungry, so we decided to call in at the ‘Shophouse Kitchen Bangkok.’ Here, we ordered lemon and coffee drinks. My lemon drink came out looking purple. I messed around with the straws and connected them both together, pretend it was some sort of chemical process, the coffee obviously being the waste product, or at least in my imagination it was.
My meal consisted of Pad Thai gai ( a popular chicken dish), in other words, a very attractive and addictive dish, which when well-cooked is gastronomically fantastic, well worth waiting for – delicious. Just to get your mouth watering it contains Succulent chicken, shallots, tofu, turmeric, peanut, mung beans, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice noodles, garlic, garlic chives and an egg among other ingredients.
Later, we cycled south-east down Phra Sumert Road for about a kilometre until we hit the junction with Dinso Road. From here we could see the Democracy Monument. I had known about this monument since the early days of arriving in Thailand, but then it was rather tricky to visit here, so I never been here before.
‘Come on Annie, I’ve never taken a photograph of this.’ The sun was on the wrong side for us, blinding us as we attempted to take photographs of this structure. As we did the inevitable happened, a police officer approached us. We’d already seen a number of army personnel lingering around, so I wasn’t too sure what was going on especially with this being a rather sensitive area.
‘Hello, where are you going?’ That part I could translate. Annie presumed that we were forbidden to take photographs here, but the officer was very nice. Annie later told me that she asked if we could cycle on the pavements, to which he’d said yes.
From there we cycled towards The Giant Swing, but thanks to the traffic we missed it. The roads were becoming busy, so I had to slow down for Annie’s sake. Eventually, we ended up cycling towards the grounds of the Grand Palace. The crowds there were huge, we saw people queuing up to pay their last respects to the late King Rama IX, a man who will be missed deeply by the Thai people and no doubt by millions from around the world.
From here we tried to get our coordination and eventually found the Na Phra Lan Road, everything was confusing because of the crowds. They were all dressed in black out of respect. In the confusion, we eventually hit the Maha Rat Road near the river, which had been our plan all along. Annie realised where the nearest pier was, so we headed off in that direction. The pier was the Maharaj, there we waited for our boat to arrive. The next plan was to go back to the Wat Arun and spend some time there. Annie I knew wanted to go to the temple there to meditate.
Finding the initial pier, was rather problematic, as there seemed to have been a string of them all snuggled up next to each other. Our boat eventually arrived and we all go on. Again, we took up our position on the stern. The funny thing was that along the way I got chatting to a couple of young girls, who had only just arrived from going to Hong Kong. I immediately picked up their English accents as I got talking to them.
‘Hello, where are you from?’ I asked them.
‘We’re from Stoke on Trent in the UK. Where are you from?’
‘Well, I live and work here in Bangkok, but I’m originally from Yorkshire.’
We discussed many things. They were obviously young and adventurous.
‘Where’s a good place to hang out in, in Bangkok.’ One of them asked.
‘God, you’re asking the wrong person this. I would say catch the BTS train and head out for Na Na. If you get off there you’ll find pubs, clubs and God knows what. That’s the area when the young Europeans tend to head for.’
I gave then one of my cards with my details on, who knows you might be reading this now? We said our goodbyes and went on our way.
The Wat Arun was busy as always, we wheeled our bicycles into the grounds and headed out back towards the temple’s walled perimeter, which just happened to look out onto the river. Annie went to meditate and pray, while I looked after the bicycles. I couldn’t help but take pictures of the beautiful Wat Arun and the amazing but strange architecture that dotted the Bangkok skyline.
By the time Annie came back, the rain had started, in the distance one could hear the echoes of thunder approaching. The last thing I wanted was for Annie to get spooked by the thunder, let alone by the pouring rain and some of the manic drivers let loose on the Bangkok roads – a cocktail for disaster.
We went down to the pier and waited, it seemed that the ‘Tiger Balm Express’ had arrived. I’d seen this boat on the river earlier, but didn’t quite manage to get a picture of it, so here was my chance.
From there we headed back to Sathorn, from where we had started from, but the cycle home for Annie was frightening, especially with all the junctions we had to go over. Annie isn’t the fastest of cyclists, to begin with. I have been known to clock over 70km/h going down the flyovers, but Annie was struggling to do over 20 km/h. All I could do was encourage her and wait for her. We made it back all in one piece.
‘That was frightening, how I didn’t get hit was anybody’s guess.’ She said.
‘You have to clear those junctions as quick as possible. You can’t hang around on them.’
We’d enjoyed the day, it had been an invigorating experience if only to do more cycle escapades together.