I was very glad that I went on a boat trip to Thachang Pier, which was the closet pier to the Grand Palace. As I started my trip in the afternoon, I had no time to sightsee the Grand Palace nor the National Museum. I would need almost five hours at each venue for slowly observing all the art work and architecture. However, the boat trip itself gave me a very refreshing and stimulating experience as this was the first time in two years that things have started to become routine as usual as before. This process of picking up from the sleepy period of lockdown has slowly gathered some speed and momentum. There seemed to be a new sense of hope and enthusiasm among hard working people at the pier,including the vendors and commuters around the pier.
The bright sunshine has certainty added energising vibes in the air. The strong waves bouncing on the river gave me a sense of freedom of floating on water at an exhilarating speed. I wished the boat would go faster but that would create a lot of havoc to wooden houses along the banks. Luckily, the modernisation along the river has slowed down during the lockdown; several big development projects had to returned to drawing boards. So, old houses and abandoned land by the river could remain undisturbed for near the future.
Almost three hundred years ago, the capital city of Siam was on the left side of the river. That’s why we could see several important old temples on the left side , not far away from the Old Palace and the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun). The Royal Navy headquarter is two minutes’ walk from the Old Palace where King Taksin established his reign after the war of independence from Burmese rule. It was as if he was psychic, King Taksin refused to build a big and expensive Palace for himself. He told his entourage that his reign would probably be very short and the country needed the money for reconstruction after the war.
Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn situated right in front of the Old Palace. So, I could imagine the old King walking around this temple and meditated inside the shrine hall. This whole area used to be a part of the Old Palace. Whenever the boat got closer to the Temple of Dawn, my mind started to go back to the past with several questions. The stories about King Taksin going insane and imprisoned several courtiers and monks had created a division inside the Palace. The Chief of the army had to return to Thonburi to arrest King Taksin and put him on trail. He was sentenced to death and was beheaded somewhere behind the white wall and among those old trees.
The officer was his best friend who proceeded to establish a new reign on the other side of the river. The reign of King Rama I was established and a new Grand Palace was constructed in Bangkok while the Old Palace became the residence of several princes during their younger days. The reign of King Taksin or King Thonburi lasted only fifteen years, but he was the only military leader who could lead people, soldiers and volunteers to defeat the Burmese force in only nine months.
His genius and skills on the battle fields had been become legends among older generations of people on the west side of the river. These local people still have deep respect and loyalty to the old King of Thonburi and harbored hidden suspicion against the stories surrounding the demise of King Taksin. So, there’s always a hint of sadness and mystery around the Temple of Dawn and the Old Palace.
The boat also passed by a small
Palace on the east side of the river. I used to be guest at this palace years ago during the time when I was still active in social circles among high ranking friends. My old acquaintance should have become a high ranking princess had her grandfather not married to a Russian lady. He was a young prince while studying in Russia where he fell in love with a beautiful Russian lady and married her.
So, my friend’s father wasn’t qualified for Crown Prince status, being half Russian. The family never thought they would one day be in direct line to the throne as there were so many higher princes closer in bloodline. But these young princes died unexpectedly and my friend’a father was supposed to ascend the throne except for the fact that he wasn’t of pure Thai bloodline. However, my friend seemed very happy being a high ranking lady instead of being a princess; she had enjoyed all the freedom and ancestral wealth over the years. The boat trip gave me several moments of reflections on our history and what might have been had things turned out differently.
The golden reflections of the roof of the Grand Palace told me to get off at the next stop for Thachang Pier. So, I could have a walk around the Grand Palace. There was ongoing construction in front of the Palace so I couldn’t get any good photos from the left side of the main road. This whole area was rather quiet as hardly any tourists could be spotted. Most shop keepers along the row of shophouses decided to close their shops as the tide of tourists haven’t returned to Bangkok. Very few shops were opened with the hope of making some income.
I had a chat with an elderly shop keeper and he allowed me to take photos of the display of Buddha statues. These small and colourful Buddha statues used to be popular among Chinese tourists. I was looking for some Thai snacks but was unsuccessful. The tuk-tuk drivers were waiting for some gullible tourists and potential customers. But they had a long wait that day! I had never seen the area so empty of tourists and traffic on the road. I wondered when we would ever see hundreds of Chinese tourists crowded in front of shops selling souvenirs, cold drinks and quick snacks again.
My boat trip back to the starting point was quite pleasant as the sun was setting behind the Temple of Dawn. I could take more photos of the old houses and contrasting skyscrapers of the new part of Bangkok. The boat stopped briefly at IconSiam where there used to be light and fountain display in front of the big shopping complex in the evening. The whole place seemed very dull and quiet without light displays from all the shops inside the glass walls.
I think it would take more time for economic recovery as the negative news on international affairs have people started talking about a world war. Nothing stays still, the changes along the river reflected the ever changing tides of human activities and surroundings. Some old churches, temples, old wooden houses, some neocolonial buildings and Chinese shrines still survived the intense period of modernisation.
So, I hope that new impending changes would provide some space for preserving some symbols of the old eras of social history and human stories. Perhaps in twenty years’ time, some futuristic passengers along the river would reflect on what past generations have experienced and endured for the survival of their land, culture and aspirations.
Wishing you peace, good health and prosperity.
Stay strong and cheerful.