Exploring the River in Paknam

It has been one of my ambitions for some time now to go by boat all the way from Paknam to Bangkok. This is actually easier said than done because there are no commercial boat services that cover the entire length of the Chao Phraya River and out to the Gulf of Thailand. However, there are some local express boat services that use long-tailed boats (see picture above). My idea was to utilize these boats to leap frog my way to Bangkok. Well, that was the plan.

I left my house just after noon. I was originally going to walk to the jetty which is only about a 15 minute walk away. But, I was feeling Thai so I decided to take the car instead. It is a well-known fact that Thai people just don’t like walking. They will catch a samlor or tuk tuk to go around the corner. I remember one time I walked to one of the local banks to use the ATM. It was only ten minutes away. But when I came back, all the Thai people were saying “geng, geng” for being so clever! None of them believe that I used to go on hikes that lasted three or four days. They just thought the idea was crazy. Didn’t I have any money for transport?

Anyway, back to the story. When you walk into Paknam Market, you go straight ahead for the cross-river ferry or turn left for 10 metres and then right to the jetty for the long-tailed boats. When I arrived I could see that there were a lot of people sitting around waiting for a boat. There were actually two boats there already but no sign of the driver. There was a mother there with her two young children. I asked her if this was the boat for Phra Pradaeng. She said no. I had to catch the cross-river ferry and then take a songtaew to Phra Pradaeng. I told her I wanted to go by boat. She said I was daft and that it was quicker and cheaper by songtaew. I insisted I wanted to go by boat as I had my own car and I had been many times by road. She then said that the boat service had discontinued for over a year now! Well, there goes that plan. Failed before I even started.

As I was still eager to go on a boat ride to somewhere I asked her where this boat was going. I should explain at this point that most Thai people I have met just don’t understand the concept of going out somewhere for pleasure. They want to know where you are going. I say I don’t know. I just want to enjoy the experience of going somewhere new! Well, it was the same with this woman. She didn’t really understand why I would now want to catch a boat that was going the opposite direction. But, I asked again, where it was going. “It is going to my home in Sakla,” she replied. “But why would you want to go there? You might get stranded and won’t be able to catch a boat back.” I said I didn’t mind as I wanted to explore. I asked her what time the boat would go. She shrugged her shoulders and pointed to a guy fast asleep on the table. “He will shout out when it is time to go.”

So, I waited. And waited. And waited. After about 45 minutes the woman I was talking to before got up to go and get something to eat. A man then sat down in her place. Now, here is a small tip for when you are traveling in Thailand. Always ask directions or information from at least three different people. You will probably get at least three different replies but at least you would know enough now to make an educated guess. So, I asked this man what time the boat left. He just said “2 o’clock”. I looked at the clock on the wall. I had another hour to go! No wonder the driver was sleeping so soundly! OK, time to change plans again.

A little while ago, Sripan told me about a stretch of sandy beach that could be seen on the other side of the river. She said it might not be there any more but it was worth looking for as most coastal areas around here were mudflats. I was intrigued, so I walked back to the jetty for the cross-river ferry. Now, this was much simpler. These boats run all day and all night. As soon as one leaves another one arrives. The ten minute trip across the river only costs two baht. In comparison, the boat trip to Sakla would have cost about 40 baht.

On the other side, Sripan said I should look out for the motorcycle taxis and ask them to take me to Soi Thanakorn. When I arrived, I couldn’t see any motorcycles waiting around so I decided to walk instead. I am not really that lazy! I do like some exercise sometimes. And anyway, I am English. Do you know that old song, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun”? Well, it was a bit like that today. As I walked along the road, the people were trying to get me to take a songtaew or a tuk tuk. I said no and just kept on walking. As I passed I could hear them commenting about the crazy foreigner. They were probably right. It was hot. Very hot. I later found out that it was 41 degrees Celsius and the hottest day of the year so far! That must be well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

After about ten minutes I reached the top of Soi Thankorn (or the “mouth” as they say in Thai). There was a motorcycle taxi stand here too but I decided that as I was already halfway I might as well carry on walking. Which I did. According to my map (I had photocopied some pages for this adventure) this was a dead-end road that led to the river. At the end there should be a vegetable oil factory. Walking down this road was like walking into the middle of no-where. All of the concrete houses had disappeared. On either side it was swampy with palm trees. Every now and then there was the odd tin-roofed house with a raised board walk leading to it. Hard to imagine that just ten minutes ago I was in a city which is apparently the most densely populated area in Thailand.

Another ten minutes or so I reached the gates of the factory. A big sign said “no photography” so I tucked away my camera and walked up to the guardhouse. I asked them if I could pass through to go to the river. “You have gone the wrong way”, they said. “You need to go back to the main road and walk to the jetty.” Yes, I know that. I said. I just want to see the river here. “It is the same river. Anyway, you cannot come in here.” That was it. End of discussion. Back at the factory gates I looked left and right to see if I could skirt around the walls of the factory. But, it was very swampy. So, I had failed again.

As I started to walk back a motorcycle taxi overtook me and stopped. He asked me where I was going. By this time I was feeling really hot so I said “ta reua” which is Thai for jetty. I asked him how much it would be. He said “10 baht”. You know, I have always liked the honesty of motorcycle taxi riders. If that had been a tuk tuk driver he would have said 60 baht without hesitation. Feeling that my adventure was finished, I rode the motorcycle back to the jetty and caught the boat back home. I was badly in need of an ice cold drink and some air-conditioning!

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