Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Long Road to Samut Prakan - An Introduction to Ancient Siam

Banglamphu, Bangkok - It was a sunny Thursday, and I just woke up from a night of washing the chalk stains off my jeans and shoes. Songkran had been relatively merciful on me. I went to the veranda and checked if my jeans have indeed dried up. I left it hanging in front of a vent machine that was blowing hot air. The sun was up but I wanted my pants back in my baggage, just in case it rains – although from the looks of it, it was gonna be a scorching day.


I checked my room and padlocked my bag. I have this habit of leaving hotel rooms tidy. Lamphu House felt like an oasis in the heart of backpacking Banglamphu. I went to the restaurant and ordered breakfast. Around me, there were just 3 couples leisurely biding their time. I re-read Lonely Planet’s directions on getting to Samut Prakan – my agenda and destination for the day! I pulled out some postcards and wrote on them. It had become a habit visiting post offices. In fact, posting mails have added variety to my trips.


Omelette, toast dabbed with butter, and some tropical fruits later, I deposited my key at the counter, then headed to a “sari sari store” right around the corner. I always buy my 12 baht ($0.35) stamps there. It was one of those placess that I discovered myself so I enjoy the triteness of buying stamps in that little Thai store. I dropped my postcards at the red mailbox nearby. As an afterthought, before leaving the store, I decided to ask the lady how to get a ride to Samut Prakan, coz just maybe there was something I don’t know aside from the information that I got from Lonely Planet. It’s free information anyway.


True enough, the lady gave instructions different from what I got. Crossed the Phra Athit Road, then look for a red ordinary bus (read: not AC) number 82! It will take me to Samut Prakan, I was told! That easy? The instructions from my travel bible - the Lonely Planet - seemed to suggest a more complicated system (an ordinary bus #25 or an aircon bus 507, 508, 511 – each is supposed to be plying the city center routes). But every bus passing through was none of those mentioned! None of those numbers was Bus 82 either! These buses are supposed to roam the city center, but is Banglamphu considered “central”? There is a dilemma!


I crossed Phra Athit Road to where a riverside park is – Santichaiprakarn Park. This small park is characterized by a small temple facing the Chao Phraya, a bas relief leading to the Banglamphu Pier and the immaculate white Phrasumain Fortress! It’s a favorite site coz it isn’t too touristy and you can just sit in one of the benches and watch life pass by! I noticed a makeshift stall with uniformed men so I went and asked again for the bus I needed to catch. Bus 82.

Santichaiprakarn Park - a temple beside the Chao Phraya River

Chao Phraya River - the view from the park overlooking symmetric Rama 8 Bridge

Bas relief leading to Banglamphu pier

Banglamphu Pier - at the foreground is the Somdet Phra Pin Klao Bridge

I got the same suggestion – look for red bus 82! The men pointed me to walk to my right – southwards - until I reach the National Theatre! I turned left to Rachini Road, walked further and passed by the National Museum grounds. Something was lost in translation, but I was aware that the bus that I was looking for would be parked nearby. Little did I realize that this whole stretch of road was a kilometer-or-so from that Santichaiprakarn Park!

I finally saw a line of no-frills ordinary red buses parked beside Na Phra That Road (corner Rachini). The Museum was nearby. Across the street was a simple park, the apex of Sanam Luang (Royal Grounds). There they were - Red Bus 82!


I hopped in and saw a few people inside. It was almost empty, but 15 minutes later, we were filling up. “Samut Prakan?” I asked the driver. He just nodded and started the engine, as though I was prodding him to leave. I turned to my back where an old man was staring back at me. I asked but he couldn’t understand me. He just smiled and patted my back reassuring me I was somehow understood, and that he will direct me when it was time to get off the bus. There are modes of communication that work between strangers who don’t speak a similar language, but this leaves you a bit anxious. What if he misunderstood you?


The bus skirted and slid through popular tourist destinations, mainly the Royal Palace. I later realized that I was in a public commuter bus giving free service to everyone who’s on it! We never have free rides in Manila! I was feeling smug! Not only did I locate my bus, I got a free ride! I learned something that wasn’t in my Lonely Planet! The buses LP recommended mentioned 3.50 baht (ordinary) and 16 baht (aircon). This was free! I relaxed! I am such a smart cookie, I thought!

Passing by the Royal Palace

Two hours into the ride, we crossed a huge river through a bridge. I was told this was going to be a 2 hour journey to get to Samut Prakan! What was there? Samut Prakan is a city 33 kilometers south of Bangkok. It is home to Muang Boran (pronounced: muyeng bolan) or “Ancient Siam”, an outdoor museum that features hundreds of scaled down replicas of Thailand’s most famous landmarks. They have miniature temples, lakes, rivers, hills, rice fields! Kinda like our Nayong Pilipino, only bigger, better, more extensive!


Before I realized it, my bus made its final stop! It was a bus garage, riverside joint, lined by other empty green and red buses. This doesn’t look like a heritage park to me, I thought. Haha. I got off the bus and noticed the numerous yellow tables and chairs of a riverside restaurant. But no one was there! Who would be in 33 degree sun?! I asked around where “Ancient Siam” was but I was greeted with blank stares and embarrassed smiles. I was in La-La Land, and I was Mr. Lost! I must have asked a dozen people at the line of stores, but no one could help me!


Right across the row of restaurants was the Paklat Post Office. I was at a borough called Paklat – interesting! I asked the people from the counter. Finally, someone seemed to have understood me. I was misenunciating Muang Boran. It should be pronounced as “Muyeng Bolan”!


I had several options. One was to get a boat to cross the river, which was a pretty interesting idea for me. But from there, what? I needed to get to Ancient Siam and I am losing a lot of time already. Two, look for a tuktuk somewhere and cross the bridge – which was a long way back! From the other side, it’s still a long way to Ancient Siam! Three, get a taxi straight to Muang Boran!

I have lost almost 3 hours already and it was high noon! From Paklat, it would take me another hour to get to Ancient Siam! The 3rd option was the most viable. I’ve had enough adventure for the day! I hailed a taxi – and for 200 baht ($5.90) – it took me straight to where I wanted to go! One hour later, I was deposited in front of Muang Boran's ticket counter! I felt a bit dejected – my free ride turned out to be more expensive than if I stuck with Lonely Planet instructions!

Taxi to Muang Boran (Ancient City)


There are lessons to be learned here. There are places that experts like the Lonely Planet know about. They update their information on a yearly basis. In short, they know what they are talking about. They are in the business of knowing such things. If they say, take bus so-and-so, then they must have double-checked! Red Bus 82 is for the locals! They are meant to be free rides for the locals – not a farang like me! So – ambitious little me paid a hefty 200 baht, instead of the 3.50 baht I was to pay if I followed LP! Moreover, I lost more than 3 hours of my precious time!

At Muang Boran, I purchased my ticket of 300 baht ($8.80 – oh yes, every penny worth its admission price!).

Once paid, you can choose your transportation to navigate the park with – a hop-on/hop-off tram; a buggy car; or a bicycle! Since it was blaring solar energy full blast, I took the tram where a Thai-speaking guide annotated!
The main park is shaped like the map of Thailand itself. Cultural and historical sites are located “geographically! In this post, we shall preview snippets from Ancient Siam. Keep posted for the main sites that rise over this once arid land – next blog!

Trams where you can hop-on and off. They navigate the park and you can find them every 10-15 minutes or so.

Get me there fast!


Going There

Here is how to get there: Take an ordinary bus 25 (green or red, pay 3.50 baht or $0.10) or aircon bus 507, 508, 511 (pay 16 baht or $0.47) from central Bangkok. The ride will take 2 hours to ply 33 kilometers along Sukhumvit Highway. Upon arrival at Samut Prakan (you have to ask the driver to tell you when you’re there), take the Green Minibus 36 (and pay 6 baht or $0.18). Sit on the left-hand side, and keep watch to spot “Muang Boran”. BUT, what is actually written is “Ancient Siam” which Thais don’t seem to understand! The Muang Boran that LP mentions is written in Thai, and you may miss this sign altogether. So, be alert!

Getting Out (Back to Bangkok)

Walk out from the parking area and through a footbridge across a canal to where the highway is. Cross the Main Highway - through an overpass. Catch a White Songthaew 36 (these are white pickup trucks converted into passenger vehicles), and tell the driver you have to get to the Bangkok-bound buses! Pay 5 baht ($0.15)! They will drop you somewhere where you cross the road, and take A/C buses to Bangkok!
There is a separate instruction if you take the Sky Train from Bangkok, so just refer to your latest Lonely Planet for that!

NEXT BLOG – the spectacle of Thailand on grandiose display in Muang Boran (Ancient City)! DO NOT MISS THIS! It is an incredible place!

This is the Eye in the Sky!

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