The first civilizations were built around rivers. The same holds true with Chao Phraya, the river of kings. On its banks rose the Kingdom of Siam many, many years ago. Today, remnants of a monarchy that hugely revolved around religion is still apparent. This was what was revealed to my tourist eyes one Monday afternoon.
While walking aimlessly along Khao San, a tuktuk driver struck a conversation with me upon learning that I am Filipina. I was bracing myself for possible mentions of sex workers in Pattaya or (old) Caucasian-toting (young) brides, but there wasn’t any. Instead, he spoke so highly of Manny Pacquiao, complete with boxing moves.
My instant friend then drove to the boat wharf at the back of the Grand Palace. He introduced me to the barker who negotiated an exclusive afternoon sunset cruise through the canals. I had a feeling it was the boatmen’s first Baht for the afternoon. So I handed them a sum that according to the barker, would take a boatful of foreigners to book.
Despite backpacking, I was (am) not particularly stingy when giving tips or paying extra, especially if it wouldn’t make much of a dent to my budget but would make a world of difference to the recipient. Knowing that my shy skipper would have food to serve to his family for dinner that night, I was happy. (This goes without saying that yes, I am very UNlikely to blog about the-cheapest-way-possible stuff in 3rd world countries. It is a rip-off and in some ways, robbery to try and haggle half the asking price when my currency is 30 times the value of theirs. )
Off to the wide and quiet Me Nam, we cruised towards the dying sun. I positioned myself on the head of the boat, shamelessly took selfies and polaroids while my boatman laughed hilariously at the back. My carriage for the day was adorned with leis and flowers, as is with most Thai boats. Banners of what I’d like to believe were the colors of the Rastafari wrapped around the vessel, much to the pleasure of my color-loving self.
As we progressed, the river became narrow and we made a few turns to the smaller canals. It is when the charm of old Siam revealed itself to me. The banks were lined with stilt houses with main doors facing the water. In lieu of cars, I understood, households kept boats to transport families to land. Similar to land dwellings, those stilt houses boasted of potted gardens, clotheslines and verandas. Most of the people waved when our boat went by.
I clutched my heart at that stage. I remembered a similar community near the fish port of Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur many years ago. I’ve always been interested in how societies were developed on the brims of sources of living. In Hinatuan, it was the fish port. In Old Siam, undoubtedly, it was the mother river.
PRESENT DAY BANGKOK
When we got back to the wider part of the river, we saw a number of temples. We stopped at some, and the monks were kind enough to help feed fishes. Unlike the more known temples, those that were near the riverbanks were more like community complexes. There were houses, basketball courts, kids and cars inside temple compounds. In broken English, one of the men in the temples explained that because community life revolve around religion, people tend to set up dwellings near where they worship.
As we neared the end of the cruise and to Wat Arun, one of the more tourist-laden temples in Bangkok, old Siam faded and the commercialization of the present day Bangkok became more apparent. First, there was a boy on another boat who kept following us to sell souvenir items. Then there were other boats, also adorned with garlands and multi-colored streamers with tourists as awe-inspired as I was. We waved to each other, while some. especially children, splashed river water. The kindness and niceness in that part of the world was contagious. I haven’t seen myself that gleeful on sunset, so I mouthed a prayer to my God, one that I didn’t always find myself saying– “Thank You.”
Date of Travel: April 1, 2013
As I scanned the dark backstreets for a tuktuk that would take me back to Khao San, a couple of German boys asked if we could get a taxi together and split the fare. They told me it was their last day in the continent and was running short on cash. Luckily, we found a taxi driver who was willing to be of aide to 3 sunburnt backpackers with 2 gigantic backpacks. We said goodbye in the middle of the always jampacked Khao San Road at twilight, saying hello and goodbye at the same time.
BANGKOK RIVER CRUISE. This post is part of a travel series featuring a month-long (supposedly) solo jaunt to Thailand, Laos and Cambodia