I’ve always wanted to ride one of those river boats in Bangkok. When I had the chance to roam around the city before we crossed the border back to Siem Reap last March 3rd of this year, I decided to take the opportunity to ride one to visit Wat Arun, The Temple of Dawn. But little did I know that I won’t be seeing that temple yet for my travelling feet brought me to a different temple – the Wat Saket or the Golden Mount.
We were scheduled to leave Bangkok to go back to Siem Reap in the next 2 days. Ever since I travelled to Thailand last 2008, I’ve always wanted to ride Bangkok’s express boats. I also wanted to visit Wat Arun, which is seated across the Chao Phraya River. So I told Ed I was going out to explore the city after we finished buying some stuff at Pantip Plaza. But someone had to baby sit our friend’s house that afternoon. It was a good thing I told Ed of my plans first, which left him with no choice but to return early to where we were staying.
I honestly had no clue how to get to Wat Arun from Pratunam. I thought of riding a bus to get to Khao San Road. I’m more familiar of the roads there and I’ve seen where I can find a ferry boat to reach the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. But my afternoon stroll along the Pratunam area led me to a small bridge where the Pratunam Pier is stationed.
saw the canal on my right side on my way to Central World after walking from Platinum Fashion Mall
Carrying with me my determination to get to Wat Arun, I walked down the stairs to get to the pier. I saw a canal boat leaving but I didn’t rush to hop on that one. I had to make sure that I’ll take the right boat. Turns out I wasn’t on the right side of the pier.
the boat leaving without me
After carefully explaining to non-English speaking Thais where I want to go and after understanding their hand gestures, I climbed back on those stairs leading to the main road and climbed down again to reach to the other side.
a boat staff collecting fares; on the left side above that bridge is where you’ll find Central World
After I knew I was heading the right direction, I waited for a canal boat to arrive. A boat full of passengers arrived after 10 minutes. All of them started getting out of the boat as soon as it was safely parked on the pier.
Riding the canal boat was not difficult. But it wasn’t easy either. The pier doesn’t have planks to safely hop in and out off the boats. All you have are tires tied on the edge of the pier, which prevents the boats from slamming into the pier. To choose your entry points, you’d have to know where you want to seat before you hop on the boat. There are no aisles on those canal boats. Either you stay in the middle and stand till someone gives up their seat after reaching their destination or you find a vacant seat from those rows and hop in.
It was a good thing that the boat I rode was empty. I got to choose to sit in the middle part. Passengers started arriving. Some chose to stand in the center while others hurriedly hopped on each rows when they saw vacant seats in between them. Others leaned on a box that housed the boat’s engine. Ropes are conveniently placed on the roof for hand rails.
What’s great about this transportation is that if you don’t want to get splashed by the dirty and smelly canal water, you can simply hold on to a rope which will help roll up a huge plastic that will cover the sides of the boat. Each passenger has to do their share here since the rest of the cover won’t rise if only 1 holds the rope. If you want to see the view of the canal, then you may choose not to pull the rope covering your side but better get ready for a few splashes here and there.
bus conductors wear helmets
You will see 2-3 bus conductors on every boat. Aside from collecting boat fares, they also help in rising the boat covers once the boat roars to life and speeds up to get to the next pier. These conductors also wear protective head covers, usually helmets, for safety reasons as bridges connect the city from the canals that separate them. We passed by a few bridges for vehicles and there were also a few small bridges where only people and bikes can pass through.
view of the canal walkways
It was a pleasant experience riding one of Bangkok’s canal express boats. You will get to see a different side of Bangkok with this trip. The sides of the canals have rails and walkways for Thais living in the area. The boats are good alternatives to riding buses to avoid the traffic in Bangkok. Although the canal is not dirty, the murky water still has that pungent smell of canal waters. The stench is manageable though. The boat stops at every pier to drop off and get more passengers. I thought that this kind of transportation in Bangkok are free for Thais as I saw that only tourists were asked for money so I didn’t pay up. I was trying to pass off as a Thai, you see.
After 30 minutes, we finally reached the end of the line. We arrived at the Panfa Leelard Pier.
our empty canal express boat
I asked the staff where Wat Arun is and they pointed at a huge structure on the other side. I got confused. I know I had to cross a big river to get to that temple. The canal must not be that river, I thought. But I could see a huge temple. When I climbed the stairs leading to the main road, everything looked familiar. I’ve seen the area before every time I go to Khao San Road.
on my way to find Wat Arun
I thought that I was in the right place. But I hesitated. That must not be Wat Arun, The Temple of Dawn. However, I got curious. I thought maybe I’d find the river at the end of that road. So off my feet went.
I walked towards that sleepy road to find that temple I was seeing from afar. It was my first time passing by this side of Bangkok. It was as if I was in timber town for the whole street were full of lumber stores and wood carvings.
the temple on the hill top
And then suddenly, I found a small gate which led to the temple on the hill top. There were peddlers outside talking to me in gibberish. I didn’t mind them and immediately went inside. The place was full of trees. I looked for the entrance going to the top and I saw red stairs and a few tourists climbing up.
At that moment, I already knew that I stumbled upon a different temple. Without knowing what temple it was, I continued walking to reach the top to find out where my feet carried me. More greeneries greeted me. My eyes feasted on the intricate designs of temple rooftops. When the plight of stairs ended, I saw bells.
took some time ringing all those bells
Seeing the bells made me think how old they must be. They adorned the lower section of the hill. I saw a few Thais who sounded each of the bells as they passed by. Out of curiosity, I also followed them and started sounding them bells.
pretty bells all over
Before proceeding to the next series of stairs, I found a marker plastered on the wall of the temple.
finally discovered where my feet brought me
I then discovered that I accidentally reached the Golden Mount also known as Wat Saket. Honestly, I never knew such place existed. Maybe because there were just too many temples in Bangkok that I failed to list down all of them. I was only bent on seeing the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha and the Wat Arun. It never occurred to me to check on other interesting and unique temples in Bangkok. I was very happy that my feet brought me to this place.
more bells to sound
More bells greeted me when I took the next plight of stairs. I also rang each one of those bells. I didn’t know what it meant, to be honest. But touching each one of them and hearing how they sounded seemed the right thing to do. (Upon research, a description on a photo on Flickr suggests that ringing bells could help or protect someone from bad/evil spells)
Once I was done messing up the temple bells, I took a deep breath and started climbing more stairs again.
When I reached the top, strong gusts of wind greeted me as if welcoming my arrival. I finally made it. I’m on top of the world Bangkok! I could see the entire city on top.
Looking down, I saw the red stairs where I came from. Reaching the top was really refreshing. I couldn’t explain what I felt. It was as if the wind was helping me cleanse my troubled soul. And without complaining, I allowed the tempestuous breeze to whisper to my whole being.
When I thought I was ready, I went inside to explore the temple.
I was greeted with gold and emerald buddhas. They came in different shapes and sizes.
The design of the buddhas were so intricate. Then I saw something that looked like an opening leading to the center of the mound. I decided to roam around to find the entrance to that opening.
A smaller version of the reclining Buddha lies on one of the temple’s walls. The buddha looks old but at the same time, there were strips of gold plastered on some parts of its body. It made me wonder if people placed those strips or if they were originally part of the image’s body.
a replica of the Golden Mount; a golden buddha hidden inside
When I found the small steps leading to the center of the temple, I went inside and found an image of the golden Buddha sitting inside a very small place.
the Buddha inside Wat Saket
The pathway leading to the center was so small. It would be difficult for two persons to walk together inside the stuppa. One has to also take off their shoes when getting inside the sacred area. Silence must be observed when you go inside the temple. There are also markers showing the exit as it is difficult to go back where you came from due to the limited space around the circular structure.
When I went out of that sacred place, I tried to look for the door leading to the top most part of the mount. After searching, I found a small spiral staircase and started climbing up.
The gentle wind and the blue sky greeted me. Then I saw the gigantic golden pagoda in front of me. There were a few worshippers praying as I roamed around. The afternoon breeze slowly wafted the scents coming from the burning incense sticks surrounding the pagoda.
the huge stuppa and the small rooster; a bigger version of the bird
The place was very serene. The only sound you could hear were the howling winds and the tiny ringing sounds coming from the small bells hanging on something that looked like a rooster.
the huge golden pagoda on top of the Golden Mount
When you look over the ledges, you will see more of Bangkok.
The alluring King Rama VIII cable bridge can be seen from a distance. When it was time to leave the place, I started going down. I really felt rejuvenated after seeing Wat Saket.
More bells greeted me on my way down. It gave me the opportunity to hear more bells as I got my hands busy ringing each one of them
On my way down, I saw this fascinating coffee shop where locals and tourists can drop by to rest. There’s a koi pond below and the sight of more trees makes the place a perfect hideaway for weary travellers.
There was also a temple that houses a giant Buddha at the grounds of Wat Saket. I also learned that there’s a fee for foreigners visiting the temple. I didn’t see that one since I entered from a different gate. My camera’s battery also died and although I wanted to continue my search for the Temple of Dawn, I thought it best to postpone that trip and started heading back to Pratunam.
I took the same mode of transportation when going back to where I came from to avoid the traffic. This time, I paid 10 baht for the boat fare While still cruising the canal, we suddenly made a quick stop in the middle. I thought we were picking up passengers but no pier was visible in the area. It took some time before I realized what was happening. There was a court nearby and it seemed as if the kids tossed their ball in the canal for I saw the boat conductors trying to retrieve the ball to give it back to those teenagers. Once the ball was fished out of the canal and was returned to the locals, the boat roared to life again and went on its way. Witnessing that act of kindness from the locals of Bangkok renewed my faith in society. It opened my eyes to how wonderful Thais live their life. I guess it’s part of their religion which is why they always try to help anyone in need as they believe in good karma.
My unexpected journey to the Golden Mount rejuvenated my soul and fattened my heart. The feeling was very overwhelming. I realized that life is not bad after all to those who doesn’t complicate it.
As a budget traveller, I also got the chance to save on transportation costs and temple fees. Yeah, I know I ignored some of those fees but I’ll just use the lame excuse “everything happens for a reason”. hehehe. And you know the best part, I got to ride Bangkok’s free bus when going home too. I dropped by the Lotus mall near our place to buy some stuff and because my heart was still bursting with happiness, I decided to treat myself to a yummy dessert to feed my rejoicing spirits
must-try Summer Mango sensation at Swensen’s, yum!