The river, history and animals (Bangkok)

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It’s taken us a couple of days but we are finally checking out Bangkok from the river. We are heading further afield to check out the Dusit area and decide it’s too far from our hostel to walk. The river is brown, wide and relatively fast flowing for it’s width. The ferry drivers have to work hard to hold their boats in place so passengers can jump on and off. And often the jumping is literal because there is no gangplank. The ferry is tied to the pier with a slack rope and held so that it stays pressed against the pier. Often the boat slips back, leaving passengers to jump a short distance if they don’t want to swim. We worked out the flag system and caught the cheap orange flag boat. The flags indicate which piers the ferries will stop at. There is a special blue flag boat for tourists but it cost 40 baht while the local boats (which stop in the same places) cost only 15 baht. The green flag boat is the express boat and doesn’t stop everywhere.

The river is a bustling place. Boatmen whistle to drivers to communicate directions at stops. Brightly coloured longboats race around with oversized engines at the ends of their rudders. Small yellow fishing boats head out to sea. Wooden pole houses look like they are about to fall into the river only to be replaced by new concrete barriers and new concrete houses. It’s a bright, colourful and alive.
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There aren’t many people left on the ferry when we hop off at the Dusit flower market. The market is a bit dirty and feels dodgy so we leave to go to a wat we spied. The wat is beautiful. The exterior is white with a red roof and gold trim while the interior is purple. There is some water for sale here so we make a donation to get some.

The temples here in Thailand are stunning. Later in the afternoon we walk through an area on the other side of the river near ferry stops 17 and 18. A small Chinese Buddhist temple stands on the side of the road. It’s simple colourings are a stark contrast with the elaborate wats. But it too is a peaceful place and the lady praying welcomes us to enter. There is also a wat nearby with yellow walls and red trim. It is totally different to the other wats we’ve seen with white or gold windows. The red windows are amazing against the yellow walls in the setting sun.
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But before we get to the afternoon, there is a lot to explore in the Dusit area. After hopping off the ferry we walk towards Dusit Park. Along the way, we see a sign that says “Police Museum”. Paul suggests we head in there to see what it is. It turns out to be quite a little find. The first building is part of a palace that King Rama VI built for his son. The building was designed by an Italian architect and was decorated in Prussian style after King Rama VI’s son was educated in Russia and married a Russian lady. The museum is free and a guide who speaks quite good English shows us around. First we watch a video, which is both interesting and gives us a chance to rest our feet after a long walk up the road. We learn a lot about the royals and their way of life through the mansion. It’s not as grand as the massive white palace across the road but still beautiful.
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The second half of the police museum is a new modern building that houses an actual museum about the police. The reason the two buildings are used together as a police museum is because King Rama IX is a great patron of the police and brought modern thinking to the police service’s management of traffic in Thailand. He donated a fleet of motorcycles and encouarged police to be trained to deliver babies, including issuing baby delivery kits to the police. The police section of the museum included some short films about police work and training, a display about the history of policing in Thailand, including weapons and uniforms, and some mock crime scenes. Having studied criminology at university, I found the exhibition interesting. As someone who believes in social justice, I thought some of the quotes should probably be hung in the staff entrance to every police station in the world, particularly those about the police role being to keep the community safe not being merely to arrest people. But I digress. There were no foreign signatures in the guest book that I signed … all the names and comments were in Thai but I would definitely recommend these two museums to anyone visiting Bangkok. They are literally across the road from the grand palace near Dusit Zoo.
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Speaking of Dusit Zoo. We went there too. Don’t listen to the touts outside the zoo – it is not closed and you do not need a guide. Just walk in and enjoy the animals. The first area we came to was the koala sanctuary so naturally I had to be ironic and take photos of my home country’s national icon. The zoo was quite large and was centred around a large lake where some huge catfish (amongst other fish) lived alongside water dragons and turtles. For about 10 baht you can buy a loaf of bread to feed the fish. The fish are pretty aggressive with each other when they are fighting for the food. As far as zoos go, this one is pretty nice to walk around. The animals don’t have a huge amount of space but what space they have is clean and animal-appropriate. The bears have a jungle space with a fish pond, the giraffes live in a sandy-grassy area with food branches hanging from tall poles to mimic trees, the monkeys have plenty of height and play equipment to swing from. It’s certainly not the horrible cruel cages I saw in the small zoo I visited in Korea. We ended up spending about two hours there just walking around looking at everything.
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We were going to catch a tuk tuk back to the river but ended up walking there and then across the bridge to the other side where we saw the Chinese Buddhist temple and the wat with the red windows. Here we walked along local streets where houses are built on stilts in the water. The thing that has struck me most about Thailand is the greenery. Everywhere we looked there were flowers and plants growing in pots. It certainly takes the edge off the fact that we were in a big city. We ended up walking another 20km today around Bangkok. It’s our final day before we head up to Kanchanaburi. I think we covered the city pretty well.

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