Although the Chao Phraya River isn’t that wide, there are a number of islands on it that you can visit. Some are natural while others are man made created by digging a short cut canal. Examples of these latter kinds can be found in Phra Pradaeng district of Samut Prakan and also to the north of Bangkok in Nonthaburi in an area called Koh Kret. In Samut Prakan we also have a natural island that they are presently developing into a tourist attraction. I will tell you more about that later. Today I want to tell you about a trip up north to Koh Kret. You can join boat tours from Bangkok at the weekend or arrange your own transport. The first part of our trip was from Bangkok to Nonthaburi on a public express boat. This lasted about 80 minutes. When we arrived at the end of the line we knew from our map that we still had another 20 minutes to go. The conductor on the boat suggested we should take a mini van to Pakred Market and from there a local ferry boat across the river to Koh Kret. The van was advertised as 10 baht and the ferry probably would have been only a few baht.
While we were deciding we were approached by a long-tailed boat driver. He showed us a leaflet detailing the places he could take us on a tour of Koh Kret. He pointed out all the stops on the map and said that the trip would last about three hours in total. The price? For a minimum of eight people the leaflet said it would cost 100 baht each. As there were only two of us, he said he would do it for only 600 baht. After a little contemplation we decided we would hire his boat. Koh Kret isn’t really a big island. In fact you could walk around it in about 2 hours or so. There are no roads on the island, just narrow paths. The only means of transport are the motorcycle taxis. Actually, Koh Kret isn’t really a proper island. A canal was built back in 1722 in order to bypass a large bend in the river. The king at that time was trying to save on sailing time for ships heading up to the then capital in Ayutthaya. The tide soon changed direction and the little canal became a raging river. The Mon villagers, who live there now, are very isolated, and up to now, their unique lifestyle has remained intact. The Mon people are famous for their potteries and Thai desserts.
Our first stop was at Wat Paramaiyikawas. This could be found at the top right-hand corner of the island. A prominent feature is the stupa that is leaning out towards the river. The temple was built in Mon style about 200 years ago. Inside we found a large Reclining Buddha. In the temple grounds there is also a museum though unfortunately it only opens in the afternoon. From here we walked along the northern side of the island a short distance to another temple. This one was called Wat Phai Lom and was built in 1770. Like the previous temple, this was also done in Mon style and was stunningly beautiful. After the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767, King Taksin gave permission for the Mon people to live here as a reward for fighting bravely against the Burmese. As you can see from these pictures, the style of temples are very different to the standard Thai temple.
Our boat driver told us that we should keep walking along the path to a pottery village. He told us that he would meet us a short way down. Looking around, you could see how commercial this place has become. It was all geared up for the tourists that come at the weekend. On weekdays the place is very quiet and many shops were closed. But, we did manage to see some potters at work. With hardly anyone around it did look authentic but I guess if you came at the weekend you would see that the whole place has been set up for the tourists. As we walked back to the boat to continue our journey around the island, I couldn’t help but make comparisons between this place and another Mon community in Phra Phradaeng that had also been isolated inside a loop in the river. Despite being so close to Bangkok they still continue to live their very unique lifestyles. However, their “island” is big enough not to be so affected by tourism. However, on Koh Kret, there is basically only one track and so it was starting to look like that every house had set up some kind of shop.
Back on the boat we continued our trip around the island. The driver was actually quite good as every time he saw me raise my camera to my eye he would slow down. He had obviously done this before. A short while later he took us to a shop to watch a demonstration of how to make traditional Thai desserts. This was a bit touristy and reminded me of those tours where they stopped at factories on the way back for you to see “free demonstrations” before being herded through the shop. I didn’t mind so much as we didn’t have to buy anything. After this he took us to another temple where people were feeding hundreds of giant fish in the river. Just over three hours later we finally made it back to our starting point in Nonthaburi. It had been a good boat trip. I am not sure if we had got our money’s worth but it had indeed been a good and easy introduction to the lifestyle of the Mon people. I am pretty sure I will come here again though next time I will either walk around the island or take my bicycle.