Monday, July 14, 2008

Bangkok - Day Three - Part Two

Forty-five minutes later, we were still attempting to hail a cab. We were on a main street, passed by hundreds of cabs, none of which were stopping as they already had a fare or just couldn’t get to us. There was a very elderly Thai woman standing down from us that also couldn’t catch a cab. When a cab stopped for us, we ushered the woman into it and hailed down another for ourselves. Our destination was Ko Kret, a small island located on the Chao Prao River, located 13 miles north of Bangkok. I had heard that there were no cars and very little tourists and ignored the bits about it being the durian[1] capital of the world.

We had come into the habit of asking the concierge to write down what we wanted in Thai in order to get around. Most cabbies in Bangkok have no driving experience, came from Northern Thailand, and don’t really know their way around. Unless you are asking to go to the Grand Palace, be prepared to a) have a map to show them where you want to go b) have your destination written down in Thai by your concierge prior to hailing a cab or c) combine a and b as just having one or the other will usually not get you there and you’ll find yourself (or your spouse) directing your driver through the streets of Bangkok as you have come to know your way around in 72 hours better than the driver has in three years.

This habit came in handy when we asked the cabbie to take us to the island. He had no idea where it was but the concierge had thankfully written down the province as well, which assisted the cabbie in at least heading in the right direction. By the time that we got to Nonthaburi province, the cabbie was so out of his element that he would randomly stop the car in the middle of the street and track down other cabbies in the neighborhood for directions. If the cab he was headed to was empty, he would make exaggerated movements of frustration. He was very helpful once we arrived at the dark street leading to the pier, pulling his cab over and walking us down the dreary path assuring us that the pier would be at the end. With no common language between us, he fully managed to explain how to navigate the water taxi system.

A short boat ride later, we arrived at Ko Kret. Comparably, it was a place with nothing fantastic to look at when you have the competing splendors in just down the river in Bangkok, an island fact that keeps the crowds away. Ignoring an islander’s offer for a scooter rental (the only form of motorized transportation on Ko Kret), we headed off on foot to explore the island at a more gentle pace. We were the only foreigners on Ko Kret reveling on our island of no note while others of the travel breed queued up at Jim Thompson’s House[2].

A curious cat, a man sculpting dragons out of clay, a few dilapidated temples, and several cups of my dream Thai coffee (brewed strong, poured back and forth, and then over sweetened condensed milk) were the only things of note on Ko Kret. A simple chalk drawing of a home by local child was a reminder of how different we were, how much we stuck out yet how, at some level, we’ve all enjoyed similar childhoods. A Playboy bunny sticker on the basket of a bike was another reminder that Americana is never too far away.

Ko Kret would be a disappointing outing for most, but was a delightful one for two of us. Small walkways covered in green tarp made the main path with the occasional opportunity to walk down to a small pier or wander through overgrown temple grounds. This quiet island was a breath of fresh air, a fine example of how life can be exempt from the 24-hour bustle of ATM machines and 7-11’s that lie just 12 miles away.

[1] Durian: Supposedly, the king of fruits. More like the king of stink. Its smell can only be described as rotting flesh wrapped in sweaty socks. I, thankfully, found no sign of durian during our time on Ko Kret.
[2] Jim Thompson’s House: Jim Thompson is the man who revved up the Thai silk business during the mid-1900’s when Bangkok was still just a growing town amidst a large jungle. His traditional Thai home of six structures (designed by Jim himself, an architect as well as businessman) is now a museum and a place to bump sweaty elbows with a bunch of other tourists. This isn’t to say that I don’t want to bump sweaty elbows to view what is apparently the ex-pat dream home…it’s just to say that I’ll get around to it. Someday. In the meantime, don’t I feel a Thai massage coming on?

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