Koh Kret is an island in the Chao Praya north of Bangkok. Here is a map. It is technically part of Nonthaburi, which is the second-largest city in Thailand which you probably haven’t heard of because it is just north of Bangkok and functionally part of the same metropolis with the minor difference that they prefer bicycle tuk-tuks (called saamlo, สามล้อ) rather than motorized tuk-tuks. Also they like roosters a lot. Previously Harriet and I went there to eat durian because they have the best durian. Also we fed the catfish, as they have big catfish there.
Now. It is not hard to get to Nonthaburi. What you do is you get on the hotel boat to Saphan Taksin, then you get on the express boat going upriver and you get off at Nonthaburi, which is the last stop. This takes a while, but it’s a pleasant trip. When you get to Nonthaburi, there is supposed to be a longtail boat which you can ride for 100 baht to Koh Kret. But it turns out this longtail boat does not run on weekends, which, honestly, would seem to be when most people want to visit Koh Kret. Some enterprising fellows tried to sell us a private boat tour for a preposterous amount of money, which might have been tempting had we not just spent an hour in two other boats. So instead we got a taxi to a wat across from the island where there’s a ferry.
Here is the thing about taking taxis in Bangkok and, it turns out, Nonthaburi, when you are not Thai: there is a great deal of uncertainty involved. (Maybe there is uncertainty involved as well if you are Thai, I don’t know.) You get in a taxi and you tell the driver where you want to go and sometimes there’s confusion about what exactly it is that you’re saying but eventually there’s a lot of nodding and smiling and agreement, unless the taxi driver has decided that he doesn’t want to go to where he thinks you’re going, in which case you have to find another taxi. (Taxi drivers refusing to take you anywhere is technically illegal in Thailand, but so is, for instance, riding motorcycles on sidewalks.) There’s a further moment of doubt where you wait to see if the taxi driver will turn on the meter – the official rate for taxis is shamefully low, though that’s supposed to change in December, and often taxi drivers would like to bargain a rate for the distance, though they are disappointingly unambitious in the rates they’re trying to charge most of the time, unless it is raining in which case all rules go out the window. But once the meter is running and you are sitting in air-conditioned splendor in the back of the taxi you are still not entirely off the hook, because it’s hard to tell if the taxi driver is actually going where you want to go. About half the time, this is not the case. This is not generally out of malice – I don’t think that’s ever happened to us. But there are several reasons why a taxi driver might be going somewhere that is not where you thought you should be going. One is that taxi drivers work long hours and a large number of them are on terrifying chemical cocktails to keep them awake, which can lead to, among other things, not understanding where you said you wanted to go. Another is that Bangkok is laid out in an entirely counterintuitive way and the traffic is terrible, and often the shortest way to get north is to go south, east, and west first. And finally, the taxi driver may not have really understood what you said and is making his best guess about where you want to go based on his knowledge of where farangs go.
You might think that these problems might be solved by pulling out Google Maps on a telephone, but that generally causes more trouble than it is worth, as taxi drivers generally cannot understand maps – Bangkok is not a city that has been served well by cartography, up to and including Google Maps – and what will happen is that the taxi driver will pull over and find other taxi drivers and confer with them about where it is that you possibly want to go, a discussion that very soon veers far away from your map and leads you back to where you started.
So. Getting from Nonthaburi to Koh Kret. We got in a taxi and I told the taxi driver the name of the wat where the ferry was, a name that Google transliterates as Wat Sanam Nua, and there was some back and forth where I explained we were going to Koh Kret – a popular destination in Nonthaburi, albeit not really that popular destination for non-Thai tourists – and he agreed to take us and seemed to understand where we were going, and all seemed well. Then he started suggesting that we might want to go to Wat Pho or Wat Phra Kaew, two wats commonly visited by tourists with small children, and we laughed that off and explained that no, we really did want to go to Wat Sanam Nua and Koh Kret. Meanwhile there was terrible traffic, and he was finding alternate routes. These alternate routes took us across the river, which generally is not what you want to do when the wat you want to go to is north of you on the same side, but not outside of the realm of possibility. Then we started going south on the wrong side of the river, which also seemed possible – the road we were on was faster than most – but soon it became clear that we were incontrovertibly going in the wrong direction, and were, in fact, closer to home than to Nonthaburi, at which point we pulled the driver over and explained again that we wanted to go to Wat Sanam Nua and Koh Kret and I handed him my phone, which he examined very carefully with a magnifying glass – in this case, this strategy worked, because the shape of Koh Kret is easily recognizable – and the taxi driver laughed and laughed and turned out to speak English, he thought we’d wanted to go to some other Wat Sanam Nua in Bangkok, and turned around and took us to the wat, which took about forty-five minutes. The moral of this story is that I cannot pronounce anything in Thai to save my life.
At the wat there was a ferry, which cost all of four baht for three people, which left immediately and then we were on Koh Kret. Koh Kret is an island bereft of cars which is pleasant to wander around and eat snacks; it’s a lot like Bang Krachao, to the south of us. Historically, it was inhabited by the Mon, who made pottery there and still do. We did not buy any pottery, but we had a fine time.
Okay, here are some pictures.
Here is Wat Sanam Nua, where we took the ferry from:
Here is northeast tip of Koh Kret, viewed from the ferry:
Here is Harriet doing a complicated dance with a leaf and a fan:
Here is an inlet and a small boat:
Here is an old kiln which has fallen into disuse:
A shrine in the market made of broken pottery:
Another shrine on one of the paths around the island:
A monkey and an elephant prostrate themselves before Buddha:
An enormous seated Buddha to the north of Koh Kret – I think this is Wat Bang Chak:
It’s a nice place. The next time we go there, we’ll just take a taxi from here.