The real deal…

Despite being on a tourist boat, a trip through the backwater canals of Bangkok gave an insightful glimpse into another type of Thai lifestyle. Just as the well-heeled in Bangkok frequent expansive shopping malls, trendy restaurants and tote the latest in mobile technology, there is another part of the population that lives a much simpler way of life. They can be found fishing on concrete walls, toting a bucket of water from the river or playing a game of chess with a rowdy group of friends. They are the Thais that live on the canals, often with no walls, sloping floors and laundry occupying every conceivable space.

A trip on a longtail boat _ a popular vessel in Thailand that has a long rudder and sounds like a chainsaw _ takes you down the Chao Phraya river and through the canals that give Bangkok it’s nickname “The Venice of the East.” But there are no gondolas or romantic Italian architecture. It is rustic, run-down and the embodiment of everything a Westerner would consider poor. You can see the stains where the water rises to in monsoon season, when all of these people have to leave their soon-to-be-flooded homes. Yet, everyone on the canal waves at you and smiles, such a quintessentially Thai thing to do.

This boat tour also included a trip to the Wat Arun temple, an impressive structure which is adorned with broken ceramic pieces from Chinese merchant ships. It is a complex on the other side of the Chao Phraya river, where there Buddhist monks walk the grounds as they live and worship there. The size is not so grand when you’re standing at ground level, but as you climb the stairs you realize just how high this temple rises.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Porcelain exterior

As you start to climb the ancient stone steps to the top, it’s easy to become confident that it’s not as bad as it looks. But as you continue up, you realize that the steep vertical climb you see on the ground, doesn’t begin to prepare you for the ladder-like climb to the top. The key is not to look down. Once you’ve reached the summit however (and managed to keep down your lunch and suppress what you think are inaudible whimpers) you are treated to a fantastic view of the city.
View from the top

View from the top

Preparing yourself for the trip back down takes a bit of time. It’s taking that first step _ backwards, because otherwise you’ll fly headfirst down the stairs _ that is the trickiest. It requires a bit of white-knuckling the railing and if you’re wearing a short dress, using your other hand to keep from flashing the crowd below.

(Insiders tip: Don’t wear a short dress. No matter what you do, the wind will carry your dress up to your waist and you will show everyone your undies. Some are pleased by this, but it inevitably means a rushed trip back to the boat to avoid further humiliation.)

3 thoughts on “The real deal…

  1. question. were you wearing a short dress this day and forced to scurry back to the boat? i think its safe to say, that would also happen to me, ha!

    talk about steep steps, eh? i think i would have to count the steps out loud to avoid my clumsy self from missing a step.

  2. Hi Urban Pilgrim,
    Got your comment on my river taxi post — thanks for reading it — and just managed to get to yours on the longtails, which I loved (the post!) I wish we’d managed to make it Wat Arun. Now we are home and you’re making us wish we weren’t. I’d love to know what you’re doing in Bangkok — working? For whom? As a journalist? Do tell, because I came home all fired up to move over there.

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