Excerpts from the author’s weekend experience on the river
Staying at the Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Hotel gives us a chance to enjoy the breathtaking view of Bangkok’s numerous skyscrapers to our right and industrial scenery on our left. Saturday begins with a good breakfast spread offered at the Executive Lounge on the Ramada’s 15th floor. After filling our tummies we head to the hotel’s pier to catch a shuttle boat. In a matter of minutes we are transported to Sathorn pier, where you can also take a public boat upstream towards Koh Kred in Nonthaburi. Hopping on the regular boat, we pick Tha Tien our destination. Tha Tien is a convenient stop for those who like to wander through the old town. Walking out from the pier to the main road, there is a small alley leads to Tha Tien market. The vendors in the market specialize in dried foods, and are many delicacies that amaze me by their vibrant colors and, of course, their smells! Big piles of orange-colored dried shrimp sit next to brown-colored dried squids, available in different sizes and shapes. I turn and spot the biggest dried fish I have ever seen. The architectural structure of the market is reminiscent of the old-style market we all grew up with but don’t see that often nowadays.
This time we opt to walk along the river from Tha Tien upwards to Tha Chang and continue to Tha Phrachan, where Thammasat University’s first campus resides. Being student here for 4 years, it is obvious that the amulet market is a familiar sight to me, but I have never paid it any actual attention. As a teenager I believed that it was so irrelevant to my daily life. However this time I intend to explore the amulet market and challenge my knowledge of Thai superstitious culture. From what I have heard, the prices of the amulets here vary from hundreds of thousands of baht to as less as ten baht. I pay attention to every little stall and realize the vast variety of the amulets. Every shop has its own character; some focus on bronze buddha statues. Others collect various relics. And others are dedicated solely to printed talisman vests which are replicates of those worn by warriors of ancient times. All the items displayed manage to amuse me by their nature and price. I have to admit that strolling along the amulet market is a spooky and fun experience!
It is now Sunday morning and time to explore area around the hotel where a mix of Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian communities live – a perfect representation of the Thai melting pot. Right next to the hotel is a Protestant cemetery, the first Christian cemetery established in Thailand. The land was given by King Mongkut (Rama IV), who recognized the need for a burial site for Christian people living in Siam (as Thailand was known at the time). Here lies the remains of some of Thailand’s historic figures – expatriates who devoted their lives to Thailand – such as Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, an American missionary who introduced printing press and Western medicine to Thailand. For a history geek like me, walking around this serene cemetery and reading these tombstones is like traveling in a time machine, where I can have a glimpse of what Bangkok was like at the times of these people.
Photo: James Monroe Adams IV