Thursday, March 26, 2009

bangkok jungle

Yesterday I went to a neighbourhood in Bangkok that totally and completely redeems the entire rest of the overcrowded smelly urban city. It’s known as Bang Kra Jao by the locals, but you’ll not find it on any maps. On my most excellent and detailed of maps (link to Nancy Chandler’s map of Bangkok) it’s represented merely as a large greenish smudge, with text saying that only the most adventurous should venture here. Well, of course I went the first free day I had. How could I pass up the cartographic unknown?

As it turns out, there are two very good reasons why it doesn’t appear on maps. The first is that it would be nearly impossible to map, as it is an astoundingly complex maze of mud pathways and stilt houses built above a swamp that drastically floods and alters the landscape every year. There are a very few roads passable by cars, but most of what must be hundreds of miles of passageways are narrower than one of my arms is long, some notably so, and are usually built on stilts about 10 feet above the ground/water, and are shared by two-way bike, foot, peddler-cart, and dog traffic. It made for some hairy, though thrilling, biking. See the video which is hopefully embedded below for a good glimpse.

The second reason it remains undepicted is that the locals like their area the way it is, thank you very much, and don’t want developers and tourists “discovering” (i.e. ruining) their remarkably anachronistic neighbourhood. This is a refreshing sentiment in a country that, in its heartbeat city at least, seems happy to sell its grandmother to the highest bidder. Sometimes literally. (See forthcoming post on Petra’s work here.) And its commitment to steadfast ways of life goes back a long time, making this peninsular knob in the S-turn of the Chao Praya river a snapshot of what Bangkok must have been like hundreds of years ago, with tiny gilded temples and stilted homesteads with palmfrond roofs nestled in amongst dense but delicately cultivated jungle, complete with hooting parroty things, wild kimodo dragons and Siamese cats, and a traditional floating market, not a speck of it for show. All this just 2 miles from the arching skyscrapers of modern finance and the throngs of urban slums and jet-setting fashion malls.

It took about a half hour to bike/boat there from my house, and you can bet I’ll be going back often, hating cities as I do and relishing un-human surroundings. I have plans for a certain shack that serves drinks in the middle of the jungle, with only cicadas and sloshing water to hear, and its hammock in the shade… Maybe even tomorrow. :)

Where the jungle is and how to get there from our apartment:

View Larger Map

1 comment:

Janet said...

What a marvelous adventure! I'm thrilled you and Petra have such a great opportunity to live and work in yet another country.

Have a wonderful time! And please keep the photos and stories coming.

Much love,