Saturday 6 December 2014
Pahurat…….. Now several days after the end of my amazing ‘Natural Thailand’ tour with hours and hours spent on sifting through and cataloging my photographs, I really must get some shopping done before I head back to the UK. Neither of these things need cause me to open a new thread. Yet as I head towards Pahurat textile market, deep in the heart of the old city, I manage to take a few photographs. With nowhere else to post them, I decide to open a new webpage. I don’t intend to write a whole chapter on this area but the Chao Phraya’s east bank provided a home for early Chinese and Indian traders who managed to drain some of the surrounding marshland though a series of klongs (canals) and build their homes. As I travel through the area, very congested with none of the most modern modes of transport available, I find a tuk tuk, the most suitable means to take me on to the textile quarter. The area is completely at odds with the commercial and political areas of Bangkok with evidence of the old city all around. It is slow to accept change with old wooden buildings refusing to give way to concrete and glass. But change may just be around the corner as the MRT underground loop is being extended through the area and out under the Chao Phraya River. So there’s no chapter, just a paragraph.
On the right track……..Knowing the difficulty I had in inserting myself into the old city, I decide to try another mode of transport to extract myself. I head for Hua Lamphong Railway station again but this time by bus No. 7. I can use the opportunity at the station to expand my data base on the SRT. It proves useful and in addition with no easy route back to Kubon, I decide to take a train as far as Lak Si station. From here there is a direct route east along Ramintra Road. The route north from Bang Sue Junction follows the route of the SRT dark red line which is now well under construction after major delays. This urban line will be electrified and cover a distance of 21.6 kliometres as far as Thammasat University. I jump on the 16.30 Ordinary Service heading for Lopburi. This route is still slow but at least it’s predictable and cheap, just 5 baht for the train. As mentioned, I hadn’t intended to cover the day’s events in my blog but it leads naturally into another day which certainly has to be included.
Tuesday 9 December 2014
Thonburi District, Bangkok for map click here
Thonburi (Thai: ธนบุรี) is an area of modern Bangkok. During the era of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, its location on the right (west) bank at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River had made it an important garrison town, which is reflected in its name: thon (ธน) a loanword from Pali. In 1768, a year after the sack of Ayutthaya by the Burmese, General Taksin took back Thonburi and, by right of conquest, made it the capital of the Thonburi Kingdom with himself king until 6 April 1782. Rama I, as newly enthroned king, decided to move the capital to across the river, where stakes driven into the soil of Bangkok for the City Pillar at 06:45 on 21 April 1782, marked the official founding of the new capital. Thonburi remained an independent town and province, until it was merged into Bangkok in 1971. Thonburi stayed less developed than the other side of the river. Many of the traditional small waterways, Khlongs, still exist there, while they are nearly gone from the other side of the river. As of 2012 Thonburi has 15 sub districts (Tetsaban).
Thonburi……..After another concerted effort on preparing my photo files for publishing, I decide to make yet another concerted effort on shopping. I agree to travel into the city with Katoon by bus but wonder whether she has ideas of her own. First I need to change some more money as I head for Supan Kwai where just around the corner in Pradiphat Road there are a number of money changers offering arguably the best rates in Bangkok.
That’s the easy bit done but when Katoon suggests that we can do shopping later I’m not totally convinced but it’s still early. She wants to travel on the Thonburi, for what reason I’m not totally sure. Ever had that feeling you’re on a mystery tour? OK it’s an easy trip by BTS, I think, with Supan Kwai BTS station near the bus stop. However we still need to change trains at Siam for the Silom Line trip across the river. By the time we reach Talad Phlu it’s past the normal lunch break. Talad Phlu is an odd place on a railway line. However this is an independent line from Wong Wian Yai to Mahachi which has been covered on an earlier tour. The line is in sorry state but due for an upgrade, part of the electrified SRT red line urban extension. It will then be connected to the main system but this is totally dependent on completion of the tunnel under the Chao Phraya which is currently work in progress. We take lunch of sorts at Talad Phlu station. Then, not totally to my surprise we head for a temple.
Wat Ratcha Krut……..With my head still spinning from the previous tour, I wonder if I can handle another temple. A short walk away is Wat Ratcha Krut. I’m told it’s important I come here. There is nothing outwardly significant about this temple except, in a small viharn, a Buddha image is in a pose I’m not used to seeing. The pose is as in death with the image lying prostrate. It’s seems morbid but I’m told on the contrary it’s where people come to pray for good health, or perhaps in my case to give thanks that my health has been quite good on my current visit to Thailand.
Wat Intharam Worawihan……..A short walk away is another temple, or is it a complex of two or even three? As I enter the temple grounds I feel at a huge disadvantage, despite a signboard giving its name in English with a brief history included. Based on what I know about Thai history, it’s not hard to see that I’m in another very hallowed place. One cannot talk about Thonburi without reference to King Taksin who unified Siam after the sack of Ayutthaya in 1767 by the Burmese. King Taksin chose his new capital here in Thonburi although with development east of the Chao Phraya, the capital was subsequently moved. With little to go on at present; there is precious little in English, I have to rely on what I see or am told. It’s enough for me to realise that this temple contains relics relating to King Taksin. His remains appear to rest in a chedi in front of a viharn where presently there is much activity.
Amid much chanting and discharge of firecrackers there is an important ceremony in progress. I’m here to investigate and it soon becomes clear that an important Buddhist elder is performing a ritual blessing of this holy site. I’m in the hall amidst quite frantic activity intent not only in talking still photographs but an extended video as well. I soon get swallowed up in the excitement and receive a souvenir blessed by the senior monk. I’m told I’m so fortunate to be here at this time to receive good luck. It is not a regular event. I’m later told that this particular temple is not the only one in Thonburi dedicated to King Taksin but it seems to be the most important. The complex of temple buildings and chedis that can be seen nearby were constructed during the reign of King Rama III and their design was influenced by Chao Phraya waterway nearby i.e. the use of boats for transport. This has been another experience that has come to me out of the blue but the afternoon is warring on. As a final thought, this historically important site is far from being on the tourist map and would definitely require a guide. It’s quite hard to get to which is a pity. Oddly there is a klong beside the temple which connects to the Chao Phraya but is used only for charter boats. I must head back but not by water. I establish that there is a bus 111 that passes close to the Chao Phraya. It’s from Taksin Pier that I can take a boat to my next destination.
From the Thonburi side it’s necessary to cross the Chao Phraya by ferry boat yet even this short trip offers glorious views from the river. On the east bank there is a sign to the Asiatique ferry boat which is free. I’ve been aware of this venue for some time and remember the public reaction when it first opened in 2012. I’m still only vaguely aware of what’s there and being my first trip I will naturally want to review it. I do know that when the venue first opened there was a rush of public interest which overwhelmed the shuttle boat service. As it turns out I’m in the first half dozen in this queue but I must have just missed a boat as by the time another arrives the queue is wrapped around the pier. Apparently they’ve now produced a larger boat which seems to be coping. Clearly the site’s reputation seems to have spread as a number of foreign visitors make up the queue. As the boat heads out into the river it’s still not dark but soon the lights glow in the distance as the most prominent feature at Asiatique comes into view.
Asiatique the Riverfront, Khet Bang Kho Laem District, Bangkokfor map click here
Asiatique The Riverfront is a large open-air mall in Bangkok, Thailand. It is situated in the former docks of the East Asiatic Company, and faces the Chao Phraya River and Charoen Krung Road. The complex opened in 2012 after extensive renovation of the site. It occupies 30 rai (4.8 hectares (12 acres)) of land.
The Denmark-based East Asiatic Company was founded in 1897 and was one of several Western firms conducting trade with Siam at the time. The company owned port facilities on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok, which include several warehouses, the oldest extant building dating from 1907. The port ceased operations in 1947, and the facilities later fell into disuse. In May 2011 real estate company TCC Land announced its plans to renovate and develop the site into a retail/entertainment complex to be known as Asiatique The Riverfront.
It is a popular version of the London Eye. The boat trip takes about 15 minutes then it’s onto the promenade. Immediately you just get the feeling this is a perfect spot to take the family, to be with friends or just as a couple. There are a huge variety of shops, boutiques, restaurants by the dozen, bars and a cinema but what’s interesting to me about this place was what there was here before. The whole site, while not massive, was previously just warehouse space: So this is Thailand’s answer to rejuvenation of a brown belt site of little commercial value. However this was not always the case. Just over two hundred years ago it became a base for the East Asiatic Company of Denmark who set up sawmills in the area. The company thrived for a hundred years before closing operations here. Commercial activity continued but received a new lease of life in the 1930’s when heavy lifting equipment was installed; an example of lifting gear from the UK is preserved on the promenade. The effect was to allow import of heavy engineering equipment for the first time which heralded a move towards industrialisation in Thailand. Unfortunately the effect was delayed when the Japanese took over the site during WW2. Eventually, though, in keeping with many dockyards and warehouse space in the UK, even this site declined when more convenient containerisation of trade took hold.
In a very short space of time I managed to learn a lot about this site, less than it will take me to write about it. It’s not really my cup of tea but I’m glad I made it if only for historic reasons. Talking about tea, that was served with Japanese food I ate at MK here. OK I’m being a bit hard on myself as the views after dark of the skyline from the river here are quite amazing. From Taksin Pier I can now take the BTS as far as Victory Monument and from there It’s a straightforward run by passenger van to Kubon. I’m back just after 9pm after a long but rewarding day; and yes, you guessed it! I got very little shopping done.