A commute on the Chao Praya
Yesterday I went to visit MsExPat's friend Song for the second time (and I commend this fantastic post from MsExPat to your attention). Her shop is in Khao San, the famous district where backpackers go to ground. I myself [sniff] am in quite another area, very far away -- and the first time I went, the meter taxi cost around 300 baht (ten dollars, which is a lot). So I thought this time I would take the subway to a pier on the Chao Praya (40 baht), and then take a commuter boat (15 baht) and then walk (zero baht). And see the river!
Here's Sathorn Pier, off the BTS, with a commuter boat motoring on down south. I'm going north to pier N13 (says the map). The thing to notice is the flatness of the land. Bangkok, like Venice, is a water city, and the original power of Thailand came from its location on a very fertile and very flat flood plain. No river bluffs at all! It doesn't take very much for the Chao Praya to flood Bangkok. (Another way of saying that is that avoiding floods takes very good management upstream.) I don't know what the Bangkok water table is, but from the vegetal (and not, fortunately, shit) aroma that emanated from my bathroom before I figured out to close the toilet lid and plug the sinks -- Thai plumbers seem not to use traps, not even in Siam Paragon, where I caught the very same whiff -- I'm guessing it's close to the surface. But I wander, when in fact I'm heading directly upstream at a high rate of speed.
The pier is under the Skytrain bridge. The architecture seems Brutalist, rather like Boston City Hall -- a great concrete expression of authority pressing down on one. I must say, if architecture must express social structure so isomorphically, I far prefer the soaring lines of the wats.
Anyhow, boat #189 is moving south fast -- consider the garland of flowers hanging from the prow as a wind indicator. The Chao Praya is a working river; it's not all hotel ferries and dinner boats!
Here is another driver's cabin; much neater than a bus driver's! Through the window, a wat. The sun would be striking gold from the roof if it weren't a cloudy day.
A passing boat, moving quite fast. There's scarcely time to move the iPad into position and take a shot. (Granted, a real camera would fire a lot faster, but that's not the point!)
Splashing as my boat plows through the wake left by the boat just passed. We too are close to the river!
The old Bangkok and the new, mixed together but both close to the river. (Plants are in pots, I now understand, so that they can be moved to higher ground in case of a flood! And Bangkok, at least to a Bostonian or a Manhattanite, is as flat as a billiard table.* So if this lady's porch were underwater, it's only a matter of time before the water reaches downtown, even if the river doesn't rise any further.)
Wats soaring over more boats! And then came my stop at Khao San, but I was rushing back to the exit at the back of the boat so I forgot to take a picture of the pier.
All in all, far preferable to a taxi, and no traffic jams!
NOTE * A slight but pardonable exaggeration. In fact, when this famous photograph of inundated (mothballed!) planes at the low-lying Don Muang airport was taken, downtown was just high enough to avoid danger (although not panic and pearl-clutching in the international press.
I guess the lesson is to master the flow, and not resist it....