Every day began and ended at the Baan Wang Lang Riverside Hotel in Bankok Noi, so that’s where I’ll begin the story. I’d stayed very near here before in an idyllic tiny sophisticated guesthouse, just south along the riverbank in a room with the sound of the Chao Phraya under the floorboards, a very pleasant experience. But it’s gone now and loving the neighborhood, Baan Wangling seemed the next best possibility, many times larger than the Ibrik with its two rooms, but not a large hotel. Staying right on the river is, for me, the best of all the options available, always cooler than the rest of the city and Bangkok Noi, west across the river from densely urban Bangkok seems the best of the best.
Baan Wanglang has 5 floors with three restaurants on the river side on the ground floor, second floor and fifth floor. The rooms are on the second and third floors. Breakfast was served on the second floor and when we’d also eat dinner at the hotel, that was where we settled, the ground floor with terrace and live music often crowded and more prone to mosquitos, the fifth floor vertigo-inducing to both in our party of two. Our rooms were on the third floor and one night, the hotel being booked, I stayed in a river-view suite. That is, of course, the one I’m showing you.
Below, the Somdet Phra Pinklao Bridge.
The hotel is located on the southern edge of Wang Lang Market, the Wang Lang express boat pier, also called Prannock, to the north. So most days started with a walk through the market to the dock, then again back home after the day’s outing. The market has gotten fancier since I last stayed in the neighborhood but locals are its target audience. There are food vendors and tiny restaurants as well as an assortment of household goods and clothing stalls and the area just inland from the express boat dock now has a small modern shopping center.
Just south of Baan Wang Lang Riverside is where I stayed before, a largely residential area of low-rise houses and apartment buildings. Where the two room Ibrik was is now an upscale restaurant but except for small changes, the lane that runs parallel and just one building distance from the water, has changed little in the last few years. Though the surrounding streets are one lane wide and most suitable for pedestrian and motorbike traffic, cars occasionally squeeze through, some almost squeezing through and blocking the way until they figure out with the help of locals directing how to extricate themselves. So moving through the neighborhood on foot is by far the most practical option.
One more block south brings one to Wat Rakhang, full name Wat Rakhangkhositaram Woramahaviharn. Various kings have changed the name several times over the years but the people seem to have rejected the latest change and call it by the previous one. I like that. From 1852 until 1872 a monk named Somdej Toh was abbot of the temple and there’s an enormous statue in his honor. It seems out of keeping, somehow, with my idea of monk-ness, but what do I know.
There’s a very busy street, Arun Amarin Road, a couple of blocks east of the river with an expressway above and that’s where one goes to find a taxi on the rare occasion that going by boat is less practical. I’d never been farther from the river in Bangkok Noi than the busy street and decided to devote a walk to an investigation of a larger part of the district. There’s a khlong, a canal, inland from the river and my thought was to follow the khlong, hoping to catch some canal-side life as I went. What I found was that following the canal can only be done by boat, a possibility that had crossed my mind. The other thing I discovered was the real meaning of the old joke, “you can’t get there from here”. Apparently having nothing else planned for the day, my companion opted to join me for the Mystery Bangkok Noi Walk, though I’m pretty sure he was sorry later.
So off we went, down to the busy road, along it for a while, turning past the khlong, trying to find a way to follow it and giving up, then into a large residential area of up-scale homes. We wandered the streets enjoying the change of scenery, the houses and gardens in bloom and about the time we’d gotten tired of the heat and wished heartily for a place to rest, a small coffeehouse appeared in this most unlikely place. Thinking it was closed, we stood dumbly wishing it was open when a young woman emerged to beckon us in. Saved! She and a young man were owners of the place, Calico Roastery, part of an expanding coffee business and made us two beautiful coffee drinks. We sat on out stools longer than was absolutely necessary but felt no pressure to leave and when I asked if they had a restroom, was taken into their home behind, an incredibly thoughtful gesture.
On our way again, we walked deeper into the area of houses, all the while believing, or I was with my supposedly infallible sense of direction that we were heading again toward the river and home. Fat chance. Out came the dreaded app which told us not only were we not going toward the river but the only way to get there was to completely retrace our steps as none of the streets went through in that direction. With much grumbling, retrace we did, past our coffee stop and eventually to civilization, indicated by a supermarket and food court. I was way past my lunch hour and ready to go in but my companion was not. I did, he didn’t but continued on and missed a great lunch.
The food court at Tops Supermarket.
The supermarket was called Tops, behind it the lively food court where I slow-walked past a number of stalls, unable as the only non-Thai-reader in the place, to quite figure out who had what. As I looked at the photos of plates of food at one, a voice said “What you want?” I knew exactly what I wanted, she understood me and I got a delicious plate of wide rice noodles, chicken and vegetables for next to nothing, one of the advantages of wandering into places where other tourists don’t. It was so good, the next day as my companion was flying to Tokyo, I walked the 1.2 kilometers back and had it again. And a coffee for dessert at Cafe Amazon across the driveway, a satisfying finish to a week in Bangkok Noi.
All episodes of PortMoresby's Farewell to Asia Tour can be found here.
Next time, a house that's a museum.
More of PortMoresby's stories are here.