River Cruise, Bangkok Thailand
Thursday 29th December 2005.
At 2pm I met my driver for the afternoon in the hotel lobby. He then set off to a nearby hotel to pick up six English tourists who were also doing the same cruise. An exciting â€“ sometimes breathtaking â€“ fifty minute drive through the traffic of Bangkok ended at the river wharf. We had to wait for about ten minutes before boarding one of Thailandâ€™s famous long boats for an hour long cruise.
These boats are incredible. The engines are huge and seem to be more suited to a bus or truck. They are mounted in such a way that the operator (captain?) is able to easily move a handle that swivels the whole engine and the attached long propeller shaft â€“ often 3 â€“ 4 metres long â€“ in order to steer the craft. These great engines are noisy, smelly and powerful, pushing the boat along at a great rate. Sometimes they seem to reach speeds of 40 â€“ 60 kph, depending on the traffic, water conditions and the load.
Transfer to a Wooden River Boat
On our cruise we didnâ€™t reach those speeds but putted along at about 15 â€“ 20 kph taking in the unfolding scenes along the bank. Part way along the motor stopped and we drifted towards the bank for about ten minutes. Eventually the driver managed to restart the motor. After the first hour of the cruise we transferred to another boat for the return journey. This was a much slower, older and more ornate wooden craft. We were served delicious fruit drinks and afternoon tea consisting of a wide variety of local fruits.
Birding in Bangkok
On the cruise I actually saw a few birds. I saw about 8 different species but havenâ€™t yet identified all of them. (Post-script: the list includes House Sparrow, Rock Dove, Spotted Turtledove, Common Myna, Great Egret, Brown Headed Gull, House Crow and Barn Swallow. The last 3 listed are first ever sightings for me, ie â€œlifersâ€. All the others I have seen in Australia.)
The cruise was interesting and quite fascinating. The river lays bare the huge social and economic gaps in this country. Tall, towering and very expensive condominiums have been built alongside broken down, decrepit shanties almost collapsing into the water.
The river also highlights the proliferation of Buddhist temples in this city. Our guide said that one tourist city in northern Thailand has far more temples than coffee shops. He also said that he feels sad about all the temples. Most Thais, he said, are very poor and very superstitious and give large proportions of their money to the temple priests. He went on to say that they did it for good luck. He said that the money was usually spent on things like gold for temple decorations rather than helping the really poor and needy.