Week 1: Day 4 – Day 7
Friday December 16th – Monday December 19th 2016
Day 4: Chao Phraya Express
Today we set off to explore the length of the Chao Phraya river by public boat, about an hours boat ride for a standard fee of 14 THB pp for any distance. We caught a taxi to nearby Wat Rajsingkom (S3) then hopped onto the orange flagged boat all the way to Nonthaburi (N30) at the end of the line.
It was magical riding down the river on the sweeping open air ferry – the weather was mild and not humid – stopping frequently for embarking and disembarking watching the faces of locals including a boy scout in his 80’s. The boys gave him the Scouts’ three finger salute and he grinned. We enjoyed watching the huge variety of boats as they plowed the brown waters: various smaller public ferries that cross the river – back and forth; the cheaper public ferries that avoid the tourist sites; the blue flag tourist ferries; the huge dredging hulks (often with one or two dogs taking a ride) and the commercial traffic. There is always a passing delight of people, temples, futuristic skyscrapers and the surreal “Sydney opera house” ferry ports themselves to entertain.
As we left the ferry at Nonthaburi, the hustle and bustle of Bangkok died away and suddenly we were experiencing a different pace, where people delighted in our children and stopped to contemplate. A lovely lady who had stopped to smile at the children earlier on board suddenly appeared with a huge bag of coloured rice puffs for our boys. They had a great time watching the water writhe with glistening catfish and then startling the huge flocks of monastery pigeons to take flight.
There we enjoyed perusing the huge variety of street food along the road side before settling in a local restaurant for roast chicken, glutinous rice, glass noodles with prawns and a serve of the usual green paw paw salad.
Sated, we headed back along the promenade past a monolith of a lovely faded wooden school, a lunching scout troupe, around the Chinese temple, back past the local post office (where we took the chance to arrange a few postal items) and finally back to the port.
That afternoon we left the ferry at Saphan Taksin to make our way to the famous Mandarin Oriental for our booked Terrace Rim Nam cultural performance at its restaurant across the river.
We headed south on Charoen Krung road and saw a monstrous unfinished condo that was never finished due to the 1997 Asia financial crisis. Now it is used to hang advertising.
This area is a hub of street food stalls and contains the night markets, closed at this time. We walked past the Lebua State tower with its golden dome and was the film set for the final scenes in the Hangover 2.
Northwards from Silom, is a quieter area of crumbling buildings, jewellery stores and galleries. Taking a left down Soi 40 we visited the Assumption Cathedral, Bangkok’s largest Catholic church, before finally reaching our destination the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
It occupies the area between Soi 40 and 38 and is a palatial, serene, remnant of the colonial area. The lobby was stunningly decorated for Christmas.
When our reservation time neared we caught the carved Oriental’s complimentary boat across the river and settled in for an evening of drinks and a series of acts ranging from traditional Thai dance, to contemporary styles, to stylised Muay Thai.
During the performance our Reuben fell asleep but Felix enjoyed the show with us before after a very big day we took our tired crew home.
Days 5 & 6: Meanwhile, several thousand kilometres away…
…Graham and Lucas departed Perth. They stayed back a few days to allow Lucas to finish off his Year 6 classes – the last few days of his Primary School years.
The prep for the trip had all been done and they slung on their 7kg packs. On arriving at the airport they learned that the flight was another two hours delayed – it was going to be a long night.
After an uneventful flight, they arrive in Singapore with a shortened layover, enough time for Lucas to grab some kip in a fake tram car at Changi.
The short hop to Bangkok (Don Mueng) is quick, and they grab a cab for the Rainbow Micky where the rest of the Sabretoothed Chickens are cooped up. We walk in, and are welcomed with smiles and hugs. The crew is back together!
There’s time for noodles at a nearby shop before a tired Lucas retires to the hotel, to catch up with his brothers and get some rest.
Having discovered it with the family on Day 5, Prunella is keen to show Graham the sois and the canals, so we headed out in the balmy weather. The trail takes us from a dusty and busy urban byway, instantly into a quieter corner of the city, across brightly painted bridges and through small communities dependent on well stocked stalls and hole-in-the-wall hairdressers.
We dodge washing lines, splendid temples and murky ponds, suddenly emerging into the street in the shadow of a another vast concrete overhead train-line, perpetually under construction in a hopeless race against the sclerotic congestion for which the city is infamous.
Finally we duck into the lanes again, and emerge just near the Artist’s House a funky cafe/gallery/shop/performance space right on a busy canal. Boats whiz past as we sip tea. In the courtyard, a small stage envelops a crumbling stupa.
After a due silence to honour the late King, a band of puppeteers take to the stage and put on a show, an elaborate tale of Hanuman (the Monkey) and the Mermaid. Each wooden puppet is brought to life by the coordinated actions of three black-clad actors, who dance and swim and entertain the crowd.
In the evening Prunella and her mum take in the Siam Naramit show, while Reuben guides us to a 7-11 and the weird and wonderful supply of snacks on offer, then a well earned slumber.
Siam Naramit Show
With Graham resting with the boys Pamela and Prunella set out for a girls own adventure to see the Bangkok phenomenon that is the Siam Naramit Show. Prunella read about it in Perth and booked advanced discount tickets online.
This show has one of the largest stages in the world with over 100 performers wearing 500 costumes. Prunella knew it would be somewhat tacky and very old-fashioned but fuelled by her wonder at the black and white broadway multi-set musicals of the late 1800’s, she knew it was a unique experience that she and her mum would enjoy. They were not disappointed.
The entertainment started with a pre-performance outdoor show. Unfortunately no video or photo’s are permitted and bags are rigorously checked before the main performance.
The main show consisted of several acts.
Act one covers the Lana Kingdom, traders from overseas, the Khmer civilisation and Ayutthaya.
Act two takes you to fiery hell, Mythical Himapaan and Blissful heaven.
The final act takes us on a journey through the Thai festivals surrounding Ordination Ceremonies, Songkran, the Phitakhon Ghost Parade and Loy Krathong.
Prunella was fascinated by the deep ocean pearling scene and Pamela was thrilled to see the mythical creatures roaming the forests of Himapaan.
Besides the huge stage in front of you, there is a stage to each side and performers plus theatrical effects appear in the audience and along the aisles. The show was filled with delightful surprises and often child-like magical moments. It was unlike anything Prunella had ever seen before and a nod to the black&white, corny, stereotyped, multi-stage productions she had seen as a child. Overall a wonderful experience.
Day 7: To the Frozen North
In the dark of the next morning, a car arrives and we join the already-thronging traffic for the drive tot the airport. Our driver – a fifty-something Bangkok native – is expert, and she weaves through the city and skirts the snarls, even dodging one minor fender-bender accident as it happened
At the airport we join the serpentine queues through check-in, immigration, security. A quick breakfast of Burger King has to suffice, and we’re onto the plane for Europe. Winter is coming…