I have well and truly escaped the tourist trail today, as I find myself on a beautiful piece of land to the west of Bangkok’s bisecting Chao Phraya river, which was bought by the government many years ago in order to create a green space for the city, and is known as ‘the lungs of Bangkok’. The crazy thing is, though, that most Bangkok residents have never been here and many don’t even know it exists.
I am here for two reasons. The first is that a friend of my sister’s lives here with her husband, having designed and built their own eco-house here a year ago, and I thought it would be great to meet a local friendly face at the start of my thai travels. Secondly, on investigating where to stay on the island, I came across an amazing-sounding eco-hotel, which manages to combine luxury with some seriously good eco-credentials. I decided fate had transpired to lead me to spend some time at this place, and splash out a bit after three months of frugal budget travel.
So here I am, lowering the tone somewhat with my scuzzy backpack and limited, crumpled wardrobe, yet nevertheless being treated like a princess by all the incredibly friendly, attentive staff. I have my own tree-top studio, with outdoor shower (well-screened by bamboo), lovely upstairs room with king-size bed and my own computer, a novel toilet with a glass floor (slightly off-putting), unlimited free icecream (oh dear) and a beautiful roof-top terrace, from where I watched the sun go down and the bats come out this evening. The only thing that could improve it would be someone to share it with. I feel like I’m in the perfect romantic getaway setting, with just me, myself and I – d’oh.
I am in the very cool ‘Ant Suite’, with disconcertingly realistic giant, metal ants decorating the walls (and some much smaller real ones too).
View from my enormous bed (and my own, very smart computer, which it took me an embarrassingly long time to work out how to turn on – I reminded myself of Hansel and the eponymous hero in that monkey scene from Zoolander). You can also see the ladder leading up to the rooftop.
My shower (the bamboo blind does come down!).
Apparently, the transparent floor is so that you are able to watch the tide rising and falling whilst you sit. However, in the event of spending the requisite protracted length of time on the throne to observe this process, I think the last thing on my mind would be admiring the scenery below…
There were fun and games to be had reaching such a remote and unknown part of the city without being able to speak or read the language. I took the sky train from the hostel all the way to the end of the line, until it was just me and a handful of locals left; all the tourists had disembarked well-before. I then flagged a taxi and had a very amusing exchange with the driver, whereby I attempted to communicate my destination and he attempted to understand, both of us speaking many words and understanding none. Eventually, after a dodgy impression of a ferry and lots of hand-gestures to symbolise water on my part, we reached a point of understanding and, miraculously, I arrived at the river, where a ferry was just about to leave. Then followed further gesticulations, this time with the ferry driver, and I determined that it was going at least roughly where I needed it to, so I hopped on, along with the other, mostly-male, passengers and their heavily loaded-up mopeds. I had that familiar buzzy feeling of excitement and slight nerves that I remember from ‘winging-it’ travels in my past, combined with the fluffy, relaxed knowledge that, whatever happens, it’d all come right in the end, and there would be adventures to be had along the way.
A surreptitious photo taken on board the ferry (I feel a bit more self-conscious taking photos here, but I’ll do my best to keep recording the details of my travels).
Successfully on the incredibly peaceful ‘other side of the river’ (said in hushed tones), and suddenly a world away from the manic, dusty noise on the other side, I then had a comedy hand-drawn map from the hotel to follow, which took me past a temple and the first of probably many, many buddha sightings, and on through a narrow stilted walkway into a densely vegetated area.
Penny for your thoughts, Buddha.
Soon afterwards I arrived at reception, a complete sweaty mess, to the momentary stunned silence of the receptionist. It turns out that guests are usually escorted from the city and it’s incredibly rare for someone to just turn up like that. The owner said he wished that all the guests were as resourceful and independent as me, and I felt a helpless rush of pride!
So, after the morning’s excitement, it has been a very relaxing day. It is ridiculously hot (around 37 degrees) – in fact I found out that I have committed rather a faux pas by arriving in Thailand during one of the hottest periods, oops. Therefore any activity is soon curtailed by the urgent need to return to an air-conditioned room. I went out for a wander to explore the network of very pretty raised walkways through the fruit plantations, thick vegetation and irrigation channels, but only lasted around 40 minutes. Still, it was enough to take in the heavy trees, dripping with fruit including banana, coconut, mango, lime, jackfruit, durian.
Date palms hanging over one of the network of stilted, concrete walkways.
These beautiful frangipani flowers caught my attention – I think they’re called leelawadee locally.
I also saw a vibrant blue kingfisher, lots of turquoise butterflies, lizards, a very large, black bird (possibly a racket-tailed drongo, although I didn’t see the characteristic dangling ‘coins’ from its tail – google this bird, it’s cool) and a turtle in one of the channels. I felt rather overwhelmed (in a good way) by the huge diversity of wildlife in the world – just as I felt I was beginning to get to grips with a small cross-section of aussie wildlife, suddenly there’s a whole raft of new exotics to discover.
A small collection of timber, stilted cabins were dotted through this area, and I encountered a few of the locals, who unfailingly gave me a huge beam. An initial observation is that thai folk seem to place a fairly high value on pets. Every veranda seemed to be home to at least one, sleepy dog, and there were also many well-tended ornate, domed bird-cages, full of exotic species. More than once I saw women hand-picking ticks from their dog – now that’s committed pet-ownership. Another observation is that each house has at least one shrine on the premises somewhere – this can be anything from a plastic saucer with incense and little figurines, to a full-on gaudy purpose-built construction with mirrors, garlands, framed photographs and large icons.
Pretty timber house, with compulsory yawning dog on the veranda.
After my aborted walk, I headed back to my room and crashed-out in a total ‘flat-out where I fell’ face-down, spread-eagled catatonic state for at least an hour – I think it was the whirlwind Sydney tour catching up with me, combined with the heat.
Afterwards I made use of the free bike loan and headed back out in the marginally cooler air to explore a bit more. Cycling was a much better plan, as the motion generated enough breeze to stave off the intense heat. I found myself cycling along a sleepy residential road, shaded in part by beautiful trees with red flowers.
The Marie-Celeste streets – where is everyone?
Need to find out what this gorgeous tree is…
I marvelled on how safety standards plummet when travelling – here I was, with no helmet, on a rather dodgy bike, being overtaken by the odd moped and bus, and completely relaxed about it. In the UK I am a complete helmet nazi. I eventually stumbled on a mini street market, with a line of vendors hawking their wares. I stopped at the stall of a woman who gave me a particularly lovely smile. I was intrigued by the mysterious banana-leaf wrapped, barbecued cones that she was selling, so decided to try one. We had a lovely exchange, again full of alien words but lots of smiles, and it turned out to be gorgeous sticky coconut rice melded with taro I think (her mum spoke a tiny bit of English). As I was leaving, the mum gave me a bag of what I now know is jack-fruit (delicious – very sweet with a rubbery texture) and would not accept payment. She said, in broken English, “From kind heart to kind face”. I was stunned by the kindness, and the poetry in her words. I’ll definitely be returning there for more business…
My new favourite eatery on the island – delicious. You can also just make out the bags of yellow jack-fruit to the side, which I munched on all the way back.
This evening, back at the hotel, I’ve had a very fancy, tasty, freshly-cooked and organic three-course meal for a tenner (which is considered very expensive out here). I feel very lucky.
My complimetary traditional thai appetizer – a kind of sweet chutney with turnip, cashew nut and palm sugar resting on fresh pineapple, with an explosion of fragrant coriander on top.
Starter of shredded papaya salad with squid, prawn and cherry tomatoes in a tamarind sauce.
The main: freshly caught fillet of dory on gorgeous wholemeal rice with asparagus and topped with a very feisty green curry paste – very different from the UK-lite versions.
Then my sister’s friend, Alisa and her husband, Landry, popped in for a drink, which was great (they are a five-ten minute cycle-ride away) and we arranged to go biking round the island together tomorrow. Landry is attempting to accurately map all the paths on the island and I am going to be one of his guinea-pigs, as I have a map from him showing how to get to their house tomorrow. I know all the little paths are very confusing here, but I also have faith that it’s the kind of place that, no matter which route you take, you’ll reach your destination in the end.