Walk 3: The Big Circle
Duration: About 2 hours (more if you explore)
Start: River City
This walks starts at the SiPhaya Pier, River City. SiPhaya Pier is adjacent the Royal Orchid Sheraton with River City Shopping Complex on the right. As you approach the Pier there is what looks like a good French bread shop on the left. Cross-river ferries leave from here and travel to Khlong San – a bustling market, organised along two rows, and good for cheap clothes, shoes, bags and accessories and some really tempting food. Also, if your taste runs to guerrilla barbers, you’ve come to the right place. Fare is now 3 baht each way.
If you take the right hand row, turn right at the first alley on your right. Follow this for about 50 metres and you will come to the Jam Factory on the right. A general purpose art and entertainment space, the Jam Factory has changing exhibitions, a couple of up-market restaurants, an architectural firm and a trendy homewares store. There is a minimalist mural on the left as you enter the grounds. It also has a market on the last Sunday of every month – kind of vintage / retro / hipster/ often with a twist.
Re-trace your steps and exit the market at the T-Intersection of Th.Charoen Nakhon and Th. Charoen Rat. Cross the road and begin your walk up Th. Charoen Rat. This road used to be the original railway line with Khlong San as the railhead for goods to be shipped across the river to the businesses on Th. Charoen Krung. This last section of track was taken up in 1961. So our destination is now Wong Wian Yai (Big Circle) Station.
On weekdays Thonburi is generally quieter than Bangkok and the addition of trees and reasonable footpaths on Th. Charoen Rat makes for a pleasant walk. For those with a penchant for the pedibus, foot massages over here are 150 / hour rather than the 250-300/hour back across the river. This is the place to come if you are in the market for clips, clamps, hi-viz vests, hardware, leather, dress material and assorted vinyl products. Want a genuine Bangkok bike for all that shopping? You can have this beauty for 5000 baht.
As you approach the end of Th Charoen Rat and hit Th. Phra Chao Taksin there is a busy wet market on both sides of the road.
When you get to this T-intersection, turn to the right and head to the overhead bridge to cross the road. At the bridge, on your right, is another Bangkok ghost building – this time the Merry King department store. A good view of Wong Wian Yai from the bridge and Taksin’s statue.
Once off the walk bridge, head back to Wong Wian Yai station which, naturally enough is directly across from Th. Charoen Rat. The rail line is the Bangkok – Mahachai – Mae Khlong Line. It was built in 1905 and travels to Samut Songkhram with a ferry trip in between (so it’s really two lines). This is the much videoed line that runs through a market near its terminus. The Thais call it the Closing Umbrella Market.
According to the details on the excellent The Man in Seat 61 site, trains start running on the hour from about 5.30am.
Walk along the platform and then take the road on the left that follows the line. You are now walking into a relatively quiet Thai neighbourhood. You are almost guaranteed to be the only non-Thai around. Before long you will see the Suan Phlu Mosque on the right. Ken Barrett (2013) tells us that the muslim community here came originally from Ayutthaya or from prisoners of war that King Taksin brought back from his campaigns in the East and South of Thailand.
Like most modest Thai neighbourhoods, there are the small shops, the wooden houses, the spirit houses, the outdoor laundromats and the odd vintage VW.
If you like to explore the wats along the way, Wat Kantathararam in off to your left as you approach Talat Phlu station. It is very welcoming of guests so have a wander. ‘Phlu’ is the Thai word for betel nut and this area was Bangkok’s main supply of the leaf. Talat (market) Phlu grew as the demand from Bangkok increased. The Teochew Chinese who had migrated here and traded in betel nut moved with the times and changed the market into a thriving wet market once betel nut fell out of favour. Again I refer to Ken Barrett here who describes how the area is still rich in Teochew food. He describes the Jeen Ree restaurant whose claim to fame was a ‘mee krob’ dish – stir fried crispy noodles with pork, shrimp and egg. It is said that Rama V came here to sample the dish – and judging be the photos on the wall who’s to argue – and today you can order the same in three different sizes. The smallest size plate will set you back 120 baht. The restaurant is next to the Talat Phlu Pier.
Time now to head back towards Wong Wian Yai. You could follow the road on this side of the tracks or take the more interesting back alleys that track the Bangkok Yai Khlong on the left. You’ll pass a Baptist Church, fire station, old wooden houses and eventually come to the Wat Klang market. Wander in here, especially along the khlong side, and near where you must turn back into the market you will see a very cool coffee shop.
The abandoned wooded houses on the opposite side of the khlong echo stories from the past.
Along this route are two notable wats that figure importantly in Thai history – Wat Mon and Wat Intharam. Both are worth exploring and Ken Barrett’s account is worth reading before a visit. Eventually you will re-join Th.Thoet Thai and head to the intersection with Th.Intharaphitak where you will turn right and head back to Wong Wian Yai roundabout. Keep walking towards the railway station on your left and continue on until you come to the BTS. There are steps up to the walkway that will take you to BTS Wong Wian Yai to the left. I have walked here numerous times and it is like entering a Jeffrey Smart painting. It must be one of the most under-used walkways in Bangkok.
Catch the BTS to your next destination.