Monday, February 1, 2016

PART II - Exploring the THONBURI side of Bangkok [ธนบุรี]

Bangkok off the beaten track
Thonburi Noi canal area

Bangkok Noi area
Two days after walking about 7km through a maze of alleys and canals in the Bangkok Yai area, I went to explore another section of Thonburi with two friends. This time, it was a totally new experience as I had never been to Bangkok Noi area before. It is located behind Siriraj Hospital, across the river from Thammasat University and the Bangkok National Museum in Rattanakosin. This new trek is about 6.5km long and it lasted from 9:30 AM till about 1:30 PM. Needless to say, it was another fascinating experience that makes you feel far away from the Bangkok city life.
First, we had planned to take a taxi from the Krung Thon Buri BTS-station, on the other side of Saphan Taksin bridge as on Sundays traffic is lighter than usual.
The following information was found on a sign telling the history of this area:

From Thonburi to Bangkok

In the years 1522, King Phra Chai Rachathirat of Ayutthaya graciously ordered that an area at the narrowest point of the Bangkok Yai canal had to be dug up. That was the mouth of Bangkok Noi canal up till the mouth of Bangkok Yai canal. As for the area in front of Thammasat University or in front of the Bangkok Noi railway station up till Wat Arun Ratchawararam, has now joined and become part of the Chao Phraya River. Therefore, the Chao Phraya River that passes around Bangkok has become part of the Bangkok Noi canal and Bangkok Yai canal.
When Bangkok Noi canal was a part of the Chao Phraya River, it was only an agricultural area and the community residing around the banks had a very easy-going lifestyle. The main changes took place after the small canal was dug up around Bangkok. It allowed the decrease in travelling time and the community also expanded on both banks of the canal. In the year 1972, Bangkok and Thonburi were combined to be the capital city and many roads were constructed on Thonburi side, allowing more public assistance and public utilities, and overall more comforts within that area, thereby allowing more people to stay within the area. Therefore, it was transformed into a big community from a very small one. The orchards and rice fields changed into houses, factories, and office buildings. But anyway, around Bangkok Noi canal, which was an area rich in arts and culture, and religious buildings such as Wat Sri Sudaram, Ban Bu community, Wat Suwannaram and others are still people living as they did many years ago.
Old locomotive
Our first stop was at the Rotfai Thonburi Market [ตลาดรถไฟธนบุร] near Bangkok Noi khlong (rot fai in Thai means 'rail'). It is a big covered wet market next to the Thonburi Train Station. It makes it a good start to explore the Bangkok Noi district community.
This station is still used to go to Kanchanaburi or some seaside resorts on the Gulf of Thailand. However, its main interest is that it is a vintage train depot having some wonderful old steam locomotives on display.
At the Thonburi Locomotive Depot
Thonburi Rail Station
Just behind the station, there is an alley that goes along Bangkok Noi khlong to explore this historical community. This is far away from the modern side of Bangkok. Here, you are back to the Thai country life. Many friendly Thai people greet you with a smile at seeing these curious farang visitors. And if ever you take the wrong path in this maze of alleys, there is always someone to put you back on the right track. Here is the information read on a historic sign board about this community:
History of Bangkok Noi Community

In the early days of Rattanakosin period, when H.M.King Phra Buddha Yodfa Chula Lok the Great (Rama I) established Bangkok to be the capital city, H.M. The King wanted the city to be as similar as possible to Ayutthaya City (the old capital). To strengthen the spirit and will power of the people, as for the people themselves, they got together in groups and communities to carry out the professions that they were accomplished at doing. They also named their communities the same as they were in Ayutthaya City. For example Ban Dork Mai: this community made firecrackers. Ban Chang Lor: this community moulded Buddha images. Ban Khamin: this community made turmeric powder. But now there are only a few communities that remain to carry out the same professions as before. One of them is the community that makes khan long hin (stone-finished bowl). This community is residing around Wat Suwannaram, on the bank of Bangkok Noi canal, and they are known as Ban Bu community.
Khan Lon Hin was a popular utensil used in the olden days. Some houses used it for containing water, as the water would become very cool and refreshing. The other use was, to put rice that would be given as alms to the monks. But presently, since the process of making this utensil is very labour intensive and complicated, Khan Long Hin has become a high priced item, which is now used as a decorative item for some houses.

This first section of Bangkok Noi is known as Baan Bu. This is where they have the only traditional
Baan Bu street
bronze factory left dating from the Ayutthaya period. One family has kept the tradition until now. It is called the Jiam Sangsajja Bronze Factory.
A local signboard explains the origin of the bronzeware making:

Baan Bu Community (Khan Long Hin Baan Bu)

Baan Bu Community (Khan Long Hin Baan Bu) is the only place that still makes Khan Long Hin (stone polished bronze bowl) in Thailand. It is located in Baan Bu sub-district of Bangkok Noi District. It is next to Suwannaram Temple by the Bangkok Noi canal. Today, it is an area behind the Bangkok Noi District office. Making khan long hin is one of their family business. There were more than a hundred families, who stayed together in this area producing this type of bronze ware. The story goes that these craftsmen families were from the Ayutthaya era, which migrated to Banglamphu and then to Baan Bu.
In the past, making khan long hin was a very famous business, but later it faded away due to the upcoming of new technology. In the end, there is now only one family in the area that still continues their khan long hin business. 'Jiam Saeng Sajja Bronze Factory' is the only producer that survives, having kept their business for many generations.
Their khan long hin has been selected to be a 5-star OTOP product (One Tambon One Product). Their product has a shiny and beautiful surface. It is strong, durable, not getting dull easily, cold, and gives a crystal sound like that of a bell when hit lightly. The only disadvantage is that it must be washed and dried after each use, otherwise, some spots will appear. Nowadays, it is more used as a house decoration or a souvenir.
Upper side of a bronze bowl

Back side with signature
Once you leave this main village alley, you need to remain close to the bank of the canal to stay on

Khlong views from Wat
track and reach the next point of interest. Wat Suwannaram Worawihan is an interesting site with a pier on Bangkok Noi offering a good view of the khlong and its surroundings.
The Wihan has some exquisite mural paintings but they are not all in a good state and would probably need to be restored. Here is what the historic signboard says about this place of worship:

Wat Ratchaworawihan

This is the second-grade royal temple of Ratchaworawihan, which originally dates back from the Ayutthaya period. Later in Rattanakosin period, King Rama I had the whole temple dismantled and renovated. An Ubosot (Ordination Hall), Wihan (Hall of Worship), Kamphaeng Kaeo (the low wall built to surround the Ubosot or Wihan where the Buddha image is enshrined), Kuti (Monks ' residences in a monastery) and Sena Sana (bed and seat for Buddhist monk) were also constructed. The royal name given to the temple was Wat Suwannaram. King Rama III had it further restored. There used to be a Men Luang (Royal Crematorium), situated outside the temple walls, which was used for the cremation of the members of the royal family and high-ranking officers. According to custom, any cremations must be held outside the city walls. This Men Luang was used up till the reign of King Rama IV.
The Ubosot is rectangular in shape with a balcony both at the front and at the rear. The finals are decorated with embedded mirror fragments. The Na Ban (gable) has sculptures of Thep Phanom (figure of Deva clasping hands in token of worship), images of Narayana (Hindu god) mounted on a Garuda covered with gold leaves. The doors and windows are painted in the pattern of Lai Rot Nam. On the walls inside the Ubosot, there are mural paintings completed by famous artists during King Rama III reign, such as Khong Pae, Khru Thongyu. The works are considered to be extremely beautiful, even from the Rattanakosin period. Enshrined inside the Ubosot is the principal Buddha image in subduing Mara (Satan) posture. It is named Phra Satsada, cast by craftsmen from the Sukhothai period. The Fine Arts Department registered this temple as a national ancient monument in 1949.
Monk house

The monastery architecture is particularly interesting as it adopts a pure, traditional Thai style. Otherwise, many other parts of this temple are mixed with a Thai-Chinese influence.
Wall painting detail in the Wihan
Village trail
Continuing west, past the alley that goes through the monastery, there is the main bridge that crosses Bangkok Noi and allows you to go to the other side of the canal.
This is another interesting community of the canal. But to get to the Royal Barge Museum is not easy as there is no clear map of the area. Yet, it is possible to use it as a bicycle trail as well. When they see you are going nowhere, people usually let you know and if you ask, they will tell or even show you the way to keep walking along. There are many smaller khlong in this area. Many houses stand on stilts above the water and there are some nice private gardens there as well.
Floating house
Royal barge

Prow of a barge
Intricate decoration
We eventually reached our next destination, the National Museum of Royal Barges. Even though this is already a more touristic side of Thonburi, we were the only visitors there.

House door-knocker
From here, there is another lovely walk to reach the next bridge over the Chao Phraya River to get back to Rattanakosin island. I saw again another house gate with a door-knocker not far from the museum. So, it shows that some houses in Thailand also have a tradition of door-knockers and that is not exclusively reserved to sanctuaries. The other interesting site on these back alleys was a small temple that looked in ruins but had the shape of a barge. Walking to its backside, away from the road, there was a huge standing gilded Buddha. Some more, nearby, there is still a small teak library above a pond (to keep termites away). Quite an unexpected visit. And it seems that the temple is in the process of being renovated. After researching on Google map, this small temple is called Wat Dusidaram Woravihara. It also dates back to the Ayutthaya period.
Side view of the temple

The standing Buddha
The last portion of this trek takes us over Somdet Phra Pin Klao Bridge (1973). This bridge is 658m long and is named after Pin Klao, a former Siamese vice-king in the 19th c. There is a nice view of the river and also Bangkok skyline from this bridge.
The last part of the walk in Rattanakosin took us along the riverwalk to Phra Athit pier. Here, there is a pleasant riverside restaurant called Aquatini Riverside Bar & Restaurant. We sat for a late lunch to cool off before getting on the taxi-boat bound for Saphan Taksin Bridge.
End of the hike for today, but expect a Part 3 in the near future to explore another part of the Thonburi riverbank.
Christian Sorand

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