A Year in Bangkok – A Day in Samut Prakan.

11 12 2010

This delightful coffee shop was an opium den before being moved to the Ancient City.

Just outside Bangkok is a place called Samut Prakan. You can easily get there by bus or by taxi and it is a major tourist area, especially for the Thais. There is a place there called ‘The Ancient City’. I can only describe it as a kind of theme park but I don’t mean that in the sense of Disneyland or other such places. It is a huge area, more than eighty hectares, in the shape of Thailand itself. The entrance fee includes bicycle rental and you easily spend a day going round. Here, you will find all the traditional architecture of Thailand, each in its correct geographical location, beautifully done replicas of historical buildings such as the cliff top temple at Preah Viheer on the Cambodian border and entire buildings which have been dismantled at their original sites and brought here for preservation. It is all extremely well done and in surprisingly good taste. There is, of course, a shopping street and even a floating market with lovely food stalls. Alternatively, there is lots of open space if you’d rather take a picnic with you. So far, it is probably the best tourist attraction I have visited in the Bangkok area and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Northern architecture in the Ancient City.

Also in Samut Prakan is a Crocodile Farm where you can watch crocodile wrestling and see Yai (the Thai word for ‘big’) who is the largest known Siamese crocodile, about six metres long. A crocodile farm is sort of like a trout farm back home but, instead of lots of tasty little fish being bred in it, think of large, dangerous prehistoric creatures which might quite like to eat you. Apparently there are over thirty thousand crocodiles in this farm. I came here with Thai friends and found what I now know are the usual two tier entrance charges. One, very low, price for Thais and another, much higher, price for foreigners. This always seems racist to me and I don’t like it. Fair enough if it is attractions supported by government money (such as national parks) and the distinction is between tax payers and non tax payers which, in practice, is often the case. National parks for instance, give me the Thai price when I produce evidence that I work and pay taxes here. These people refused to give me the Thai price as they are a private enterprise and receive no subsidy from the government. So I asked how they justified the price difference. Because ‘farangs’ are richer I was told. For a start, that is simply not true – take my boss as an example, who probably leaves more cash lying around her bedroom than the average Brit earns in a year. To me, that was pure racism which I was not prepared to support so I told my friends I would go for a walk while they went round the crocodile farm.

Reclining Buddha in the Ancient City.

Much later, I went to another private enterprise attraction and was immediately given the Thai price with no problem. Equally annoying, I have Thai friends who live and work in other countries, therefore not contributing to the economy here via taxable income. They come home for a holiday (both having taken other citizenship – one British and one German) and, because their appearance is so obviously Thai, they are charged the Thai price wherever they go.

Part of the Ancient City's floating market.

After about half an hour into my lone walk, I came upon a small village. Walking out of the village, I spotted a movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye. It was a beautiful green and yellow snake, a banded krait, entering a drainage pipe. These snakes, which are very poisonous, often live near human settlements. American troops, during their war in Vietnam apparently referred to them as ‘two step Charlies’. They believed that if you were bitten by one, you took two steps and then dropped dead. A Vietnam veteran I sometimes see in a fish and chip shop told me that this isn’t true. He said that he once saw a Vietcong get bitten by one and he took five steps before he died. Small, beautiful and deadly. I was delighted to catch a glimpse of one but also pleased that it was a good few metres away from me.

Just two weeks from today, Christmas day, I will be moving house to Samut Prakan province where I hope to avoid ‘two step Charlies’ and start getting some fresher air into my lungs!

There is even a herd of deer in the Ancient City!

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